I can tell when a plot is forming when I start looking inside my head and lose track of what’s happening around me. It makes me terribly bad company, and not fit be with people until I make a conscious effort to haul myself back to reality. That’s where I am right now: I recognise the state of mind, but I have to admit I don’t welcome it.
It’s a dilemma I’ve faced before, and I’m not sure there’s much I can do about it. I like people and company and talking and listening. When I was working in education, opportunities to indulge these pleasures were built into the work, and I loved the intense engagement involved. I’ve described my work at its best as the equivalent of an extreme sport, where all your senses and your brain are stretched and exercised, deliciously so. Now I’ve made a long-delayed decision to leave the education work behind and focus on being a writer, which is essentially an inward-looking isolated existence, and I know I’m going to find it hard. Writing can give me that wonderful intensity of concentration, the ‘flow’, but I also need an outlet for the other side of my nature, the gregarious interactive side.
To some extent, I’ve found it, in the opportunities I already have to present my work, talk about the books and discuss them with readers and other writers, but so far those opportunities aren’t quite frequent enough to meet the need. I get the feeling that people don’t expect writers to be able to ‘present’, as if the two skills were at opposite ends of a spectrum. But I was making my living as a presenter for twenty and more years before I started to write fiction. I know I can do both, and the balance isn’t quite right yet. I want to write to the organisers of the big literary festivals and tell them they need people like me who can ‘entertain’ an audience. large or small, but even saying that here sounds woefully egotistical.
Sometimes, listening to other writers and reading what they say on Twitter, I get the feeling that the presenting skills are somehow despised, or at least regarded as an unwelcome distraction from the monastic business of writing. Is my interest in running workshops, reading my own work and talking about my books inappropriate for a serious writer? Or is it just a sign that my real interest is in stories and ideas and communicating, whether written or oral? Maybe that means I’m not properly serious about being a writer, or maybe I’ll just have to keep the two activities going on parallel tracks and divide my time between them in a way that makes me happy.