Posts Tagged ‘guilt’

“Do you fancy a pint?”


“What are you doing tonight?”

“Not much, how come?”

The two exchanges above are typical for me. Particularly the “what are you doing tonight?” question. Frequently, I try to set aside time for writing. And equally frequently, when someone asks me what my plans are, my answer is “not much” or “nothing”, despite the fact that I set aside time for writing, or reading, or just sitting quietly on my own and watching a film.

Strangely, it often seems to me that saying “I’m busy” feels like a lie if my plans just revolve around me. If my plans revolve around another individual, I am a lot more likely to stick to them then if it’s just me who is getting railroaded if things change. It feels almost rude to say “Actually, I am busy. I was planning on staying in.” I worry that people hear “I’d rather do nothing than hang out with you,” or “I’m washing my hair.”

But equally, I have observed a common trait in a lot of successful writers: steel. I can’t find another way to put it. It’s in the eyes, just look at AL Kennedy:


There’s a determination there, right?

A lot of writers seem to be able to lock themselves away, work hard, and, most importantly (for the purposes of this post), they’re probably quite able to say ‘no’. It’s not a harsh trait, and it’s certainly not a negative one, but it’s an ability to see your own needs and goals as just as important as those of someone else. It’s an awareness that you can say¬† no, and that ‘I’m busy’ is not a lie, even if ‘busy’ = pyjamas and ice cream straight out of the tub with a spoon (some of us have to do this as part of the creative process. Honest.)

There is also often a ferocious defence of space, alongside time: an awareness that he or she needs certain conditions in which to write best, and a dedication to maintaining that.

Being away in Belfast for a couple of months certainly taught me that staying in can be very very restorative and actually a lot of fun, and that you’re not necessarily ‘missing out’ if you don’t attend absolutely every possible social engagement.

Perhaps this steely determination doesn’t come naturally to me. It might be hard work. But also, maybe sometimes now I’ll feel like it’s OK to say no once in a while, and that being ‘busy’ can mean anything; it’s not a lie.


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I’ve just spent two months in a new city, where I knew no one except my lovely housemate and colleague, Julie.

My theory was as follows: that my social life in Edinburgh is an obstacle to my writing, and that if I transplant myself to another city where I know no one, I will write loads in the evenings and become uncharacteristically productive. I planned to edit the whole 60,000 diary monstrosity into a lighthearted, humourous and linear narrative worthy of submitting to agents, and I planned to do it all in six weeks in Belfast while continuing to work full-time in a bookshop.

Did that happen? No, of course not.

Here’s what actually happened: I cut down on drinking, stopped smoking, embarked on Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred, waking up at 6.30am every morning to exercise before work, and going to bed at 10.30pm every night in an attempt to sleep for eight hours. I read lots of books, watched lots of films, and did A LOT of much-needed thinking.

I’ve returned to Edinburgh feeling a little bit clearer, and a little bit like my brain has been through a washing machine: it’s a bit battered, but it’s cleaner, too.

Most importantly, I’ve realised that it’s really hard to work full-time hours and write in your free time. I know many people do it, and they manage high levels of productivity and good quality writing. Yes, it’s possible. But it’s okay that maybe I find that tough. It doesn’t make me a terrible, feckless and hopeless writer. I don’t have to feel guilty or useless, I just have to accept that I’m going to have to face some obstacles, and maybe find a way of (job) working which can allow me to write a bit easier. And that’s OK.

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