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Sunday, 24 June 2012

Having a social life and writing

It's been an interesting couple of weekends because I appear to be developing a *gasp* social life again. As in going out and meeting up with people and just being a person, not me the author or me the employee.

I made the decision some time ago that if I wanted any sort of writing career I needed to write. Since I work full-time, that means weekends and evenings are pretty much writing, editing, or doing book covers. I can't complain because I love it, but at the same time I think it's very easy to fall into the trap of just not meeting up with people and friends and living your life. I have a couple of Skype buddies (hey Jason & Tabs) who keep me sane, but actually leaving the house and meeting people doesn't happen often. I'm single, I don't have kids, and my immediate family are all very far away from me; I have nothing forcing me to interact with others.

So why is it even a problem? Being a writer means you need to write, doesn't it? The problem with it is simply that writing means being able to observe people, and interact with them - because if you don't do that, you turn into the funny old lady with 17 cats who talks to herself a lot, and can't write about people because you don't know any.

I stopped socialising after I broke my leg - 2 operations and 6 months stuck at home and learning to walk again. And then I think I used it as an excuse: I can't go back to kick-boxing, I can't dance until 4 in the morning any more, not unless I want to lurch like a reject from a Walking Dead shoot for the next three days and I can't run (unless there is a spider involved, at which point the laws of physics are temporarily suspended and I put Usain Bolt to shame). I spent another 8 months on a walking stick while the physio insisted I'd never walk properly again, and although I hated that little piece of polished wood and plastic, if my brother hadn't forced me into long walks and taking it away from me I'd probably have been on it even longer. Because a crutch is still a crutch, even when it's a walking stick I'm not sure he realises how much I love him for doing that.

I limped for a long time after the stick got tossed. I'd walk into a pub or restaurant and people would stare at me. When I wore shorts or a skirt I'd get a few comments, usually from some perky little twenty-something   who'd tell me she'd never dare to wear that with the scars I have. My response was to wear more skirts and shorts. Because honey, you probably wouldn't dare to live the life I have either, and if my scars bother you, don't bloody look at them.

But it obviously had an impact because I withdrew even more. I started an on-line university course and began writing in earnest, and now I really had the perfect excuse. Between study, work and writing, I had no time to think of anything else, let alone do it.

So what changed? A few things.The recession hit, and the vultures politicians decided to stop the cap on university fees. I was getting funded by work, so although concerned, I wasn't panicking. Then this year I got made redundant, then I got redeployed - but there is no more funding for a university degree. I've deferred it until September, but barring some sort of financial miracle, I guess I'll be giving up that dream. More free time equals more writing.

 The biggest impact  I think  was flying to Australia to see my brother, who is one of the most social creatures I know, and realising that I was struggling to communicate with people. Some of them I've known for years. I had no idea of how to hold a simple, easy conversation any more, and it was disturbing. It's no use tweeting your little heart out and chatting on the internet if you cannot function in a social setting. It's unhealthy, for one thing. If your ambition is to be a writer, I think it's downright dangerous.

So now, when someone contacts me and wants to get together, I don't make an excuse. I say yes and go out, and hopefully I don't put my foot in my mouth too many times. I think I'm getting to the point where I can talk to people without sounding like some sort of strange little stammering robot again, and if I haven't quite made it yet,  people have been gracious enough to ignore it.

Last weekend I had the lovely  Mhairi Simpson over (check out her blog regarding my household ghosties &  *ahem* performance issues) and tomorrow I meet up with Jason McIntyre (hopefully without having an absolute fan-girl *squee* moment, because that would be slightly embarrassing) for a cup of coffee. The main thing I've realised is simply - I need to get out of the house occasionally, I need to meet up with real people, not just chat on-line, and if the writing slows down slightly, that's preferable to me riding the mental health wagon over a cliff.

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J H Sked is the author of WolfSongBasement BluesDie Laughing, and Quarter the Moon and a contributor to Sweet Dreams, all of which are on Amazon and enrolled in the Kindle lending programme.