This year’s Bridport Prize closes in five hours and thirty four minutes. It’s years since I last neglected to send a short story off to the Bridport Prize and whilst I have yet to win, (or even be shortlisted), I’m a big advocate of the “you have to be in to win, (or even get shortlisted)”, school of thought. Round about this time yesterday I realised that the Bridport was closing in less than thirty six hours. Acting upon some kind of misplaced writer guilt I rushed out to a coffee shop and tried to stretch a 1,000 word short short into a proper story and gave up. Then, inside my head I wrote a story about a man whose hands fall off the day he loses his job. I gave up and wrote two more unfinished “masterpieces” in my head, then gave up and decided to enter the flash fiction competition this year, (250 words seemed infinitely more achievable in the three hours I had left). I soon gave up when I hit 1200 words and meandering, realising that concision has never been one of my writing gifts. I decided to deal with the Bridport issue on Saturday.
Today is Saturday and instead of writing an award-winning short story I have: made hot air balloons with 30 small children, sunbathed on the lawn of City Hall, drunk wine, written Thank You cards, bought tights, proofread a friend’s novel, been to a book launch, drunk some more wine, (it should be noted that i’m writing this at roughly 6pm), and fell asleep over my keyboard. The night looms ahead of me promising Raymond Carver, ironing, X Men and the very real possibility of more wine. At this point it seems unlikely that I could win, (or even be shortlisted), for the Bridport Prize with a story written in less time than it takes to fix a homemade lasagne. I’m giving up on the Bridport. All things considered it seems like a sensible decision in a month when good sense has had to take precedent over instinct. Nonetheless I feel a little disappointed in myself and not entirely certain that I won’t get back from the cinema about 11, drink some more wine and start speed writing something horrific.
With the brave exception of a solitary day out, writing in Derry, I haven’t written a single creative word in one full month. I haven’t touched the novel, Roundabouts in even longer. It’s sitting in my hard drive; a half-formed thing with neither ending nor solid beginning to sandwich it satisfactorily together. Granted there have been articles and interviews and dozens of increasingly enthusiastic emails to newspapers and magazines petitioning for the possibility of writing even more articles and interviews, but I haven’t written a story in weeks.
I feel creatively constipated. The ideas, it turns out, don’t stop just because you can’t get time alone with your keyboard. The stories wake me up in the middle of the night, insisting to be written and overwhelming me with earnest appeals for sentences, paragraphs and honest-to-god titles I could submit to journals. In the wee small hours between sleep and insomnia, I make promises to all my future characters- the man with no hands, the girl who can only speak in the present tense, the young lad up a tree in Broughshane- and I truly mean to wake up before seven and write their stories in 3,000 words or possibly more. The next morning I wake up, somewhere before nine and my first waking thought is “too late to walk to work again today, I’ll have to drive and feel lazy all day and not be able to justify curly fries from the canteen at lunch.” And my second waking thought is, “I shall faithfully promise to leave work earlyish and go to a coffee shop and write these stories down before they dissipate and I can’t recall the difference between a tree in Broughshane and a tree in another more ordinary place.”
However, it’s no ordinary month. It’s May 2014- a literal avalanche of a month- and there are articles to be written and emails to send; terribly useful things, necessary in themselves and no doubt part of being and becoming a contemporary writer. I don’t begrudge a single email if, somewhere down the line, they help me to carve out a little more time to write. But I’m not writing stories these days and I feel a lot like the man whose hands came off when he lost his job; muddling through with elbows when I’d grown to relient on a proper pair of hands.
Talking about the thing you love is not the same as actually doing it.