I was ill all last week, the grippe as we call it around here, the usual physical misery, but this time with an illumination for a booby prize. The first day I slept for almost twenty-four hours. The next day, the alarm on my iPhone awakened me at 7:30, as it does every morning, and of course I turned it off and returned to sleep, but a thought remained in my head. Why am I setting an alarm? The answer was mere habit: I have been getting up to an alarm on every working day since age ten. And just why am I still doing it? Because I'm a worker, and workers get up in the morning at a particular time. Those who do not are bums.
But I'm a writer, and moreover a writer not on deadline, and moreover, a writer who typically screws around all morning and doesn't get down to actually tipi-tapping the keys until after lunch.
So around Thursday, when I was feeling better, I cancelled the alarm permanently, and on Friday I arose naturally at about nine, screwed around somewhat less, and was as usual back at the machine by 1:30 and had a days work in hand by dinnertime. I felt a lot better too, and it only took me twenty years to figure this out. Not writing under deadline for a contract is, now that I understand it, quite different from the experience I've had as a writer so far. No one is waiting for this book. I can write it or not; if I do write it, it can take ten months to write or four years. I'm not particularly hurting for money at this stage in my career, so that's not a pressure either.
But I am writing, if slowly. I used to crank out three or more twenty-some page chapters a month. Now I do one or two. It's a much more pleasant life, being a bum. I can see why millions choose it. And I now understand why autobiographies of the writers of the past read the way they do. The writer travels to a distant city and has adventures and makes friends and goes to parties and has romances: I always used to ask myself, when do they write? Do they use an alarm clock? Alarm clocks do not feature prominently in the biographies of the fiction-writing profession, especially not when the hero is swanning around Menton with a Polish countess. I guess I missed all that. But no matter! As to why I'm writing, it's because I want to learn how it all turns out. I want to read a book that won't exist unless I write it. Seems like a lot of trouble, but there it is.