A friend of mine tells me he writes early, before everything else about life and the world has risen up and blotted out his impulse. I don’t know how he managed to rise and write before work, because generally when I wake up my brain is in ‘resigned acceptance’ mode.

For me, I think the equivalent time is about when I’ve made the decision to sleep, already head on pillow and eyes closed, in that moment before I leave the day behind. But, really, I think this is because there’s a romanticism to writing at midnight, in the dark, when everyone else is asleep.

I suppose it’s to do with sacrifice, or with succumbing to that urge, that impulse, to write instead of anything else. Which would make early rising and writing difficult for me because if I did get into the mood the very thought of having to pull myself out of it and get started with ‘real life’ would be traumatic.

After graduating I had one of those fringe jobs, not a shift work thing but never in a million years a career thing – I worked as an expediter. Basically, I called or emailed people, asked them a question, then put the answer into a field on my spreadsheet. The question is irrelevant, really, I could have been asking anything.

The job could have been spiritually crushing, especially as it was based in one of those giant open plan offices. The modern factory floor, with everyone sat at a desk instead of stood at machinery. Even before The Office skewered the type of people I worked with and for, they were breathing and berating us about percentages here.

Instead of drowning in this sea of surreal meaning/meaninglessness though, I submerged into fantasy and read like my life depended on it. I read on the bus, I read during each minute of my tightly-observed lunch break and I read on the bus home. I read indoors, I read outside. Except it was less like reading and more like living.

While I was aware of what was going on around me it was happening in slowmotion. When I put the book down, at my stop or the turning of the clock, it was like pulling myself from the world I’d been in. That world was solid, real. Coming out of that reading-trance was only possible because I knew it wasn’t long before I’d be back in it.

I was consumed by the worlds I journeyed into, and at the time I was devouring Stephen King books which are perfectly massive and easily digestable, fantastic choices for my escape attempts from life. Little else meant much during the day, and I wasn’t do much else with my life outside of this deadend job.

I am an obsessive. Part of me is worried about how obsessive I feel I have to be with writing in order to get anywhere – one a day of this, endless hours spent searching for ‘truth’, afternoons spent solemnly rifling through my own head – and how if I really do become a full-time writer the rest of my life might suffer.

Except that’s bollocks, for the very reason I’m not getting started with writing in the first place. It’s the ideas which hold me, which I escape into, the scribbled notes in coveted notebooks which give me a way out, a something different, another place to be. The writing itself is, unavoidably, work. It’s not escape, it’s real.

It doesn’t have to be like that, and there are more than enough writers who find the eventual unveiling of a story to be the exploration, the adventure. My problem is that having been consumed by an idea and excitedly lived the arc of it in my notes, I’m then left to write it. I’ve cast myself as a cartographer chasing after the real adventurers long past the time when beasties really were ‘here’.

Which is more bollocks, given that I know how fluid writing can be and how though I may feel I’ve plotted the hell out of my ideas each story is guaranteed to produce at least one surprise, one unforseen, unplanned, where-did-that-come-from element. Whether or not that impacts any great deal on the story itself.

Writing isn’t travelling, in my head. It’s not like reading which takes you away, passively to a large extent. It’s active, which I guess I’ve not been a huge amount. My friend cites these entries as ‘writing’, though to me they feel like rants, or idle conversation. They’re not art.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it. What writing is art? I don’t actually value art in terms of story, in terms of narrative, I value readability, lightness of touch, description, dialogue, skillful development of plot. All artful talents. Art is meaningless unless you intend on producing it. I don’t aspire to art. So why am I trying to write it?

About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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