Oh dear, what’s next? by Matt Rees

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Damn, I’ve done it again. Finished a novel, sent it to my publisher…Oh, dear. What’s next?

If I write that this is THE authorial dilemma, I’m sure I’ll get emails from writers who just can’t finish their book, or from readers who’d like to be writers telling me that I shouldn’t be complaining about such a pleasant quandary.

So let me say that I’m not complaining. Just expressing the slight anxiety that nibbles around my edges when I’m not actually writing, the fear that I’ll lose focus. Because when that happens, the next thing I know I’m growling at my son, driving too fast, and losing my temper in the supermarket checkout line.

You see, I have to be doing something creative or I become a little less human. You might say that I become depressed, I suppose, which is why I find myself infected with some degree of anger. (If, as Freud said, depression is frozen anger, why is it that when I get depressed I also get angry…? Am I only half depressed? Or thawing out?)

So when two weeks ago I sent off the manuscript of my Caravaggio novel to my London publisher, I determined not to fall into the ills that have afflicted me to differing degrees between each book. My wife reminded me to “write something.” Even my three-year-old suggested, “Daddy, you go and work.”

In some ways it was good timing. My new book, MOZART’S LAST ARIA, was coming out in the UK. So I devoted last week to the kind of online publicity activities my generation of writers has to perform, to one degree or another. Video trailers, video readings, blog posts, links and “extra features” deluged my Facebook friends, my Twitter followers, my blog followers.

But those things won’t cut it creatively. First, they aren’t the kind of “creative” activity I’m talking about. Second, you don’t see the results right away. Spend a day networking socially and at the end of it you feel like you’ve been at a very long cocktail party: you might have a few business cards in your pocket, but your face hurts from (virtual) smiling and you’re unconvinced that it’ll sell any books for sure.

So I was lucky that I had a couple of genuinely creative things to keep me rolling. A pair of short scripts for a nascent film project. A short story about my Palestinian detective Omar Yussef (which I’ll be posting online free tomorrow). This was just about enough to see me through the between-books blues.

One sign that I ought not to worry about my creativity is this: I’m less certain than usual about which of my ideas for my next book to pursue. If that sounds contradictory, consider that certainty is the enemy of creativity. At least at this stage, when I ought to be doing the creative equivalent of unfettered daydreaming about new characters, themes and plots.

So it could be that I’ll take a few weeks longer than usual to get down to the next book. I’ll have to do more reading, because some of the subjects I’m considering are quite far from my usual topics. The reading might take me through economic history, neuroscience, psychiatry and who knows where else.

But I know I have to read hard. If I put the books down, things could go terribly wrong…

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