So, as of today I have officially finished my original 6-month sabbatical (April to September) and am into the 3 months extra time I have managed to scrounge from my employers and my savings account...and what have I learned?
1.This is the life. I like my career - it's really pretty great the majority of the time - but if I could afford not to go back I have to say I wouldn't hesitate. Am I bored, writing alone in the kitchen? Not likely. I am quite good at keeping my own company, but also I have way more energy to go out and see people than when I'm at work. I am also reveling - within reason - in domesticity. Cooking is so much more fun when you aren't already knackered and starving. The single biggest hint that this is the life is how well I am - not a days illness in the six months I've been off. To put that in perspective, I usually catch every bug going, at least four a year. I think my new-found health is partly due to less rush-hour exposure, but primarily to less stress.
2. Notwithstanding point 1 - writing a novel is bloody difficult. Wonderful, exciting and a great learning experience, but not to be undertaken lightly. Especially if you and everyone else has high expectations of the outcome. Needless to say, the difficultly is not unexpected, but it can be very tortuous for a well-read person to experience the manifold shortcomings of their first novel-writing attempt.
3. The nice effect of point 2 is that I am a more attentive and appreciative reader. All the lovely stuff that seems so smooth and easy in a good novel - sub-plots, character development, tension, 'eureka' moments and so on - are not easy at all to write. I now notice what authors are doing a bit more than I used to, and understand how cleverly they are doing it.
4. Writer's groups - I am now in two - are a Good Thing. They give me perspective, but most of all they are fun gatherings of like-minded people, and it's constantly exciting to see other people's work in progress. There may also be food involved, never a problem for me.
5. I am capable of writing a great many words in a day - somewhere between 1,000 and 4,000. Pac Man is the enemy of this productivity, but that won't be a problem any more when I finish the final set of levels on my downloaded game... Can't be long now...
6. If in doubt, go out. To a course, or an exhibition, or a cafe, or a book group, or a writer's group, or dinner, or even the gym. It's all inspiring stuff. I have become the weirdo with the notebook who is secretly recording your conversations, appearance, mannerisms... you have been warned.