After my flood of productivity several weeks ago, it has been a relative desert in the creativity department. Part of this is the same old story, life getting in the way. The grey skies have given way to rare sunshine, and segued back to grey, taking the sound track of my weekend back into the singing whistle and hiss of tyres on wet tarmac. Spring moves on apace, regardless of the low cloud and misty mornings, and the trees are tipped with the brightest green. The shift in the weather and the change in the moon bring about a new energy – but still, my creative brain lies dormant. Spring brings busy-ness, and that includes the endless struggle between work and leisure. So I wonder now, how many other women writers there are, juggling their ideals, their wishes, the demands of daily life, knowing that they partake in the age-old tradition of womanhood – doing it all.
Yes, I said ‘doing it all.’ It is my experience that women who choose to engage in a creative life are still unlikely to separate themselves from the productivity of domestic life – of cooking, cleaning, caring for self and others. I watch and read the biographies of great male writers, and I know, I just know, that someone else was cooking, cleaning, making up the fire. We see the image of the tortured artist, but how many of these still had a cleaner or someone to do their laundry? How many contemporary female writers must draw on domestic help to free up the time to write?
This may be considered controversial, but as an author with her debut novel approaching publication (July 17!) I feel the pressure of managing a full time, academic role (which drains much of my energy and creativity), a fulfilling relationship, and the demands of domestic life. Recently, I broached the subject of a cleaner with my partner, arguing that we both lead busy lives and that this would enable us to be free of the constant guilt that the washing is never all done, the house is never clean enough, the cupboards have descended into hidden chaos behind their firmly closed doors.
I have felt ‘blocked’ for a couple of weeks, mainly because I can’t hear my characters any more. That might be because, like a bad parent, I have ignored them for some time. I took some time out to attend a pagan camp that I usually enjoy, and took my writing with me, but the children were stubborn and refused to talk to me even when I finally gave them the attention they wanted. A new dimension of guilt emerged – that of the author/writer who should be writing, but isn’t. I returned to the usual round of housework, laundry and shopping, more guilt piling on as I realise we are out of packed lunch ingredients, low on juice and milk, down to the last packet of cat food, and my son is down to his last pair of clean underpants (though there are probably many clean ones hidden in the quagmire that is his teenage bedroom). My character children lie abandoned in their folder, my story remains untold. Instead of writing, I spend the night marking for my second job, and cleaning out my study which still had the remaining detritus of my camping trip scattered across the room.
This is my life, and my writer’s block is formed from bricks of guilt, laid one upon the other. Joan of all trades, mistress of none. Bricks of guilt made from not being the perfect lecturer, the perfect mother, the perfect writer, the perfect partner. Ultimately, I think any woman writer feels the same if they do not have the legitimacy of commercial success would likely feel the same.