Writing – Making Space In Your Head

Here I am on the train to Portsmouth.

I’ve looked at perhaps half a million words of marking this week, and it’s only Wednesday. But I’ve also written four thousand words.

The writing is going well.

Why this week, and not the week before last? I was just as busy then, but the idea of opening up my manuscript and working on it was… ridiculous, ludicrous, laughable – take your pick. Utterly unthinkable.

But why? I’ll look at and evaluate some million words of student work this week. Brunel for Monday, Portsmouth for Wednesday, Derby for Friday. I’m working nearly around the clock on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, and travelling at least three hours every other day, still looking at work on the train. It’s more work than I marked in the weeks before. It’s bigger, tenser meetings with people I don’t know and who don’t know me.

But the writing is going well.

I think it’s because it doesn’t really matter what you do for the rest of your day; it’s how much of yourself you invest there. I’m naturally keen that I accurately judge the processes of my colleagues at other universities; I’m not slacking on my work as an external. But it’s not as draining as trying to help hundreds of students achieve their best work.

Teaching, if you do it right, is fulfilling and exhilarating and wildly exciting. But it’s also draining. It takes up lots and lots of space in your head. There are all those young faces, looking at you, hoping you will help them to learn something about which they care desperately.  Those young faces get in the way of the other people in my life, the characters in my books. Two weeks ago, they made it hard to see the little huddle of people in my abbey; the people that are, in the midst of terrible challenges, trying to make a life for themselves and their children.

Now that fewer people call me back to the real world, I am able to spend more time in theirs. I have space in my head, and they move back in. That’s where they live, and act out the story I will tell.

Current manuscript: To Hide My Blazing Heart

Stage: Complete Rewrite 1

Word Count: 11,290


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