After I finished my PhD in 2005 I didn't write any new stories for nearly a year. At that point it had been over six months since I had finished the creative part of the thesis, so it added up to a break of over eighteen months. When I came back to writing fiction it was with a new voice, a new approach and new stories, many of which surprised me.
The thing which surprised me most was how much of myself I was now putting into my stories. Whole chunks of my autobiography would find their way in, often without me noticing. It was at times, disturbing to discover how much of myself I had inadvertently used, but over time I got used to it and learned to control it.
For different reasons it has once again been about eighteen months since I have written a full story. In that time I have finished a novel and written a number of flash fictions, but these are different beasts from a full short story. They're more like keeping an engine ticking over than opening it up full-throttle and taking it for a burn.
And then, over the weekend at a conference, a discussion provoked an idea for a story and I found myself taking notes during sessions, waking up with my mind already word-processing, and even took a time-out to start writing it. This morning I finished writing it and now I'm stepping back to look at what I've done.
My original idea was heavily autobiographical, calling on a range of things that have happened to me in the last year or so. But, having written it, I am slightly surprised to see how much fiction is in there. Yes, there are elements of myself, as their must be in any work of fiction, I feel. But the reality of situations has been twisted further than has happened in a while, all to fit the themes of the story.
I guess any extended break is going to change you as a writer, but it's always interesting, and, to be honest, slightly discomfiting, when it happens. All of this is part of my progression as I writer, I feel. I started with fiction as pure as I could make it, but little emotional engagement. I then engaged with emotion, through autobiography, but perhaps at the expense of story. Maybe I have now found the balance between the two, serving the story but also the reality of emotion too. I can only hope that's the case.
Ahead of me lies the rewriting and editing before submission. And then we'll see if it's good enough by other standards than my own. For myself, I'm pleased with it, not least because it felt so good to be writing again that I know I can use it to motivate my writing over the oncoming summer.