A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
It seems fitting I should offer up some thoughts on the topic of writers’ working days because, as I type this, it’s been exactly a year since I was working as a deputy headteacher. A whole year since the balance tipped from 55-hours-a-week at work plus three hours’ writing at night, to the considerably saner situation I’m in now. Phew.
A few words about what it used to be like. Writing Lifers with a fulltime day job was neatly summed up by the events of one particular day back in about 2015. My first book, The Poison Boy, had been shortlisted for the North East Book Award and I was super-excited to attend the event. There was no way I was getting time off work to travel, so I was in school by 7am so I could skip town at 4 and head up to Newcastle for 7 that evening. The trains were all delayed so I elected to drive. My car at that time had this thing where over 65mph, the steering wheel shuddered like a dental drill. I had vibration white finger by the time I made it to the venue – ten minutes to spare. No food on, and no time to eat it even if there was; the awards were beginning and we were all led onstage. We had a great time.
Afterwards, the others were going for dinner and drinks but it was getting on for 9pm and I had work the next day. The roads were quieter on the way home and I listened to talking books. I was back in Manchester before midnight. I stayed downstairs to get back to work on Lifers, typing at the kitchen table till 3-ish. I got three hours’ sleep on the spare room sofa bed then drove back into work for a 7am start.
Not all days were like that back then – I’m picking an extreme example of course to illustrate the madness of trying to run two careers at once – but large periods of my life zoomed past in this lunatic, adrenaline-fuelled charge.
I’ve wrested some sort of control back and the days are different. Two or three times a week now, I get to work from home (the rest of the time I have to earn some actual money.) It’s beautiful – I feel incredibly lucky. I drop my little girl off at school and start at 9:15am. Three hours’ generally fly by while I’m in the zone, hammering away at a laptop with a playlist on endless rotate (today was Alex Heffe’s score to the recent adaptation of Stephen King’s 11.22.63) I return to reality at about midday, hungry, cold, desperate for a pee.
When I was a teacher I might get five or ten minutes for lunch. Now I take an hour, usually I watch a twenty of thirty minute section of TV (at the moment either Stranger Things, Fear The Walking Dead or Under the Dome) then go for a walk. Then I’m back at it for another ninety minutes. I’ll call a halt around 2:30 and switch to boring stuff – emails, admin – for an hour. Then the kid returns and the calm is shattered.
So it’s been a pretty seismic change. The biggest difference is the speed at which things can be done. 1,500 words per day instead of per week means a book gets finished so much more quickly, right? But there are other benefits. I’ve got space to reflect on feedback, snag problems, play-test scenarios and reconsider options before committing them to paper. I’ve gone from a desperate bid to maintain momentum at-all-costs, to a situation where there’s room to breathe, to think.
And I’m a waaay better writer for it, I reckon. If I had a wish, it would be that I’d somehow found a way to make the change earlier. I guess that’s everybody’s challenge.
More on writers’ days from the rest of the Author Allsorts team this week – watch out for posts on Wednesday and Friday. I will be!
Martin Griffin writes sci-fi and fantasy adventures for young readers. His debut novel, THE POISON BOY, won The Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction competition in 2012 and somehow managed to get shortlisted for Staffordshire Young Teen Fiction Award, the North East Book Award, the Leeds Book Award, the Calderdale Children’s Book of the Year, the Kent Themed Book Award and the Branford Boase Award, without winning any of them. A teacher at the time, he wrote using the name Fletcher Moss to keep it secret from his students. He returns to his real name for his second novel, LIFERS, a super-dark contemporary prison-break adventure, his first novel for teen readers. Martin lives in Manchester with his wife and child. Continue reading…