I used to write after work. I’d get home from whatever office or shop I was working in, have something to eat and then try to write for an hour or two. It worked to an extent, but the finished result always felt sluggish. It suffered from a lack of energy as plot and characters became handy ciphers allowing me to moan about my day. Back then, I was very much one of those people who spent a lot of time talking about writing, instead of actually writing. Or, at least, writing happily.
I can’t remember the first time I decided to write in the morning. It may not even have been a conscious decision, knowing how out of sync my body clock was back then. I’m willing to bet I just couldn’t get back to sleep one morning and figured I might as well write something before work.
Ever since then, five days a week, I’ve written before I’ve headed off to the play a few hours of Amateur Wage Monkey. What started as a quick fifteen minutes, became half an hour or an hour. Some mornings now, it’s getting close to two and a half hours. I just don’t know if I can live with getting up before five. It’s possible the teenager I used to be might reach up through the layers of fat and age to kill me if I attempt that.
For me, it’s become a far better system. I usually wake up with less irritating, employment related baggage on my shoulders than I bring home from work. Which means the writing is separated from the petty, pointless stuff I know I’m going to find waiting in my inbox come nine. It also means I can reclaim my mornings. Instead of a weekday morning being a blur of bathrooms, buses and breakrooms, it’s allowed to become a bit more solid. A bit more of my own time before I clock onto someone else’s. Creating something of my own before I step out the front door has definitely helped me tolerate some of the daily, wage related compromises I’ve had to face. It’s turned some mountains back into molehills.
Although both me and an old work friend felt we discovered a dangerous flipside to the morning writing session. We dubbed our discovery ‘Writer’s Karma’. The basic principle goes like this: the more successful your writing is in the morning, the worse your day at work will be. Sadly, it was never a good enough reason to call in sick.
“I’d love to come in today, I really would. It’s just that I found a totally unexpected subplot and now I can’t risk leaving the house for a good nine hours or so.”
Still, for the most part, writing in the morning has always treated me well. Any story you’ll have ever read of mine, along with any blog like this, will have paragraphs written sometime between five and seven thirty on a weekday morning.
The only real downside with morning writing these days happens when I get to seven thirty or so. As I save my work and switch off my computer, I can feel myself putting my life on hold for the rest of the day. I’m basically battening down the hatches, locking the panic room door and preparing to sell eight or so hours of my life to other people in order to eat and keep a roof over my head. I know it’s not a healthy way to look at things, but it’s hard to deny. It’s like shutting away the part of yourself that you’re most invested in, because it can’t actually survive in the real world. On the days when you want to push on, it’s a palpable sensation.
As the second novel gets closer to being finished, I know I must sit at work looking like I’ve been slapped in the face and it’s hard to say that I don’t feel like that. I’m pretty sure you only get one go on this planet and I hate the sensation of selling that time to help rich people get richer, but that seems to be the expected deal. Besides, it’s not like I can complain. I’m healthy, I’m married to the woman I love. We’ve got a fantastic new house and I need a paying job to keep that house. My writing is not going to support that for a long, long time. If it ever does at all now. I’m a fat man in his late thirties. It’s hard to believe those dreams of glory are ever going to be more than dreams now.
Although, there are moments when the dream gets a little closer to reality. Getting a story on The Wicked Library last month was pretty special. Knowing I’ve got a story in an anthology that’s been sent to at least two of The League of Gentlemen and Neil Gaiman still knocks me sideways. Seeing the success of other people I know, like the now award winning K.B. Goddard, gives me hope. And then there are moments like last Saturday.
For those of you who don’t know, last Saturday night I returned to The Gunmakers Arms in Birmingham for my second ever live event. I’d been invited to take part in a show to help promote a new short horror movie called Bella in the Wych Elm. There were going to be some familiar faces there, along with some new ones as well. I was thrilled to be invited to be a part of it and spent every evening the week before rehearsing a few pages from my second novella The Final Restoration of Wendell Pruce,
On Saturday, we set off to Birmingham in the late afternoon and got there with half an hour to spare. We ran into the charming David Shakes before he and his wife set off for her birthday celebrations. After they were gone, we took a seat in the bar and waited to head into the Two Towers Brewery where the readings and showing were taking place.
That was when the nerves hit me. There were only a couple of familiar faces in the gathering crowd. I was still an unknown there. What was to say I’d picked the right sort of story? The feeling only got worse when I discovered a lot of people had brought stories or poems based on the actual Bella folklore. I’d not done that.
Thankfully, it turned out that I was being a complete idiot. I’d forgotten how open and friendly the creative folk horror community can be. As the night began, I met some truly brilliant people before we found our seats. Then I got to hear some truly brilliant work, before watching the movie. The movie, by the way, is well worth checking out. It’s a great piece of low fi, indie horror. It’s documentary styled and lovingly crafted. The score and editing really catch you off guard as you’re offered a guided tour around one of the Midlands most fascinating and creepy rabbit holes.
At the end of the night, as I was ready to leave, something truly brilliant and unexpected happened. A few people asked me for more details about the story I’d read for them. I even gave out business cards, which still makes baffles me. They were all incredibly kind about the story and the reading as well. Which sent me home with quite the smile on my face.
It became one of those great nights where, as a part time writer with full time dreams, I got to take myself off hold completely. I could talk to people about their work and their inspirations. I got to see people try their first ever live piece of storytelling and feel that buzz you only seem to get when stories are told in the flesh.
I’ve been a part of two storytelling events now and attended a couple more in the audience. I don’t understand why we’re not seeing more and more of them. They can be truly thrilling, enthralling and engaging. I highly recommend it, whether you’re debating going to one as an audience member or as a reader. There’s something magically happening when we tell each other stories. (And I’m not just saying that because someone compared my work to Lovecraft.)
So, what am I trying to say here? I guess it’s that fortune and glory are pointless goals when you look at them realistically. As far as I know, Saturday sold me two books and that’s fine. I didn’t go there to sell books. I went there to tell a story and to have people tell stories to me. I also inadvertently fell down the Bella in the Wych Elm rabbit hole. I have a feeling some version of it is going to end up in the third novel now.
Going forward, last Saturday has given me another great memory to cling onto when the office clock gets too loud. Sure, we’re all getting older and time takes no prisoner, but that doesn’t matter. Even if I am putting a dream on hold to earn a little shoe money (that’s one for the Sorkin fans) five days a week. It isn’t really that big a sacrifice. Not unless I make it one. Any story told is one more piece of art in the world and that’s no bad thing. Especially in this world. In truth, it’s a victory. A victory every day of the week. Plus, it means I get to chat with you once a week. How could I ever get annoyed about that?