My life as a storyteller

I am a writer.

It sounds so pompous, doesn’t it? Whenever I hear those words, even in my own head, I think immediately of Rip Torn’s bombastically pretentious delivery of that very phrase in Wonder Boys.

So let’s dispel the sense of arrogance immediately with the story of how, when I was 15 or 16, either way an age by which I should certainly have known better, we had an assignment at school where we had to write about our dreams and goals. The only specific thing I remember is that I at some point in my essay, I wrote that I wanted to be a writter. Yes, with two Ts. One of my mates had to point it out to me. How embarrassing.

It is not with any sense of boasting that I feel comfortable now saying that, yes, I am a writer, dammit. It’s partly a pep talk to myself, partly a pat on the back because, this year, I feel like I can justifiably call myself that. Because I have written stuff.

I’ve always had an urge to tell stories. I’ve long had an abundance of ideas.

As a child, I would corral friends into collaborating on comic books on after-school play dates. (We didn’t call them play dates.) We were inspired by The Dandy and Buster (Google them, non-UK folks) and would create our own one or two page strips detailing the adventures of various character we created. The only one I can specifically remember now is Indiana Bones – a skeleton who would often find himself confronting a series of bobby traps and usually come to a hilariously calamitous end. He was one of my creations.

Even younger than that, I remember staging my Ghostbusters or Hero Turtle toys in the garden, taking a picture, then staging them in another pose and doing the same. I’d have to wait a week to get the prints back from Boots, but when I did, I’d sequence them on separate pages of a notebook and write the story of their exploits beneath the pictures. Creating my own books. Fan fiction, it’s more credibly known as these days.

Around the age of 17 or 18, my attention turned to screenwriting. I’d always been a fan of film, and during my teenage years The X-Files became an obsession. But as I approached the end of my time at school, I was confronted with the need to choose something to study at university. I don’t recall there ever being any real discussion about whether or not university was the right path for me. It was always just a given that I would go. Everyone else was doing it. It was expected of me. I dabbled with the idea of studying English or Literature, but Film was more appealing and seemed more beneficial in terms of the skills learned and their relation to real life and the workplace, so that’s what I ended up doing. And in preparation for that next stage in my life, screenwriting became the sole medium of my leisure writing.

It’s taken me a long time to get away from that. Not that screenwriting is inherently bad. But there are rules. Very specific rules. And I’ve found them to stifle creativity. Or, at least, my creativity. But this is not the place for that. Suffice to say – for now – that though I’ve enjoyed 15 years of screenwriting being central to my life, by abruptly switching to prose this past year or so, I’ve found a new sense of energy and pleasure for writing. And I’m actually getting shit done.

There are numerous obstacles a writer, or at least obstacles that I encounter, when trying to write. The big two are deciding which of my many ideas to write about and then actually finding time to devote to the act of writing. I’ve overcome these two obstacles by taking the time to settle on what I’m going to write, and by experimenting with a writing schedule that works for me. For the latter, I’ve found that if I get up at 5am Monday-Friday, even on holidays, then I get roughly five uninterrupted hours of time to focus on my writing each week. This is time that is dedicated to my fiction writing. I still write during lunch breaks and in the evening and late into the night. That’s time for planning, blogs, silly little literary doodles. But between five and six each morning is devoted to my books.

Books? Yes. Plural.

In order to keep thing interesting, I had about three or four different ideas I was working on around the beginning of the year. Obviously, a novel was my ultimate goal, but I was enjoying just writing again, and flitting between different ideas helped keep that sense of enthusiasm alive. I pretty quickly finished one piece, a short story based on a short screenplay I’d written a few years ago. I’ve been occasionally polishing it since, waiting to publish it until I felt ready – and until I had more of a plan for how I wanted to put my writing out there. (Spoiler: that time has come.)

After that, I had one less idea to jump between. Of those remaining, the one I had the clearest ideas about – ideas that have haunted me for the best part of two decades – came to the fore. Eventually, my other ideas were put on hold while I worked to figure out exactly what this focal project would look like, how it would work, how it would break down. As I write this blog post, I’m approximately two-fifths of the way through my first draft. Things are going well. I expect to be done before Thanksgiving. I intend to publish in February 2018. And I have plans for what’s next. 2018 is going to busy writing year for me.

Because that’s what I do now. I write. I am a writer. In between everything else going on in my life: being a father, being a husband, working hard at a job I absolutely love, going on a bike ride every weekend, trying to get back into watching genuinely great and thought-provoking films, reading books and magazines, following the fortunes of Swansea City though my fingers, and a million other things just like everyone else, I write. And I’m happy.

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