I love September. I love that the world beyond my desk is winding down, my garden yielding the last of its harvest before clocking off for winter, while the pencil-sharpening back-to-work feeling – honed by decades of education and relished now without the accompanying dread – is igniting in my head. The return of some to school means the outside world is quieter and less crowded for those of us with the freedom to choose our hours of work and play, and September often brings better weather than August (although, having resorted to turning on the central heating a couple of times last month, there’s not much competition – nor any sign of improvement on that so far this month).
Sadly, it’s not only fiction that heralds the September of the human race, and, right now, with record-breaking hurricanes and recent arm-wrestling between the heads of USA and North Korea, it’s hard to tell whether the end will come about through the posturing of unstable narcissists or through global warming. Now in the September of my own life it’s less of a worry for me, but I do feel for the kids. Exile from Europe, the devastation of wild spaces and crippling debt: my generation’s legacy wasn’t great to start with.
Of course, the calendar is too crude an analogy for predicting the remaining lifespan of an individual or species. Unlike with a novel, we can’t skip ahead to the final page to see how it will end. It might indeed be September or, as Gulara Vincent wrote recently, it might be later than we think.
But I digress! I’d planned to write about how, having just begun my sixth decade, I’m very happy about the September of my life. Freed from the stresses of employment, yet with a rewarding, albeit not financially so, second career as an author, I’ve done my winding down while cranking up. But I sometimes lose sight of how lucky I am, or fear that creating and improving on my fiction, which is my priority is a writer, is getting swamped by the essentials of admin and promotion. So it was reassuring to find, when I carried out my desk-time audit in early July, that, although I wrote fiction on only six of the ten days, overall I spent more time writing fiction than on writing non-fiction, admin or social media. Back-to-school September has given me the impetus to consider how I continue to keep fiction at the forefront without tying myself up in so many targets I might as well be back at the day job.
I’m on my fifth draft of this novel, originally entitled Closure, then changed to Secrets and Lies and currently called High Hopes, but only the first has taken it right from beginning to end. That’s okay, I have to write to discover the plot, but surely I have enough now to pin it down? I want to set down another beginning-to-end, with enough of the story to make it worthwhile asking for feedback on how it reads. As I expect there’ll be more revising and cutting than new writing, I ought to be able to get this done by the end of the year. Loving this story as I do, I assumed the only thing that would block me would be distractions in the form of essential admin and overly lengthy blog posts such as this. But reflecting on the wisdom in the preamble to this week’s flash fiction challenge, I have to ask myself whether I’m also blocked by fear.
Charli’s post reminds us that looking busy is not the same as being busy, and that the reverie that fuels much creative endeavour looks like doing nothing at all. From my psychoanalytic studies, I’m familiar with the concept of busyness as a means of avoiding some painful thing that would confront us if we took pause. A manic defence keeps the fear of emptiness and inner homelessness, of somehow not being good enough, at bay.
As once again I spend more time than I envisaged on a blog post, maybe I need to examine my hopes and fears about the project I profess I want to prioritise, this novel, High Hopes. I do have high hopes for it, or at least hopes that it will rank higher in writing quality and in attracting a wider readership than my first two. Of course, I don’t know whether that’s possible. Is there a part of me that’s afraid to try?
I’ve already posted one 99-word story in response to this week’s flash fiction challenge. But, having done so before reading Charli’s post in its entirety, I suspected a story about a snake might not fit the tone. In retrospect, I think it does the job quite well, but I thought I’d do another, if only to get this muddled post out of my drafts. And who knows, contemplating defensive busyness in my former career might help me understand whether there’s a similar issue with my current.
“Mr Johnson called. Frantic he can’t make his appointment. He wondered if you’d see him at six.” Elaine wrinkled her nose. “I said you finished at five but he said you’d seen him after hours before.”
“Tell him okay.” The guy was too vulnerable to wait another week.
“And that rescheduled team meeting. I can’t find a slot that suits everyone until next month. Apart from Friday.”
Friday: her day off for writing. But writing wasn’t her real work. “We’ll do it Friday. If you can book a room.”
Elaine smiled. Perhaps the meeting rooms would be fully booked.