Summer morning musings: a life dedicated to art

It doesn’t take long for the Florida heat to become oppressive, even in the morning hours. My dad’s apartment faces east, providing a front row seat to the rising sun, and given that we’re a week into June, within an hour of sitting in the cushioned wicker chair on the screened-in patio, my skin is dappled in sweat and I have to be careful to hold whatever book I’m reading slightly above my torso, as to not wet its edges (I highly doubt the local library would appreciate my salty imprint).

This particular morning, I was finishing the last 50 pages of Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow.

People on Booktok have raved about this book for as long as I can remember, and I’ve now discovered, it’s for good reason.

Zevin’s novel has been dubbed a ‘modern classic’ and I couldn’t agree more. It follows Sam Mazur and Sadie Green, from the origins of their friendship in youth (at a hospital in LA, as Sam’s character is revealed to have an issue with his foot that needed multiple surgeries, a long recovery, and where Sadie’s sister, Alice, is also receiving treatments for childhood Leukemia), and follows them through their college years (Sam at Harvard, Sadie at MIT), where they begin developing video games together. This shared love for gaming is the through line that spans across the entire story.

Other prominent characters include Sadie’s mentor, a married MIT professor, Dov, who has a relationship with Sadie for a few years (who, while a talented game-maker, is presented as nuanced, morally-gray, and has a sexually domineering side which Sadie isn’t fond of). Despite this power dynamic, Sadie gains more access to Dov and he lends her and Sam his ‘Ulysses engine’ that allows them to build their first game, Ichigo.

Another main character, Marx, is Sam’s college roommate; he’s charming, the ladies love him, and he becomes Sam and Sadie’s producer/business manager in what ultimately becomes their company, Unfair Games.

Without giving away any spoilers, what I love about this book is how masterfully Zevin melded the heartwarming with the melancholy. This juxtaposition feels true, real, and raw. It mirrors the cadence of our own lives; there are always peaks and valleys, wins and losses, love and heartbreak. It accurately describes the panoply of human emotion, the beauty of a friendship that somehow endures, despite hardship, throughout your entire life. What a rarity! I absolutely recommend this book, and it’ll very likely be a top contender for my favorite read of 2024.

Why mornings are precious for artists

The older I get, the more protective I am of my mornings. While this is a topic I could do a whole YouTube video on (and I certainly plan to), I will cover it briefly here. When I leave dreamworld, wake up, rub my eyes, and blink away the overnight lash crusties, for a handful of hours my mind is completely fresh and blank. It hasn’t yet been inundated by the mental things-to-do list that naturally forms as the day goes, alongside the dopamine surges of opening apps like Instagram and Tiktok, or the Microsoft Teams *ding* notification that bristles the hair on the back of my neck.

Simply put, mornings are precious, and if you’re serious about your art, you have to protect them at all costs. Make your morning cup of Joe and get to it—whether that’s writing, painting, music, etc. Devote your clearest thoughts and full mental bandwidth to your art. Pay yourself first. Your art will thank you for it.

I feel blessed to currently have a full-time, remote role, but it’s a double-edged sword. While I’m grateful for the flexibility, the workday’s screen time, on top of my writing screen time (I write on my laptop), is way too much, in my humble opinion. That’s why I dedicate the early mornings to my craft. I don’t begin work until somewhere between 9:30-10:30, and personally, I’d rather work later for my job (I finish sometime between 5-7, depending on what needs to be done for my tasks/projects) and still be able to fill up my own cup first thing in the morning than to attempt the opposite. The times in my life where I worked or went to school all day, and then tried to write in the afternoon or the evening, it was a disaster. My circuits were already fried, synapses ready for a good rest. The quality of my output was never as good, compared to that of the morning hours.

How I see my art and life evolving

The old saying goes, “Man makes plans, and God laughs.”

While it may appear to be a bleak witticism on its face, at 31 years old, I’ve witnessed its veracity in both the good and the bad; the bad—a car accident, or a relative dying; and the good—a surprise job offer or romance, I find the quote refreshing in the sense that life’s most wondrous adventures and experiences may arise from a person, a path, or a place that hasn’t yet been plotted out on the “plan” for the coming years (as many of us mortals attempt to do, the charade of control which, somehow always, evades our grasp).

Even so, I do feel it’s important for artists to map out their current and soon-to-be projects, along with their visions for the future. (Don’t be a cynic! It gives us something to look forward to). For me, I desire mornings writing my current work (screen time), or plotting out my current or future works (no screen time – this is done exclusively with pen and paper). 3-5 hours of steady creativity is the maximum for quality flow and output, in my opinion. Most writers and other artists understand this phenomenon of being in flow. If my writing loses its flow, or if I feel the output is ‘clunky’ and doesn’t come out ‘right’, I abandon ship.

But normally, since my daily word count goal falls somewhere between 500 – 1000 words, depending on the project, I can typically always achieve the flow needed to finish my day’s goal. When in the middle of a project, I write 6 days a week, only taking 1 day off. But this is how I like it. I always feel like something’s missing when I’m not writing. My work is my life! (This is actually a recurring theme in Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow that resonated with me quite strongly).

The only difference between my present and my ideal future, is that in the ideal future, when I’m finished writing for the day, I’m done with screens. Perhaps I’ll be volunteering abroad, or working at a little Inn on the coast of Maine or Monterey Bay; but I know in my core I have to do something other than “work” (I’m talking about the salaried/corporate, white-collar work here, not my writing work) 6-8+ hours every day in front of my computer screen. I’m an extrovert at heart and I love being around people. And this is what I’m working towards!

In the meantime, I’m saving money, investing a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (and $$$) into my forthcoming debut horror, The London Cheque, which releases on October 1st, 2024. I’m sending my last completed novel, Underbelly, out to a few beta readers to help polish it up to continue querying literary agents, and I’m about 15,000 words into my next work-in-progress, a suspense romance that takes place in a dystopian future, titled Seven Spared, the first of a trilogy.

I’m a firm believer that writing, like any sport, art, or craft otherwise, is like a muscle—to grow, it must be used. Sure, reading widely and often is important for an author, but writing more so. I saw a quote a few months ago that made this shrewd observation:

To assert that you can only read books and become a great writer is the equivalent of a food critic saying they can become a chef at a Michelin-star restaurant, simply because they have eaten 1000 Michelin-star meals.”

Writing is a craft that must be honed by writing, and writing prolifically. So get to it!

I will close out this blog by sharing the ambience video I listened to while reading on this morning; it spurred the perfect illusion that I was somewhere in Northern Italy, basking in the summer sun.

I hope to see your work on the bookshelves one day as well. So never quit! Feel free to contact me here on the website or on my socials.

—Allen

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