Friday, 14 November 2008

Happy Ending

In a rare and rather wonderful moment of staggering timing, I’m able to welcome you to my first coffee morning hosting with the words, ‘I’m finished’!

Oh yes. The first draft of my first full-length novel is done. How long did this take? Only about 7 years. Ok, there was a bunch of other stuff going on at the same time – including 5 plays, a children’s book, a wedding, a transatlantic move – so it’s not like I was writing the damn thing for 7 years straight. It felt like it sometimes, undoubtedly; and it’s certainly long enough.

Anyway, hurrah! I cannot wait to start the editing. (Truly; it’s currently 130,000 words long and is one hot mess. I over-write like nobody’s business. As you’ll see from this post.)

On to the main event, welcome all to our coffee morning. It’s finally getting cold here in New England, the Starbucks red cups have indeed come out and I am fully indulging one of my favourite obsessions: knitwear. Grab a beverage (I’m cracking open the Gosset later) and settle down for this week’s question.

As I have mentioned – oh, just once or twice before – I used to tread the boards. The life of a professional actor has many things in common with that of a writer, except that as an actor you actually get to leave the house and speak to other people. I was especially taken last week with Cally’s point about venturing outside after a full-on writing sesh and being all, ‘Hello trees! Hello cars! Bright lights! People!’ I identify, big time. Writing certainly allows me to wallow in my hermit tendencies.

So my question this week is, how do you shake off the spell? We’ve talked a bit on here about how to get into that creative special place, how to sit down and ignore the email and the random thoughts and start writing. However, I don’t think we’ve talked about how you pull yourself out of it again. It can be very difficult to simply switch it off, especially if the material is emotionally taxing. On a daily basis, how do you manage to save the day’s work, shut the notebook or the laptop and be normal again? A lot of people do stressful jobs, of course, but it’s rather different from living in your head all day and then attempting to hold a normal conversation with your other half.

I can’t draw on my previous creative experience. Theatre is cathartic, like writing, but it’s more active. You slap your creation on the table and people respond instantaneously. The whole journey takes place in about an hour and a half, and then people clap. (And then you calm down in the pub, which also helps.)

So...glass of wine? Cold shower? Treadmill? Soap operas? How do you make your head shut up?

Short of getting my husband to applaud me every time he walks through the door, what techniques can I use?

26 comments:

JJ said...

Congratulations Kayjay on finishing your draft. That's fantastic news.

Hmm, reading I think takes me to a sufficiently different headspace to start to function normally again. Also writing until I can't think about it anymore works. But my family tolerate the inability to return to earth - they let me talk and wait til I'm back again.

liz fenwick said...

Huge congrats on finishing!!!

I'm lucky enough that most times I don't need to work myself into writing mode.....With crazy family about all the time I have learned to just write - it may well be crap but I write through it all. Because of the chaos I switch in and out without any problem......

Look forward to hearing how the others work :-)

Debs said...

Congratulations, hope you enjoy the Gosset.

Great post. I think because most days I try and stop writing at 9pm, simply because if I don't then my eyes are too tired for work the following day. I suppose, like Liz, I write when I can (when my family will leave me in peace to do so) and usually as soon as I stop, there's someone wanting my attention, or something needing to be done, so I soon snap out of it (even if I'd rather not).

As soon as I go to bed though, my mind starts wandering back into my book again.

Lucy Diamond said...

Congrats on reaching The End! It's such a great feeling. :)

I find it quite hard to come out of the writing bubble, it definitely takes me a bit of time to leave my characters and readjust to normal life. It's at this time I wish I had a commute, a nice walk from my office to home in which to mull things over, instead of a few steps from office to kitchen. Mind you, three kids all talking at once around the dinner table usually forces me to snap out of my ponderings pretty fast!

I am nearly at 20,000 words on Novel 4, and am hoping to send this chunk to my agent and editors next week, to make sure they think I'm on the right lines. Now I just need to map out a synopsis of what happens in the rest of the book (scary - this is not my strong point) and also need a whopping great cliffhanger to leave them wanting more... hmmm... wish me luck!

DOT said...

Congratulations from me too. It must feel wonderful to type the final full point/period even if it is the first draft.

I am still in the middle of the process. Bit by bit I am finding it easier though it has been a monumental struggle to find some form of equilibrium in my emotions.

I can't say I ever leave my book completely. It is always spinning somewhere in my head when I am out and about. It causes me to be abstracted, inattentive, rude, short-tempered and, I have to say, boring.

