I am terrible when it comes to keeping in contact with people. I always have been. I am very protective of my free time, mostly because my free time isn't really free. This can make me appear selfish and neglectful. I am painfully aware of this. BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN I DON'T CARE. My reclusive behaviour is also not a reflection on any specific person. I'm exactly the same with ex-work colleagues, good friends, oldest friends and even my own mother. Most of them have come to accept this. Others have not. And those that have not, I have lost (thankfully my mum has stuck around) or I'm on the verge of losing.
Unless you're amazing at balancing your work and social life perfectly, this happens to everyone in varying degrees. It can happen no matter what you do for a living. It's a busy time for us: we're building careers, going into further education, dating, getting married, having kids. The old friendships that once made the world go round have shifted and changed to accommodate our commitments. It is just the way life is. On understanding this, if my friends and I don't speak for a while I don't take it personally or believe that our friendship is going down the crapper. I just assume they are as busy as I am. We'll contact each other eventually and we'll just carry on where we left off ... Right?
For most people once the day job is done, the rest of their day is freed up for family, friends, or general down-time. However, this is typically not the case for writers; balancing our work and social lives is especially hard. For the most part this is because we're often already balancing two careers. One is the day job, the one that pays the bills. The other is the writing career, the one you do because you're passionate about maybe, one day, turning it into the day job that pays the bills. Unfortunately three quarters of us will never achieve this. So we must continue balancing the day job and the writing, and then everything else in between. For me, my free time is not my free time. My free time is spent focusing on my second career. This is an even harder feat when trying to write a début novel and get an agent. It's HARD. BLOODY HARD. It takes dedication and determination and a very stiff spine. If, like me, you're focusing all your 'free' time on achieving this dream it is inevitable some things fall on the wayside. It's not right, it's not what you mean to happen, but it does. It's slightly easier if you have a family, or a live-in partner, or live with friends. You are forced to be sociable. Your schedule has to be strict and work around the people you're sharing space with. But when you live on your own it's a completely different kettle of fish.
Recently I have been throwing myself into my writing. I've upped the tempo, increased the amount of hours I've put into my dream of getting published. These past weeks have been especially busy. Contact with friends was done via messenger systems. One particular friend I messaged at least once a week, but I hadn't had time to make plans with her. As I didn't hear much from her either I assumed she was in the same boat. And because our friendship is long-standing - we have known each other since we were 11 - I honestly thought everything was fine. But when I cancelled an outdoorsy meeting with her because I was coming down with a cold, but then kept myself busy during that weekend at home (I hate to be idle), it opened up a whole box of upset I wasn't prepared for. What I didn't realise, was that while I was in my self-imposed exile, she had been stewing over my silence and been thinking me a bad friend, that we had been slowly drifting apart for years. Her reaction completely baffled me because not once had she been upfront about this until she reached boiling point. I had been quiet, too quiet, and it simply wasn't good enough. I was wracked with guilt of course, but then it did get me thinking.
Friendships are a two-way thing. You might be accused of being neglectful, but when it comes to writing I think you really do have to throw yourself into it 100% to achieve your goals, especially when deadlines are looming. As such it inevitably happens that you forget to communicate, even though you're thinking of that person most days. BUT. I also believe it goes both ways - it takes only a moment for someone to ask how the writing is going, how you're feeling about it. Sometimes when we're so immersed and feeling very overwhelmed with the whole thing, it's nice to know your friends are thinking about you supportively rather than resenting your silence. There is a reason for that silence. That reason is not because we've stopped caring. Many writers are naturally reclusive because they are working hard to reach that all important endgame, and sometimes we need a good talking to. We have to be reminded (sometimes literally forced to remember) there is a life outside of the hermit hut, and it's good. Because in the end, if any of us are successful who can we share that success with if not our friends?
I've found over the years there are some people who are supportive of writers. There are others that do not believe 'this writing thing' is serious. That it's a hobby, an unhealthy obsession, a phase you will grow out of. That you'll never get published because it's been going on now so long and they want their friend back. They may never outright say it, but it's what they're thinking, even just a little bit. Personally, aside from being hurtful, this makes me all the more determined to prove them wrong. It makes me work even harder. Which makes me invest more of my 'free time' into achieving my goals. Which means less friend time. It's a vicious cycle.
In this particular case, both of us are to blame - I didn't talk, she didn't ask. And I've been asking myself how can you reach an effective balance, a balance that keeps both your friendships and your ambitions on track? I think it depends on your honesty from the outset about what is involved in being a writer, the understanding of your friends, and effort from both sides to make it work. If, like me, you’re struggling with this, here’s some key points I'm going to try and put into place throughout 2018 that I think might help:
There is one final point, but this is a reminder more than anything, to work around all the above, and it's put into words perfectly by J.K. Rowling:
Balance is a tough thing to get right, and as someone who naturally struggles with this it's going to take time for me to master it. But I think if we can remember these simple five points then it will make us much better friends and much happier people, otherwise we’ll find that when we resurface from the writing mire the world looks a lot less welcoming. Writing is a lonely road - let’s not make it any lonelier.