Just when I announce myself as a re-emerging emerging writer in late 2013, life kicks in with BIG STUFF again and I have been silent blog-wise for over a year. True, I have tried to use the little time and mental energy I have to get on with the frustratingly slow business of working through the second draft of my novel in progress. But it isn’t just that: the elephant in the room is the life stuff itself.
My instinct has always been to keep my private life, well, private. To use the blog purely as a way to share my thoughts and experiences of writing process. And I am not in the business of revealing much of the people close to me (see my moral qualms of a story thief). But ultimately life resists compartmentalisation and when events batter down the doors, they demand acknowledgement. There is a difference between the need for privacy and being unnecessarily cagey and the blogs I admire carry that balance well.
So, with no more ado, to 2014. In early January my brother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and given 3-6 months to live. It is to his credit, it seems, that he is still with us, though much debilitated, as the treatment he had to give some respite hasn’t apparently stopped the tumour growth. He has been officially diagnosed as having a strong will to live and is thankfully at least still able to enjoy the company of his friends. As if this wasn’t enough, in May my husband was diagnosed with throat cancer. He has been given better odds for a complete cure, but the treatment has been harsh and dominated much of the second half of the year. He is now recovering well and waiting for the results of his first post-treatment scan.
I have spent much of my ‘spare’ time going down to London to be with my brother, as well as visiting my mother, in a care home with Alzheimer’s. It’s a lot to deal with: my sister and I are grateful to have each other. Then at home supporting my husband, going to work 4 days a week (for a rest, as I often say to my colleagues), trying to focus on seeing my son through his A’ levels and his transition to adulthood. As my friends say (when I get time to see them), and you’re still trying to write a novel?
Yes, I am, trying. In the early days of crisis and shock of my brother’s diagnosis I blogged how the deadline for entry to the Northern Writers Award provided therapeutic focus in hard times. Since then, however, my progress has been quite sporadic, and the enormity of the task of finishing even the rough second draft can be as much an additional stress as therapeutic escape. I set targets I don’t meet, revise targets I still don’t meet, become afraid of targets, but feel adrift without them. Why, I join my friends in asking, am I doing this to myself?
Anyone who is serious about any creative pursuit will know the answer. Writing for me is a kind of compulsion. It is hard work, can be tedious, thankless, lonely and can seem pointless. But it also feeds me and my life feels less without it. Ultimately it takes me away from the minutiae of everyday life to something that is at once of me and outside of me, focused on crafting a slice of a particular take on life, hoping this resonates with others.
My family’s difficulties sit heavy, at times an almost physical weight. Weariness, stress, anxiety and dread can overwhelm and I understand the importance of being kind to myself, having some time to rest, enjoying what I have, cutting some slack with the old targets. It’s a question of balance and in the end the people I am close to, and my own sanity, come first. But I have taken heart from other blogs of writers keeping going through difficult times, from my husband keeping up his artist’s blog and feeding his creative spirit even when the treatment made it impossible to produce much.
And I am pleased this year to have picked up some renewed focus for the novel, to have hit my writing time target for all but 2 weeks. The second draft is gathering momentum, just a couple more months before I can share the whole thing with my writing group and my husband. Pleased I can revisit my Emerging Writer’s Creed and reiterate that I believe there are sometimes bigger things in life that demand attention, but that writing provides a layer of meaning that I return to each time with renewed resolve.