Today in the Guardian Sarah Crown initiates a discussion on author productivity, suggesting that we overvalue slow production (such as that of Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides) as proof of literary quality, and tend to despise productive novelists regardless of the actual quality of their novels. It's a fair point, but the ensuing discussion veers towards that old either/or pattern and 'Henrytube' 's comment, 'Personally I don't think it's at all unreasonable to expect a novel per year from a professional author, given today's technology, if that's all they're having to do', is enough to strike despair into the heart of this novelist, at least.
The essential point that's missed in the discussion is that production rate is a private and internal psychological matter rather than a technological one as Henrytube suggests. For me at any rate some novels are quicker to write than others, and as I'm often saying, it very much depends on my prior relationship with the material before I start writing. Too Many Magpies was written in eight weeks flat, and while it is pretty short it's not much shorter than The Birth Machine which took me longer, not much less than a year. But the novel I've just finished has taken a lot longer than that, requiring three major drafts before I found the way to write it, and plenty of mulling time in between. And how soon you can get onto something new after finishing a piece of work depends on how much it has taken out of you. After writing The Birth Machine I wrote a flurry of short stories, as if I were using up all the extra creativity the novel hadn't needed, and the situation was similar after I'd finished Too Many Magpies. But this time, quite frankly, I've felt creatively drained. I finished in early summer, but I'm only now starting to feel creative stirrings again.
Only now am I clearing up my room after it, a process that is usually symbolic of clearing your head of the work and letting go of it: partly I've been too busy with other things, but also I think I couldn't face it. It's taken me the whole of yesterday morning and most of today to sort through the drifts of paper - not just the drafts of the novel but correspondence and bumph that's built up unattended over the last six months, and even the proofs of the reissue of The Birth Machine that was produced and published during the last eighteen months while I was working on the current novel. It's hoovering next, but I'm leaving that till tomorrow: one thing I still couldn't face today was discovering what damage has been done by moths and carpet beetles while I've been so privately and psychologically away in the clouds.