Why the hell would anyone get up at 4am?
The loud purring from Steve (named after Steve Rogers of course) the Cat is normally the first thing I hear. I fumble for my mobile on the bedside table, hoping I’ve remembered to dim the light so I don’t wake my wife (a fate worse than death) and check the time. I would fist punch air in happiness if I wasn’t so knackered so instead I drift back to a blessed half sleep.
“You’re not good enough.”
My eyes snap open and before I check my phone again I know it’s either 4am, on the dot, or a little after. I know because I hear the voice, my very own personal alarm clock.
“You’re not good enough and you never will be.”
The voices continues to berate me while I throw on the clothes I left by the stairs last night, in preparation for this morning. I head downstairs to the kitchen and as I make a cuppa the voice gives me a few choice words of inspiration.
“Go back to bed Barry. This is a waste of time mate you’re just not that good. Your mind’s blank mate, you’ve got nothing. I should know I’m the one in here putting up with your delusions of grandeur.”
I settle down in front of the laptop. A mug of tea is clasped in one hand, like a warm liquid barrier against my inner critic. I hit the power button on the laptop and launch my word processor of choice.
“Why are you doing his mate? You could be asleep or playing on the Xbox or something.”
My hands hover over the keyboard. I take a deep breath and I start to type. The voice is still screaming obscenities at me but they lessen with each word I type until it is more white noise than the deafening cacophony of negativity it has been.
So this how my day starts (well some days Steve the cat leaves me alone) and has done for the past three decades. The days when I don’t hear that voice I worry that it’s lurking at the back of my mind plotting a massive attack, which it is. It will then hit me with the deadliest weapon in its critical arsenal – writer’s fear. Now I don’t really believe in writer’s block anymore but I am a paid up member of writer’s fear. This condition hits when my inner critic has been so scathing, so relentless, that for a time (and sometimes, for me, it can last years) I see the world through its eyes. Every time I force myself to sit down at the keyboard to look at my work all I see is a jumbled mess of nonsense.
“You were right. What the hell was I thinking?”
Not content with savouring the victory the voice conjures up other voices, ones from my past to batter me into submission. The English teacher who wrote in my school report ‘Barry has an overactive imagination which he needs to learn to control’ (she put in something like this year). The art teacher who told me ‘drawing comic characters is not what we do here Mr Nugent so stop doing it… here we do fine art (I lost that war)’. The computer studies teacher who told me ‘You’ll never amount to anything in life Nugent’ and to round it off that well known writer who told me ‘Self publishing is for vanity writers and writers who just aren’t good enough.’
This cheery pick me up normally ends with me pouring my cuppa down the sink and heading back to bed or numbing myself with some early morning TV or gaming.
All of those comments haunt me every time I sit at the keyboard and stare at a blank screen at 4 am. No writer works in insolation. Those, early morning, whispered voices join forces with my own inner critic, like some Marvel villain team up, telling me I’m not good enough. The 4 am battle I call it and I believe it’s something every creative person, at every level fights (yes even the JK Rowling’s of this world). It is the one constant, the one thing that makes us all equal as creative people.
When I’m asked why it’s taken me seven years to write a novel it’s mainly down to that creative battle and the truth that I don’t always win.
Unfortunately the only strategy I have for winning the battle is just showing up. Even when I am caught in the hurricane of writer’s fear on an instinctual level I know it is a phase that will pass. So everyday I continue to get up at the crack of dawn and drag myself, word by word, to the eye of my inner critical storm.
Why the hell would it take you seven years to write a novel?
I like to think that every creative person fights this battle on a daily basis. The methods the enemy uses on my fellow creatives may differ but its goal is the same. It wants to stop us writing, acting, painting, lettering, colouring, sculpting and dreaming of new worlds and new adventures. It wants to stop us doing that one thing we love to do more than anything else.
Knowing that there are people out there fighting and winning that battle (#amwriting and #NaNoWriMo #NaNoWriMo17)I’m looking at you) always helps me to stand up to myself and type that next word, complete that next sentence and finish that page. I know if I keep doing it that one day I’ll look up and I’ll have written a book.
After watching Creed (great film by the way) I have now adopted one of Rocky’s training mantras taught to the young Creed and giving it a little creative make over.
One word at a time. one page at a time. one book at a time.
Yep I know chapter would have made more sense than book but book quite frankly works better when you’re using it in time with typing…try it. It also works very well with a punch bag.
So in conclusion, to all our inner enemies, I’ll say this.
“We see you. We know there’ll be times you’ll win a battle or three but never the war. As long as we keep showing up you lose. As long as we keep writing, keep dreaming you lose. So we’ll see you bright and early tomorrow at 4am. You bring the negativity and we’ll bring very sharp pencils.”
And yes I did start writing this post at 4am today…well ok it was 4:20 but Steve wanted Tuna.
“This is it. The darkest day. The blackest hour. Chin up, shoulders back. Let’s see what we’re made of, you and I.”
My new novel Forgotten Warriors is out now.