I haven't been here very regularly over the summer, you'll have noticed. But I now have my teaching schedule for next semester - I'm teaching on Mondays, Thursdays, and a slightly daunting four-hour block on Friday morning (9am-1pm, teaching two groups of first-year English undergraduates in two back-to-back two-hour seminars: I wonder how attendance will be at the 9-11am class?) - and am full of plans about what to do with that lovely classless two-day stretch in the middle of the week.
One thing I'm going to do with it is blog, I think, every Wednesday. Wednesday, because Wednesday afternoons are free from teaching for everyone, so that we can attend meetings. I go to lots of meetings, because I'm in two departments, plus I'm on two committees and a board. So Wednesdays have a slightly anomalous, free-but-not-free status, which means I should find it possible to spend an hour or two blogging.
My plan is to keep blogging about the progress of Now and Rome, plus talk about whatever I've been thinking about that week. This week, that's easy, because what I've mostly been thinking about is writing books, and this is what I have thought:
Writing books is hard.
I'm thinking about this from three points of view simultaneously at the moment. Firstly, there's Now and Rome, which proceeds achingly slowly and refuses all attempts to hurry it up; secondly, there's the fan novel I'm writing, which has taken me five years and will have a readership of roughly ten people when I do finish it; and thirdly, there's J's Great Australian Novel, which has taken her two years full-time and is currently languishing with the agent and may need to be rewritten with a new framing device in order to teach The Public At Large how to 'get' it.
And the thing they all have in common is that it is hard to write them. Hard, exciting, strange work which makes you suddenly confront things from your past that you thought you'd forgotten, or do emergency psychotherapy on yourself to get yourself through a particularly emotional plot twist/ theoretical turn, or sit staring into the void and doubting your own capacity, or suddenly realize that without realizing it you've secretly coded the solution to the problem that's confounding you into the first chapter of the book, or realize that because you've been trying to avoid thinking about a painful or challenging or risky part of the project too deeply, you've fudged large quantities of the last chapter you wrote and will have to rip it up and start again.
And none of that - none of it, worse luck - bears any relation to the successfulness, the marketability, the readability, or even the quality of what you produce. One of J's touchstone books as a writer - and hence one of mine, too - is A Long Way From Verona, by Jane Gardam, where the young female protagonist is told that she is 'a writer beyond all possible doubt' by a Professional Writer, and the glamour of his certainty carries her through the doubt and drang of her teenage years.
And then she reads a book by him, and it's terrible.
But that doesn't make it any less true that she - and he - are writers, beyond all possible doubt.