Creative freelancing - singing, writing, photographing - is a jigsaw of both time and energy. I remember a mezzo-soprano friend saying that she had seven jobs, and that was only the regular ones. Unlike her, most of my jobs happen at home. But still, there's the teaching, the editorial reporting, the blogging, the tax return, the friendly conversations with aspiring writers, the occasional treat like next week in Madrid, the accounts, the library-runs... At least I'm between novels in the promotional sense, so there's not much to do on that front.
But those are the dishwashing and bed-making of the writing life. Novels as children is such a cliché, but just at the moment, struggling to do the right - the best - for what's closest to my heart, it's hard not to see it like that.
The current novel - still nameless - is in its final stages before I wave it off to university with my editor. Every now and then it still needs real, off-the-wall creative thought - that title, for instance - but for the most part I'm doing last-minute packing and admin. My editor's been helping with tutoring and admissions, but when it's gone to her for good - signed in, copy-edited, paid for - it will never, wholly, be mine again. Other people will tell others they love it or tell themselves they hate it, or vice versa. Or they'll pass by without even knowing it was there. I shall hover on the margins of its life, encouraging where I can, spreading the word, trying not to mind when someone doesn't love it, doing all I can to smooth its path. But it isn't mine anymore, it belongs to itself.
The critical paper element of my PhD is the dutiful school-child turning up on the doorstep every afternoon, demanding milk and biscuits and hours of help with homework. There's a lot to do, but these are familiar processes. It can be hard to give it enough attention, hard to convince it of its own value, when other things are more urgent or less daunting. But I know, roughly, what's needed, what may be a problem, where I might find help to tackle it. Not soon, but inevitably, I shall be tidying, revising, and sending it in to be examined. A viva voce exam is like the parents' interview when you apply for a school at 11+: I shall be speaking both for myself and for something else - for my writing - and all I can do is hope that we'll both be admitted.
The new novel (which hasn't even had its birth registered: there's no dedicated notebook, no files on the computer) is asleep much of the time. But when it wakes up and yells I can't ignore it for a moment. Its needs are noisy but simple: I must do what it wants, now, or placate it with notes and book-buying until I have time and energy to do more. I don't know much about its character, its shape or what it will need in the future, except that it will be a lot. But though it sleeps, though it's still so amorphous, it comes with me wherever I go. Sometimes, when I'm tired, I wish it wasn't there, I wish I'd never said I'd have it. But it's happened, and I can't give it back: this book exists.