I have joined the ranks of the #5amwritersclub—an elite band whose only membership requirement is that you haul yourself out of bed and write until it’s time to go to work.
When I started a new job in May, I gave myself permission to put my writing on the back-burner for the first two months while I got my feet under me. I would write nights and weekends, I told myself, as I had done before, producing three novels—Faithless Elector, Dark Network and Emergency Powers. All would be well.
But it’s now three months since I started, and writing at night isn’t working this time, and spending weekends at the keyboard was like trying to add distance to a run or establish a rhythm to a workout you only did once a week. Yes, I made progress on the current book, Witness Tree, but it was tortured, and it wasn’t much. I wasted a lot of Saturdays just getting back to where I’d left off.
The doubts and problems every writer faces grew larger, more numerous, and more ominous.
(writer)-Doom scrolling through social media, I’d see the writer Richie Narvaez post something on social media about the “#5amwritersclub.” His Tweets were often 2 hours old when I came to them. So I reached out to him about 5am writing. Did it work? Was he productive? I was leery of trying to be sparkling and brilliant at such an early hour, but he graciously told me about his routine and process, and he said he’d been able to get things done. I resolved to begin immediately, the next day.
But what one resolves to do and what one does are often two very different things, and I slept through to my second alarm the whole first week, the dark sky writing hours passing me by. I think my determination was undermined in part from my teaching experience of some 30 years ago when I taught English comp at a pair of community colleges in the Seattle area–and two winters in a row I was assigned the early morning classes (for students who worked 9-5, as I do now).
Those two winters, my first class began at 6:30 in the morning. My second class was at 7:30. I was done with my teaching day just as the first rays of sunrise brightened (if you can call it that) the unrelenting Pacific Northwest cloud cover with faint yellows and purples, like a deep bruise that isn’t healing well. One day, a young woman came in to tell me she was dropping my class. It took me a moment to even remember that she’d been in the class, until I realized that she had been the one who slept, her head tipped backward into the row behind. I knew her neck and the underside of her jaw better than her face.
Sometimes, rather than get up at 5am to be on time to teach my class, I would just stay awake. Students would see the stamps from various clubs on my hand and wonder what I’d done the previous night.
I wanted to say to them: “this is the previous night!”
I consoled myself with the difficulty of those winters by telling myself that I was young, this kind of thing wasn’t forever. Yet here I am.
Finally I’ve begun to get up, to put my ass in the chair and get to work. Not every day is perfect, but then they never were, even under the best circumstances. It’s often said that someone “finds his rhythm,” whereas I think rhythm found me. The book is moving forward again, I’ve started two new short stories. And there are extras, too.
There is no punishing heat when I step out back for a coffee before settling to work. It’s cool (or at least not blazing hot) at 5 am, the humidity tamed, even if the wildlife isn’t. I feel that I stand at the edge of a dark sea of possibility. A sense of hope attends those first caffeinated sips and carries me through the first half hour or more of writing. The birds aren’t even awake. But some things are.
Two mornings in a row, I watched a pair of South Philly raccoons tenderly…[OK, I gotta be honest here: I have no idea what they were doing] …retire to wherever it is they go when they climb across my neighbors’ roofs and disappear for the day. I see the bats call it a night and zip off somewhere.
I’m glad I started when I did. Already, the sun is rising later and setting earlier. Had I tried to begin this journey in the winter, I’m not sure I’d have made the tentative start I have so far.
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You can check out McCrone’s recent short stories and novels below:
“Eight O’Clock Sharp” in Retreats from Oblivion: the Journal of NoirCon. (free online)
Set in Philadelphia’s 9th Street Market, Thomas is a man outside of time, forgotten, but trying to do the right thing while contending with avaricious forces.
“Ultimatum Games” in Rock and Hard Place magazine issue #7
A rare book heist, bad decisions. The narrator and his partner-in-crime clash over evolving bourgeois norms.
“Nostalgia” in Low Down Dirty Vote, vol. 3
An armed group tries to resurrect a past that never was as they struggle with change.
James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector, Dark Network , and Emergency Powers–noir tales about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge. All books are available on BookShop.org, IndyBound.org, Barnes & Noble, your local bookshop, and Amazon. eBooks are available in multiple formats including Apple, Kobo, Nook and Kindle.
His next book, w/t Bastard Verdict, is a noir political thriller set in Scotland, currently under review. His work-in-progress is a mystery-thriller set in Oregon’s wine country…A (pinot) Noir, called Witness Tree.
A Seattle native (mostly), James now lives in South Philadelphia with his wife and three children. He’s a member of the The Mystery Writers of America, Int’l Assoc. of Crime Writers, Int’l Thriller Writers, Philadelphia Dramatists Center and is the vice-president of the Delaware Valley chapter of the Sisters in Crime network. James has an MFA from the University of Washington in Seattle.
For a full list of appearances and readings, make sure to check out his Events/About page. And follow this blog!