New Work Ethic: Going Back to the Past

When I started writing full time in my twenties I had a strict work ethic of writing in the morning and doing admin the afternoon; doing all those little niggly things that had to be done to be a writer and pay the bills.

If I feel myself stray, I stab myself with a metaphorical fork and skip off and write poetry about it.

Over the years though, those little niggly things took hold more and more. So my admin pile grew and my writing dwindled and that made me ratty, and I suspect sometimes, depressed. I have over the years done hundreds of public residencies, workshops and events, but very few of them have given me any writing time. I made excuses for this: I’m paying the billsI’m helping other writers and I’m happy to promote poetry. Each time, even in my spaniel in the long grass excitement, I duped myself, I took away the one thing I should have been doing, writing and developing my writing. I wasn’t being selfish enough. Doing any form of art requires a little bit of selfishness. I am not going on about ignoring your family or locking yourself away and shouting at anyone who breathes near you. I am going on about clear lines of when you are working and when you want to be part of the world. You wouldn’t expect a Doctor halfway through open heart surgery to wander off to the pub and neither should a writer (unless they are researching pubs for a novel). I am not saying that on some days I don’t get up and think, sod it, no writing today. I am trying to beat myself every time I think that because that again is a way of avoiding the act of writing and though writing is not easy, it is something I love and have always loved. I love it, just like I love reading. I love it, like I love my wife and son. My love for it has no boundaries because when you are writing, and even when it is going badly, there is no horizon, just the feeling that something interesting can be found if you walk the path. I feel that way about reading and my family, and I had forgotten that is how writing makes me feel too. So, how do I write now? Previously I considered ditching the laptop and going old school but I found that was another excuse to not sit down and type up the bloody thing. I have sat myself down, and given myself a good talking too – much of what I said was four lettered and pointing harshly at stacks and stacks of notebooks, half finished work and ideas that I dismissed in favour of going to a metaphorical fun fair (which I hate) or going really shopping (which I hate) or doing the actual hoovering (which I love). This lack of focus meant that that when I was with my family I was thinking about writing (which I still do but don’t beat myself up about anymore) and when I was writing I thinking about my family (which I still do because I am looking forward to seeing them after I’ve done my writing). So last week, enough was enough, I was told off, miserable, shamed and even a little jealous of other writers who were writing (I never do that and that really made me feel bad). So I pulled myself up by my socks, and I came out fighting (not other writers but myself) by bringing everything I had together from every hard drive, notebook and post-it I had and telling myself the new laws of writing – which hark back to when I started bloody writing in my twenties: (1) You will write fiction in the morning for 2-3 hours, (2) You will write poetry in the afternoon for 2-3 hours, and if you think of going on social media during these writing times you will drop an almighty edit on yourself and be named Sisyphus. I have pushed all social media into my lunch hour but refused to get sucked into silly arguments about global warming, television or Jeremy Corbyn. If I feel myself stray, I stab myself with a metaphorical fork and skip off and write poetry about it. I have pushed checking my emails and admin back into early evening, because frankly some emails often don’t need an immediate response and if it’s an emergency, someone will phone me or at least send a homing pigeon. I have been doing these new laws of writing for a week now. I have also walked over six miles in two days, not because I am getting healthy but because I can actually take notes which you can’t really do behind the wheel of a car. Will it last when I am back teaching next month? Yes, because the writing comes first and my family comes first, and if that makes me selfish well I am a selfish writer who in the last week has written one story, started another story and written seven poems, all edited, all ready and all sent off for possible publication. Remember, first came the writing and it was law.

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