The worst thing about not having a "real" job - I do freelance work when I can get it, and write the rest of the time - is that when I run into people they always want to know "how the book is."
I guess people ask in the way they also say "how's work?" Or, for at least two years after you buy your first home "how's the flat?" - as if you are building it brick by brick or it has a personality of its own and headaches and work hassles and everything.
I think most social communication is based on the survey approach to human interaction. So people want to feel "updated" or get you to fill out a questionnaire (I'm not American, it's just that I think fill-out sounds more rewarding than fill-in) and I'm as guilty of that as anyone else.
But I usually fail the "how's the book?" question.
But I have to write it. There's only about another twenty thousand words to go, and it's all plotted out. But I'm writing just about everything apart from that - columns (generally unpublished, apart from here), my blog, articles (unpublished), witty notes to my neighbours, shopping lists. I sense a theme emerging.
My friend Q, whose father is a real writer, says it's definitely writer's block. I have all the "signs"; I've been avoiding my writing teacher for a month, and will do anything except write those last twenty thousand words. Like when I was doing my A-levels I had all sorts of impressive work-avoidance tactics; I spent most of my last year at school revising my colour-coded revision timetable and tidying my middle drawer. I know, I had a sheltered childhood. And now I'm pretending that I don't believe in writers block as an advanced mind-over-matter strategy.
I mean, I patently have the ability to write tosh on a daily basis here.
When I got back from travelling, a lot of people would ask me what I'd done, and I'd start my whole, "Asia's great. The food, the people. The Emerald Buddah. Biking in Sumatra - ". Their eyes would glaze over. I'd ask them what they'd done in the last two years. "Oh, been to Sainsbury's."
I was clearly expected to give a one sentence summary - like the fourteen point intro's to articles in Sunday supplements that gently summarise the story for the attention deficient - and that's what I'm supposed to do now.
Next time someone asks me how the book is, I shall say, "Fine, thanks. How's yours?" Just like my uncle taught my four year old cousin to answer the "how old are you?" question with "forty-three. How old are you?". Front, that's what I need.