Saturday 13 October 2018

Singed Around The Edges by Sheena Wilkinson

I’m writing this from Carrickmacross, a small and attractive town in County Monaghan. I’m in the middle of two days of school and library visits in the county. Next week it’s Kilkenny and Dublin, and then begins a month of weekly travel to England and Scotland – Manchester, Liverpool, Huddersfield, Birmingham, Aberdeen, Edinburgh… And I have a book to write by the end of March. 

Yes, I know.  I’ve done what I advise everyone else not to do – I have burnt myself out. 

I have been too busy, too over-committed, for too long. I have spent too much time queuing in airports and yawning in trains and dashing round in the car. A few weeks ago – probably not unrelated – I ended up with the kind of horrible virus I haven’t had since I was a child. Too sick to read? That’s not on! For the first time in my writing career I had to cancel events.  

I panic when I look at my diary for the next two months. I have written JUST SAY NO on the wall above my desk (on a post-it, not the actual wall; I haven’t lost the run of myself that much). I have scrawled WRITE AT HOME on all the days in my diary when I am not physically somewhere else – these are few and far between. I didn’t use to have to tell myself to do that. Especially as most of those days are weekends. 

I know other writers often feel like this. Recently, Claire Hennessy wrote a great article on the subject of writers with day jobs for The Irish Times and it was contributing to this article that made me think I needed to write about this honestly here on Awfully Big Blog Adventure. (here)

Tired and overburdened is how I felt when I had a day job. It wasn’t supposed to be like this now. I’ve had seven books published, won some awards, had some lovely gigs – RLF Writing Fellow, Arvon tutor, teaching creative writing in settings ranging from prisons to universities. I enjoy all those things, which is just as well as I need the gigs to pay the bills. I just thought I’d be living the dream a bit more. Because let me assure you – 90% of this travelling isn’t to meet readers who have bought or love my books; mostly I begin events by saying who I am. 

I’ll keep on doing these gigs, and I am grateful for every invitation. But I haven’t got the balance right. I have said yes too often, squeezed out my writing time, squeezed out time to just BE. 

I have just bought my 2019 diary and it’s started to fill up. But I’m making a before-the-new-year resolution: take more time to write. More time to think. More time to read. More time to be. 

Back to Carrickmacross. It’s lovely. I’m happy to be here and the library have put me up in a gorgeous hotel. The children I met today were delightful, engaged and polite, with some great questions. Of course, one was the inevitable Where do you get your ideas from? and as I answered I thought – though didn’t say aloud – Gosh, I might never have another idea again. I’m too tired for ideas. But then I drove to this little town and took a walk down the main street. And this post is illustrated with some of the quirky, intriguing things I saw. You might see the same on any street if you look.  Any one of these photos might spark an idea for a story.

look closely for the layers of history 

Maybe I’m not that burnt out. Just a bit singed around the edges. 

A reminder from the streets of Carrickmacross about what it's all about -- sharing stories 


Anne Booth said...

Dear Sheena,

I really hope you have a rest soon. I totally understand about burning out and getting ill - and somehow, we writers have got to get this right. I love the fact that you can't stop having ideas - that is a VERY good sign - but you MUST have a rest after all that touring, and if the March deadline isn't do-able - then get it put back. Your health is more important than anything - and I am sure that once you have a rest you will be fine. But you MUST have a rest. You are a brilliant writer, not a robot. x

Sheena Wilkinson said...

That's so kind, Anne! Thank you! The funny thing is, I have now started the new book and just the act of writing it makes me feel MUCH happier! And the sun is shining and I'm heading off to the forest for a walk.... after I do my thousand words...