This last week hasn’t been the easiest. I arrived back in Belfast ten days ago, after almost seven weeks adventuring around America and, while it was lovely catch up with friends and see family after so long away, and it was genuinely brilliant to get along to a couple of friends’ readings over the weekend, I have to admit re-entry has proved to be a bit of a crunch. The jet lag hit me like a steamroller, then the writer’s block kicked in and, after almost two months traveling by myself, I found being back in the social world more than a little overwhelming. If I’m entirely honest, I spent most of the last ten days wishing I could hide out on the living room sofa with a hot water bottle and a direct hook up to ITV3 and at times, that’s exactly what I did.
Next Monday all that ends. I return to work and I’m really not looking forward to it. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the Ulster Hall and have been convinced for at least four years now that I have the best job in Belfast. However, for the last three months I’ve just been a writer and it’s been liberating. Instead of writing in the margins of my life, juggling little slots of writing around work and other responsibilities, I’ve been able to make working on the novel my main focus. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to fill up my time and have actually found myself busier than I could ever have expected. I’ve relished every moment of the experience, even those which have felt like something of a stretch.
During the six weeks before and after my American travels I developed my own routines to give the days some shape and ensure I didn’t stay in bed all day watching Murder She Wrote. I’ve been walking into the city centre, splitting my time between a couple of coffee shops and working on the novel, slowly and steadily for around 3 hours each days. I currently have fourteen of sixteen chapters written and am confident that I’ll have some sort of first draft finished in time for the New Year. Afternoons have been reserved for drinking more coffee and indulging in good conversations with a variety of people I don’t always get to spend time with. And, in the evening, I’ve been social without having to battle the guilt normally associated with wasting time I could have been using for writing. As well as progressing the novel I’ve also managed to write three new short stories during my time off and around four dozen small postcard-sized pieces of flash fiction. I read some great books and watched a lot of British made crime drama. It’s been great and I’m reluctant to see this chapter come to a close at the end of the weekend.
Looking back over the last three months the best thing about being, just a writer, is that the stories have become my priority. I’ve not been so tired that I can’t serve them properly. I’ve not been so over-scheduled that i’ve had to leave them be for so long that they grow stale and weary. I’ve not been constrained by practicality so when ideas have come to me in the middle of the night, I’ve ignored the clock and reached for my notepad. My head has been clearer than it has in years. I’ve been more productive, writing wise and read in a different, more focused fashion. I’ve had more “brilliant” (and not so brilliant but extremely pressing), ideas in the last three months than in the last three years combined. And perhaps, most importantly of all, I’ve felt my confidence grow exponentially. Each time I introduce myself as “just a writer” I feel a little more entitled to own those words.