Those who read my blog will know I am currently attempting to cut out smoking and drinking. Longer term I think the solution is to take up exercise; to own a swimming pool is my ultimate dream as I find swimming the best way of turning off and relaxing.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Hey well DONE!!!

I can turn off my computer and leave my keyboard, but my head never does shut up, and I don't think it ever will. Not even when I'm asleep. Top Bloke is very understanding, bless him.

Lane said...

Well done on finishing your draft! Hurrah:-)

Switching off is not as much of a problem as switching on at the moment. That's the hard part for me.
However when I do need to get back to 'normal' (if there is such a thing:-) I indulge in Extreme Crocheting, playing on f/b or mindless TV until I'm fit for human consumption. I like DOT's idea of a swimming pool too. Something to aim for I think:-)

Have a good weekend everyone.

Leatherdykeuk said...

Well done on that first draft!

Switching off? I wind down with writing poetry, drawing, and/or watching a bit of TV. I haven't finished for the day until all 5 blogs are updated and the WIP has more words.

Flowerpot said...

brilliant Kayjay - well done give yourself a huge pat on the back! As for switching off - well, I take the dog for a walk. Go and see a friend. Meditate. Watch a film. Wine. Talk. Any or all of these help me. But because I write journalism as well I have to be able to switch on and off very quickly. I'm just schizophrenic I suppose and always have been!

KAREN said...

Well done on the first draft - most satisfying!

Getting OUT of writing mode is dangerous territory for me, as it takes me so blinking long to get into it in the first place! I always have my writing head on (not an attractive look) when I'm walking the dog and sleep eludes me when I'm in full flow, but going shopping with my daughter, watching a good film or cooking dinner generally allows me to switch back to 'normal.'

Whatever that is!

Captain Black said...

Firstly, well done on crossing that finish line. Don't wait for us, crack that bottle now and enjoy yourself.

I think my mind is usually in a quantum admixture of switched-on and switched-off states, when it comes to writing mode. In other words, I never truly switch off, no matter what else I'm doing. Even in sleep, I suspect I dream about my characters. To get into a writing session, I let my wave-function collapse into the switched-on eigenstate. It's difficult to reverse that operation, though it can be done.

Running is good because it winds me down after a writing session, yet still lets me mull over the stories in my head.

By the way, I'm definitely not a quantum particle when it comes to the real world. The other day I was travelling through London Underground and I nearly ruptured myself, when trying to follow the instruction: Please use both escalators.

Have a great day everyone and for those with writer's block: may your wave-functions tunnel through!

sheepish said...

Well done on finishing your first draft. I'm afraid my problem is switching on at the moment, I would love to have the problem of not wanting to stop. Although I do get inspiration when I am out running and in the middle of the night which is not always very convenient, but hey I am grateful for anything.

NoviceNovelist said...

Great news Kayjay - I bet that feels great! Good topic to ponder - I find it really difficult to switch back into the real world and think I probably wander around drooling, slack jawed with a vacant stare for a while. I defnitely find conversation difficult and a trip to the supermarket makes me feel as though I've just been tossed out of a car doing 100miles an hour onto a brightly lit freeway at peak hour! Going to the gym and blasting myself with loud music from the ipod is the only thing that really snaps me out of it - that and my teenage daughter's friday night hyper monologue on what her week at uni has been like - that gets me every time!!!

Graeme K Talboys said...

Well done on finishing the draft.

We are supposed to switch off? Ah. OK.

Barbara knew what she was getting when we married, so I am very lucky in that respect. And at the moment, the works-in-prog are intimately tied in with my life and memories so switching off isn't an option (yes folks, it's like that inside my head all the time). In the past (especially when working on non-fiction) I have picked up a crossword book for half an hour (Araucaria is my favourite - the man's a genius) and then moved on to whatever I'm reading. I rarely watch the TV (and then it's usually for a movie). At the moment, it is write, a little bit of reading, crawl into bed, dream about book. One day a week I go out to help (?) with the shopping. Switching off from that is the real problem.

Calistro said...

First off - congratulations Kayjay!!!

Secondly - great topic. If I've had a full on writing session (meaning - writing a particularly emotional scene) I find it quite hard to snap out of it and segue back into the real world. My ex-partner used to walk into the room when I was writing and ask me a question and I'd be all, "Huh? What?" because my head was still in novel world and I would have to quickly snap back into real life. Very disorientating.

So how do I snap back into the real world now?

Step away from the laptop!

