The year was 2005. I was a 23 year-old Dip Ed student, my wife was pregnant with our first child, and I was about to complete my final teaching practicum. My prac teacher and one of her colleagues, whose names I’ve forgotten, said that while I’d probably be able to get a job teaching the following year, I could forget about ever earning any Long Service Leave. ‘They’ll get rid of it before then,’ one of them said.
They were wrong.
When I started teaching in Merredin in 2006, the Long Service Leave date on my payslip read 31/01/2016, at which time I’d be entitled to thirteen weeks paid leave. It might as well have read 2099 for how distant that date seemed, but as the years rolled by, and I became a teaching survivor rather than one of many casualties, 2016 drew inexorably nearer.
In 2007-8 I became fixated on the idea of winning the TAG Hungerford Award for my first novel, The Kingdom of Four Rivers (eventually published by the now-defunct Equilibrium Books), and when that dream evaporated, my hopes were transferred onto the thought of winning the Vogel. I’ve written about this before so I won’t dwell on it now, but suffice to say that 31/5/2016 was my final Vogel due date, the final year I’d be young enough to be eligible. Thus the two dates became intertwined in my mind. I’d do my ten years of teaching, take Long Service Leave in early 2016, and give the Vogel a red hot crack.
It didn’t work out like that.
In 2012 I spent nine months working for the State School Teachers Union of Western Australia, which was an interesting experience and a nice break from teaching, but it also blew out my Long Service Leave date to October 2016. Too late for the Vogel. My last chance at that turned out to be my crime novel Thirsty Work, written 2013-4, but I didn’t get anywhere with it. I went back to teaching in 2013, put in another three and three-quarter years, and voila, I became eligible for LSL on the fourth of October of this year. I started my leave on the tenth. Including school holidays, I’d have more than four months off.
All I ever wanted was the time and money required to sit down and write, and now I had one hundred and twenty eight days to produce an entire novel, one that had been brewing in my mind for a couple of years, City of Rubber Stamps. The plan was (and is) to produce a solid draft of the novel of around 80,000 words by Monday 30th January 2017, the day I’m due back at work. Given that I average around 1000 words per day when writing, that seemed (and seems) an achievable goal. I’ve written about my writing tribulations and occasional successes in my piece, ‘Hard Travelin’, which is soon to be released in Writing the Dream from Serenity Press.
One of the greatest days of my life, then, was the 23rd of September 2016, my last day of work for the year and co-incidentally my daughter’s eleventh birthday, the same daughter who was yet to be born in 2005.
Six weeks into my eighteen week block of writing, things are (touch wood) progressing smoothly. I had 3,000 words of the novel already written by the time I started my LSL, and in the intervening six weeks I’ve added another 30,000 words at a rate of 5,000 words per week. 5,000 words doesn’t sound like very much to me, but I can assure you that those words are all hard-earned. It takes me between two and three hours to write my 1000 words for the day and I’ve recently decided that three black coffees is my limit (incidentally, the quote in the title of this piece is from the song ‘Super Disco Breakin’ by the Beastie Boys. Along with Beck and Radiohead, these are the three most important bands and artists to me in the music world. I often listen to the Beasties, especially their album Hello Nasty, as a way of jump-starting my brain in the morning).
I’ve always been a fan of number crunching and statistics, so here goes. An 80,000 word novel draft ought to take me around 16 weeks to produce. At 2.5 hours per 1,000 words, that’s 200 hours of actual composing at the keyboard, not to mention an unknowable number of hours planning, tinkering, thinking and redrafting. This isn’t 200 hours of punching the clock in the way we all do in our quotidian lives, but 200 hours of actual creative endeavour. I’ll also consume at least 240 black coffees in the production of the novel draft and an unknown amount of extra strong Dilmah tea.
Six weeks in, I have 33,000 words done and at least 47,000 words to go. I’m slightly ahead of schedule in that I’m 41% of the way through the draft and only 33% of the way through my LSL. I hope to get even further ahead of the curve over the next fortnight before I take a fortnight off from writing while honeymooning with my new bride in Tasmania. I’ve never written an entire draft of a novel in one block before, mainly because I’ve never had this much time to work on a project in my adult life, so I’m hoping that the fortnight off will act as a much-needed refresher.
City of Rubber Stamps will be the twelfth novel I’ve written, my first being completed twenty years ago when I was still in high school, and I’m hopeful that it will be the fourth to be published. I ‘only’ have to work another seven full years to accrue another thirteen weeks LSL, but the thought of having to wait that long to have another crack at a novel doesn’t appeal, so my intention is to enrol in the Deferred Salary Scheme in 2017, whereby I’ll work four years at 80% pay and thus earns the fifth year off at the same 80%
Roll on 2021, the year I’ll turn forty.
In the meantime, I’ve started how I mean to continue on the current project. With any luck, I’ll have a complete draft of City of Rubber Stamps in under three months time. Writing is hard work, finding the time to do it even harder, but this has been my path. As the Beasties say, ‘you gotta have the dreams to make it all worthwhile.’