5am is my favorite time of the day.
It’s that half-lit time between night and morning, stupidly early before the rest of the world wakes up. And I’m in a coffeeshop, working on a manuscript.
Once when I was in undergrad, one of my poetry professors said that he only submitted to literary magazines whose titles intrigued him (I have tried to follow his example, because it’s nine million times more fun to say “oh yes, I’m in Print-Oriented Bastards“) and he said that he and some friends worked on and called one 5AM for the similar reasons: because if you’re awake at 5am, you’ve got to have a reason for it– you’re either out too late chasing the wild party, or you have a very specific job.
The latter group is the one I most often roll with, and it’s where the protagonist for this new story falls. This is a thing I started writing in high school, finished a draft of in college, and that I’m rewriting for the first time since 2012.
My last manuscript, SLINGS AND ARROWS, has a whole lot to do with ghosts. (Spoiler: it’s a Hamlet reimagining, and the main character’s girlfriend becomes a ghost.) I’ve always just liked ghosts, and they tend to pop up somehow in pretty much everything I write.
This WIP takes place during the fall, from late September to a few days in November. Leaves start falling, it gets colder, people put out pumpkins and paper ghosts in windows–it’s the part of the year when, across cultures, we reconnect with the dead, the damned, the lost souls. It’s a liminal time between seasons, and so too is 5am between days.
And we build up this mythology about it, like it’s when the ghosts come out.
I don’t have many delusions about writing (at least, god, I hope I don’t or else this is going to get wicked pretentious wicked fast)– I do it daily, or when I’m not zombie-puking in a bathroom from sickness and exhaustion, I outline in my head and plan, I use a sticker system to keep on track, I listen to music. I treat it like a career.
But somehow I keep ending up in this Starbucks at ass o’clock in the morning like it’s a ritual, all so I can write this first-person narrative about a guy who says things like I’m just one more heir in a dress shirt and slacks, and this lets them forget all the other things I am.
First person is my worst POV. I don’t write it because it’s way too easy to tell when it sounds artificial. And when I do, I ramble. I stumble into anecdotes. I make novice mistakes and I mess up.
But here I am again, nursing a coffee and typing and un-typing until I get something that doesn’t sound like crap. It’s the book that has already taken me the longest to write, and I don’t even have a serviceable draft of it. But it’s fall again, like every year, I get the urge to return to this story.
And this is the year that I’m doing it. 5am is my favorite time of the day because it’s here, hunkered over this table with some dude who’s pretending to read his paper but is actually just flicking glances at my screen, that this story is getting written. It is 5am and I’m awake and I have a very specific job.
Because books, in some ways, are also ghosts. They’re impressions of people we knew, places we visited, things that happened to us ages ago and feelings we had. They’re impressions of who we were when we wrote them.
I like ghosts because I know what it’s like to be haunted, whether it’s by an idea or a person that you miss. I like the concept of leaving a part of yourself somewhere. It works well with the Tragic Bro thematic element I’ve got going on across my work.
So yeah, that thing you’ve been wondering if you’re good enough to write yet? Write it. Give it a shot, and even if you can’t pull it off all the way, there’s always next year. You’ll get better. There’ll be another fall, more 5ams in Starbucks, steadily and quietly sampling every damn thing on the menu and in the pastry case.
The point is, it’s worth it to start. It’s a pain messing up the story that is probably the book of your heart, learning to write in a perspective you flounder in, and dragging your sorry ass out of bed and through a cold side street so you can go through your silent, existential terror in the company of sleepy strangers and baristas too tired to remember to turn on the radio. It’s the best you’ve ever felt, watching garbage men sling rain-wet bags into the mouth of their truck as the sun scrapes over the edges of your city, even if it can also be the worst.
But more than anything, it’s fall. And that’s when the ghosts come out.