I finished writing a draft of the findings for my doctoral research in embodied postmenopause this morning. Now I’m on to the discussion section, with the conclusion already showing itself, just as the ending of every novel I’ve ever written has also shown itself early in the work, finding and refining form as I progress.

Having sent this chunk of work off to my supervisors, I remembered that I’d had a dream of writing my thesis in a time and space where I did nothing else and existed merely in a suspended state of research writing heaven. When actually I have done all the thesis work – ethics, methodology, finding participants, interviews, transcribing, writing up etc – around the work I’m already doing; private psychotherapy practice, further training in couples and group therapy, advanced intensives in existential therapy theory and practice, running a group for older people on ageing, continuing with my final placement and writing a story (which includes menopause research) for Virago’s 50th anniversary anthology Furies. (Why yes, it is an unfunded PhD – could you tell?!)

But of course, it was absurd of me to ever think I’d write this thesis while being ‘only’ a writer/researcher. I have written seventeen novels, fourteen plays, and over seventy short stories and not once in the progress of any of these pieces of work have I been ‘only’ a writer. I wrote while performing improvisation and directing theatre, I wrote while co-founding and co-directing Fun Palaces, I wrote while having cancer treatments while performing (cancer #1) and while running Fun Palaces (cancer #2). I always write, I also have never had any family or other money to fall back on, nor do I receive those bestseller advances many people mistakenly think all writers get, so I always do other work as I write.

I think perhaps I’d believed that writing academically might need me to be different. What I have found is that it simply needs me to be like me. This is how I work, in the space I can carve out, in the time available. How I have always worked. A room of one’s own is a nice concept, but accessible to a very few. It’s also something of a misleading concept because it suggests the rest of us can’t or won’t create our work as well as those who do have the time and space to dedicate to writing and only writing. I’m not sure that’s true. Sometimes the world needs to get into the work to ground that work. Matilda Leyser has a lovely blog here about writing her novel No Season But The Summer (just out, and bloody good) around theatremaking and parenting and life.

I think it sometimes takes an effort to set aside the cliché that to create we must dedicate every moment to it, and acknowledge the truth that our work is part of life, not other than it and therefore it happens within life, not elsewhere. That effort is definitely worth it though, if the alternative is to never allow ourselves to create, to wait for the perfect conditions to arise, to deny ourselves thirty or fifty or ninety minutes of making because we have been told a week or a month or more is required and only a week or month or more will do.

There is no perfect time or space to create. Create while muddling through. Create anyway.

No, you love a colour-coded note system.