Abir Mukherjee

My Life is a Dumpster Fire

If you could easily change one writing habit, what would it be? Starting earlier (or later) in the day? Become a plotter or pantser? Rush through a first draft or edit as you go?  

Once in a while, more often than I’d like, we get a question which makes me feel guilty. The guilt stems from my rather haphazard approach to writing and to life in general, and the feeling is always exacerbated when I read the responses from my fellow writers. It’s a bit like when you see everyone else’s perfect photos on Facebook while your own life is a dumpster fire with alarm bells ringing constantly in the background.

I wish I was disciplined. I wish I had a set, efficient routine. I wish I could produce a decent number of words each day. I wish my plots made more sense. I wish I could pants. I wish all of these things and more. But they won’t happen.

I can’t do any of those things. There are several wellsprings to my general inefficiency/uselessness. Some stem from my own personal character flaws. I am intensely lazy – always have been, for as long as I can remember. As a teenager, I’d leave homework to the last possible minute, often finishing it on the bus on the way to school or during break-time. As an adult, not much has changed. There’s always something more interesting to be doing than the task at hand. To paraphrase the philosopher, Yoda:

A writer must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was.

And that’s me. The writerly equivalent of galactic screw-up, Luke Skywalker. Concentration, that’s my big probl- oh look! A puppy!

But it’s not just my character. My life is also chaotic for other reasons. I get the feeling (not that you could tell from our profile shots on this blog) that I might be a bit younger than some of my fellow writers. I also started late – not just writing, but on life in general. As a result, I’ve got two young kids who unfortunately take after me. I also have a wife with a full time job. As I’m self employed, it means I have more flexibility and so end up doing a lot of the family stuff.

My mornings look like this.

6am – Alarm goes off.6.01 – Switch it off – go back to sleep.

6.30 ish – crawl out of bed (on bad days I wake up screaming at 7.15 realising I’m already late)

6.45 – stumble downstairs and make coffee for the wife and me. (I always make the first coffee of the day for my wife. This then means that she has to make every other hot beverage or meal for us during the rest of the day.)

7.00 – Shout at the kids to get out of bed.

7.01 – Start making the kids’ breakfasts – (note – wife is still in bed drinking the coffee I made her)

7.10 –  Shout at the kids again to get out of bed.

7.12 – Go back upstairs and kick the kids out of bed.

7.15 – Put poorly prepared breakfasts in front of kids. Shout at them to eat it.

7.20 – Try and find clean school uniforms for the kids.

7.25 – Give up and just dig items of yesterday’s uniform out of the laundry basket.

7.30 – Shout at kids to get a move on and eat their damn breakfasts which I have lovingly prepared.

7.33 – Consider taking a shower but wife has beaten me to it.

7.35 – Bribe kids by adding chocolate spread to their toast in a last attempt to get them to eat it.

7.40 – Shout at kids to get dressed and brush their teeth.

7.41 – Shout at kids to come back and take their dishes to the sink first – “this isn’t a hotel you know” etc.

7.45 – Dig through laundry basket for second school shirt to replace one now covered in toothpaste.

7.50 – Daily hunt for kids’ shoes, school bags, water bottles, hats – “Where did you put it last night when you came home?” etc.

 8.00 –  kids are ready (one of them missing a hat and the other wearing shoes on wrong feet, but it’s good enough). Wife comes downstairs and checks e mails.

8.05 – I rush upstairs for a shower.

8.15 – Get dressed (ie throw on t shirt and shorts)

8.25 – take kids to school.

9.am – Get home and collapse.

I do try and start work at 9am but too often there domestic fires to fight – bills to pay, admin to do, e mails to respond to, so it’s generally about 10am before I can sit down to write. Since covid, my wife’s been mainly working from home. She says that I type, write and breathe too loudly, so I must go up two flights of stairs to the attic bedroom to write.

Even in the attic room, it takes me about half an hour to clear my head and get into writing mode. I’ll write for half an hour and then get hungry and wander down the stairs for a cup of tea and some toast sometimes with jam, sometimes with Marmite (that’s a British thing – it’s basically brown and sticky and doesn’t taste remotely like anything else in the universe. People love it or hate it. I love it).

Anyway – I get back to my desk and start writing again, but then soon it’s lunchtime, and then at 3pm the kids come back and all hell breaks loose. So my writing is curtailed.

On a good day, I’ll get a thousand words done by lunch time. On a normal day, I’ll struggle to produce 500 words by the time the kids get back. This used to upset me, but I’ve there are other writers whose work I admire who produce 500 words a day. The difference is, their words are good.

So, long story short, what would I like to change about my writing habits?

Everything and nothing.

I won’t change. I can’t change. This is as good as it gets.

1 July 2022