It’s been seven months since I finished the the Creative Writing program at the University of Edinburgh and I have returned to Wellington, New Zealand to work in the animation department at Weta Digital. Several familiar faces are still there and many others have left, with new faces and new friendships forming in their place. With respect to work, it’s been back to business as usual, and it didn’t take long for me to pick up where I left off after having had a year away from previs and animation.
On occasion I am asked by one of my colleagues what I have been up to since I’ve been back. Am I still writing? It’s an honest and simple question, but one that terrifies me every time I hear it. The nature of the question.
Am I still writing? The implication to mean that have I, perhaps, abandoned writing? After all it has been seven months and I am working full time again, and everyone at work is always busy at work. It is not an unreasonable assumption, and the question is never asked with anything more than simple curiosity.
Am I still writing?
The answer to the question is that yes, I am still writing, and I am, occasionally, quietly, freaking out about it.
These days I’ve got the freaking out part under control. Mostly. But the first time I dealt with it after having gone back to work wasn’t fun or easy. This was back in September, when it had been three weeks back at work full time; three weeks since leaving Edinburgh, a city I fell deeply in love with; five weeks since I handed in my dissertation and finished my time as a full-time postgrad student, which I now consider to be one of the best and most formative experiences of my life; six weeks since I had written anything new.
In short, time was drifting me away from what was a creatively enriching time in my life, and a panic was beginning to grip me.
At the same time, I had set out to write a new piece of fiction for a prompt which had a looming deadline. The prompt required a relatively small word count, and I thought that with me working 50 hours a week at work, it would be a gentle way of diving back into writing fiction. Weeks went by where I tried to go home after work and write that story, only to find myself severely stuck and creatively exhausted. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get a first draft finished.
I began to panic. I confided in someone close to me these fears, the biggest of which was this: that the year I had spent dedicated to writing was going to slip away, that everything I had done for my writing would slowly erode and be lost. I was afraid that it would be like the year had never happened. The more time and distance I accumulated from my time in Edinburgh, the more surreal the memory was, and that in itself made me quietly despair.
Talking about this helped, and over the next few weeks, I managed to work through a lot of those anxieties I placed on myself. I finished that story, handed it in, and it managed to show up on their long list. I have since edited a few pieces of fiction I wrote during my time in Edinburgh, and have revised them to a stage I am happy with. Whenever I see an open submission that seems appealing, I submit, hoping for a little joy. I am now trying to find time to write something new.
I have since spoken to other friends who have also faced the challenge of maintaining a writing practice that has to adhere to everything else going on in their lives. It’s not easy. Sometimes it feels damn-near impossible. But people do it. For some writers, they have to do it, because for some writers the written word is the only life-line they have.
The biggest lesson I’ve had to learn in these last few months is being realistic when setting expectations for my own goals. I know what I want to do and what I have to do. Now I’m learning how to manage my time and energy so I can give everything I can when I’m at work, and then finding more to give to myself when I’m at home. It’s challenging, it’s exhausting, and there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
Well. The new Zelda game just came out. I have to give a little bit of time to that too.