I used to have my laptop in the living room but recently moved it into the bedroom. Now, when I've finished writing I can physically step into another room (and back into real life!). TV helps distract my brain, as does knitting. But the best thing to really snap me out of writing head is to go out and socialise with non-writers.

ChrisH said...

Well done on finishing. I'm in the state at the moment when i seemed to be switched on to the WIP when I'm not at the keyboard and switched off as soon as I am. Clearly I need to do something about this state. Like many of the others have said, I don't think I ever really switch off from thinking about writing - I think it just goes with the territory.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Many congratulations and best of luck with the editing. A lot of words! Switching off if difficult for me but I do tend to watch telly when not at the computer. Just the odd soaps and ghost programs, you know. So really, I'm not switching off at all. I have been known to pick Amy up from school and blank people at the gates because I find it so hard to switch off. Must learn that one.

Great question.
CJ xx

Kate said...

Congratulations, Kayjay, hope you're really relishing the feeling!

I'm not sure I ever really switch off thinking about my projects, except perhaps on holiday, but even then I tend to take the laptop. I guess I worked so hard for so long to get to be a writer, that in a funny way I don't want to switch off. I did do it for a few weeks earlier this year when I had written The Third of The Book That Didn't Work and needed a break - then I did gardening, and exercise, and listened to the radio, and read non-fiction etc. But I love ideas and thinking about writing so switching off isn't a big issue - except for when I have submitted a project to my editor and agent when I can't stop checking my inbox, waiting for the response...

Fiona said...

So pleased for you. Finishing a first draft is special. I thought I'd finished mine but I deleted the last few chapters so technically I haven't.

I have to pretend I've switched off as it takes a while for my mind to catch up.

I'm sure you bring your acting abilities into your work and what a great resource to draw on.

Lazy Perfectionista said...

Wow, well done!

Great post, switching off is definitely the hardest part, once switched on that is... I find reading a book that's totally different from what I'm writing is the best way to turn my Writer's Head off, but this isn't always enough. I wish there was a foolproof method - I'd get so much more sleep!

Kate.Kingsley said...

Woo Hoo!! Well done on finishing!

Also, I'm thinking might get my hubby to applaud everytime i come into the room as a matter of course ;-)

Pre-pregnancy, I always found that running was my ideal way to switch off from everything, writing realted or otherwise. Now that I am pg I regret to say that I've been too tired to do much in the way of writing, so I havent yet had to find a new "switch off" mechanism!

wordtryst said...

You've crossed the first big hurdle, Kayjay. Congrats on completing!

Uh, normal? What's that again? Whether I'm actively writing or not, "distracted and inattentive" is my normal state. I've always found the worlds inside my head and the ones I read about much more compelling than the everyday.

My people are used to it, which doesn't mean my absences don't irritate the hell out of them.

Helen Shearer said...

Well done, Kayjay!

I've never had the problem of switching off. I write until I dry up, usually about an hour and a half, then I'm on to the next thing until the mood strikes me again. Sometimes that's the next day, sometimes all I need is a cup of tea and I'm off again. I carry a notebook everywhere I go because inevitably ideas pop into my head in the most inappropriate places and if I don't write them down they're gone forever. I suppose in that respect I'm never truly switched off.

Un Peu Loufoque said...

Massive conrgats on finishing...am I too late for a glass of wine or even a cup of coffee, Ive spent the last 2 weeks nursing sick children in rotation so am feeling sleep deprived and in need of wiine! Like Helen I don't have trouble turning off once Ive finsihed writing.. I do have trouble gearing myself up to actauly do anything with it though!

Clare Sudders said...

(Sorry for arriving stupidly late yet again... I was visiting another Novel Racer last Fri and, despite who my visitee was, forgot all about it...)

I'm afraid my technique for switching off isn't much use as a piece of advice and wasn't exactly a choice anyway... but it's kids that do it for me. Having a family means that you don't really have the choice to disappear into your own head for more than a few hours at a time, and then you're dragged brutally back into real-world territory whether you like it or not.

Funnily enough though, ddespite being a bit of a dreamer, I don't find that novel-writing pulls me very far into dream world. Maybe I just haven't written the right book yet? Hmmm.

KayJay said...

Thanks so much for all your congratulations and comments. I'm very glad it's not just me who gets irrationally grumpy or turns into a loon when forced to deal with the real world after prolonged adventures in writing.

The simplest and most popular answer seems to be: have kids. I'd better warn the long-suffering husband...