The keyboard is mighter than the unicycle

by Elias Blum

I’ve just finished the manuscript for my third book. There’s some way to go – it still needs copy editing and proof-reading, but all of that will not happen until after the New Year. So for now I don’t have a book to write.

Having always had a PhD thesis or a book project hanging over me since 2007, I’m not used to this sense of freedom. During the working week, of course, I’m glad not to have it hanging over me. By the time I get home from the office, my brain is usually pouring out of my ears with mental exhaustion anyway, and sometimes forcing myself to sit down and write in the evenings has been a real trial of will.

But the weekends are different. Spending a weekend not writing is not that unusual, of course. There have been many weekends over the last eight years when writing has had to take a back seat – because of family obligations or for health reasons, or even occasionally because I have forced myself to take a break. But a book or a PhD thesis is always there. Even when you are not writing, you feel that you should be. You carry it.

So spending a day not writing and not having it gnaw away in the back of my mind – not even feeling guilty about it – is a new and unfamiliar experience. It’s not just that I have more time, but that I suddenly have all this free brain-space.

I could go out if I wanted to, into the real world outside, where there are other people, not just dots of light on the screen. I could sit in a cafe with friends (except that I don’t have many friends within a 500km radius). I could play to banjo, learn to unicycle, or take up painting. I could catch up on all that boring household admin and finance stuff I have not looked at for weeks.In other words, I could do all the things that people who don’t write books do.

My non-writing weekend started well enough on Saturday: creative and unhurried morning sex, a good brunch, a long shower, a gentle walk to the bookshop (where I managed to buy some books that have nothing to do with my work or writing), dinner out at a Persian restuarant, and then coming home to watch comedy while digesting like a stuffed python. That’s a good, non-authorial Saturday.

But then it all went wrong. This morning, I woke up and drafted out an outline for another book, looking at the history of modern constitutionalism through a selection of iconic constitutional texts. I did not mean to. It just sort of happened. I probably need help.

I don’t intend to actually write this book. Not yet anyway. I just noted it down in my swelling folder of ‘potential future book outlines’. After a PhD thesis, three books, several academic journal articles, and lots of newspaper pieces, all on the subject of a constitution for Scotland, I need a proper break before starting another academic or constitutionally-themed book.

But I don’t think I will stop writing for long. Writing has become so central and habitual in my life. It’s what I do. Instead, since a change is supposed to be as good as a rest, I think it might be fun to try writing about a different subject and in a different genre. Fiction, maybe?

November is National Novel Writing Month, and the idea of intensive creative writing has often appealed to me. But I know that I am no novelist. I can rarely manage to read a novel, let alone write one. I certainly don’t think I could handle a novel in a month. Too big. Too rambling and open-ended. I’d get lost.

A collection of related short stories, however, is a different proposition. Short stories are manageable like the chapters and sections of a non-fiction book. I like the idea of a collection of short stories, with recurring characters and settings, but with self-contained plots. A collection of twelve short stories in a year – one a month – might be possible.

Of course, I’d still write about what I care about and what I know about, so no doubt constitutional themes and ideas would creep in to the narrative somewhere. And I’m very interested in the freedom that fiction offers to play with constitutional ‘what ifs’ that cannot be explored in more conventional forms of scholarly, polemic or journalistic writing. So I envision, perhaps, a collection of semi-utopian or alternative history stories, in which aspects of a differently constituted society might be imagined. I would also be keen to experiment with gothic writing, erotica, and the ‘woods and werewolves, swords and sorcery’ type of low fantasy.

So my next work will include sexy vampires and buxom lusty barmaids in a well-constituted little Überwald with universal citizens’ income. That sort of thing.

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