Navigating the Start of a New Year: A Week in the Life of M.K. England
Author: Edit Team
January 9, 2019
“I have one mission today: Get my shit together.”
“The Banal and the Profane” is a monthly Lambda Literary column in which we lift the veil on both the writerly life and the publishing industry. In each installment, we ask a different LGBTQ writer, or LGBTQ person of interest in the book industry, to guide us through a week in their lives.
This month’s column comes to us from writer M.K. England.
M.K. England is an author and YA librarian who grew up on the Space Coast of Florida and now calls rural Virginia home. When they’re not writing or librarianing, M.K. can be found drowning in fandom, rolling dice at the gaming table, climbing on things in the woods, feeding their video game addiction, or talking way too much about space. They love Star Wars with a desperate, heedless passion. It’s best if you never speak of Sherlock Holmes in their presence. You’ll regret it. The Disasters, their debut novel, was published in December by HarperTeen.
Follow them at www.mkengland.com.
Monday, December 31
I’m a bit obsessed with the changing of the years.
I wake up at 5:30 a.m., getting a one-day-early start to one of the habits I hope to build in 2019. It’s only half an hour earlier than usual, but it kicks my ass all the same. I huddle on the couch in a hoodie with a cup of coffee, fiddling with my 2019 bullet journal as if pushing ink into the page will somehow force my goals and wishes for the new year into being. I take the fresh start of the new year very seriously.
It’s been a solid month or more of non-stop blog interviews, social media, and (once the book came out on December 18th) touring. Then holidays. Just thinking back on it makes me want to curl into a ball and sleep. Thinking of a shiny new year full of opportunities, though, makes me feel like I can conquer the damn planet. I’m gonna lean into the latter. Here I come.
Monday’s a weird sort of day at the library. I’m a teen librarian, but most of my teens are still hibernating until school’s back, or out of town with family. Things flip-flop from chill to chaos about every quarter hour. The phone rings roughly every 90 seconds—”Are you open today? Yes, we close early at 5.”—but other than that, it’s a fairly typical day of being cheerful and determinedly not thinking about why that recently-returned book is sticky. The vague haze of depression hangs over the whole day, but it’s not a Bad Day. Mental health moves in cycles, and I’m grateful to not be in the trough of the wave.
No parties or all night tabletop gaming marathons with friends this year. Instead, I go home to my partner, who cooks us dinner, and we spend the evening watching The Great British Baking Show and playing Full Metal Furies on Xbox One as I pound whiskey gingers. Honestly, it’s a pretty damn fabulous night. #marriedlife at its best.
Tuesday, January 1
This is it. Today everything starts for real. I get up at 5:30 a.m. (whiskey gingers be damned) and try a new morning routine culled from a self-improvement book, ending it with a few minutes of yoga. I can already tell this isn’t going to be my thing, but I resolve to stick to it as written for two full weeks before tinkering with the routine. My brain is a spectacular liar, so I always have to allow for time to make sure I’m not bullshitting myself. Honestly, so long as I keep getting up early to write, I don’t much care.
My writer buddy Leigh and I “begin as we mean to go on” (see #baymtgo by Leigh Bardugo). We meet at our favorite location for eight solid hours of writer work, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Our location?
The Magic Wegmans.
It’s not sexy or artsy. It doesn’t call to mind fade-filtered images of grainy tables and minimalist white mugs of fair trade coffee, perfectly positioned next to an open laptop. That’s fine. I’m not that kind of writer. For whatever reason, this Wegmans works well for us, and we had such a fabulous day of writing on January 1, 2018, that we dubbed it Magic and came back all year. Besides, they do 66-cent coffee refills.
The magic is with me today. You wouldn’t know it by my word count (1800 in eight hours, yikes), but it was chapter one of a brand new book, along with work on the synopsis, characters, world-building notes, and so many problems to solve. Those early pages always involve me stopping every few words as I run across detail after detail I haven’t figured out yet, as I learn what words fit well in this character’s mouth. By the end, though, things were clicking and the words were pouring out.
I’m feeling much better about my odds of getting this polished up sometime this month. I need to submit three sample chapters and a full synopsis to my editor in February to hopefully fulfill the option clause in my contract. Along with a second synopsis of a whole other book I haven’t considered much yet.
This is fine.
Normally Tuesdays would be my evening shift at the library, but we’re closed for New Year’s Day. I happily return home for a repeat of last night.
Wednesday, January 2
5:30 a.m. Morning routine. Author business: Emails, social media, catching up. The book has only been out for two weeks, how am I already behind?
Regardless, today is A GOOD DAY. I decide to take on a task that fills me with dread but feels like the perfect start to the new year: cleaning my desk. I don’t just mean the piles that constantly obscure the entire tabletop (those, too), but the filing drawers full of ten years worth of things people felt compelled to print out and keep. WHY? I’ll never know. I pull over the recycling bin and go to town. I feel mentally lighter with every file of 2005 book award lists I consign to oblivion.
Then, abruptly, the day takes an amazing turn. I finally break down and email my agent to ask how the book is doing. I resisted until 4:30 p.m. on publishing’s first day back to work after the holidays—that’s restraint, right? Fortunately, my agent says the book is doing “fucking fabulous” and she had other people emailing her about its performance at 9:30 a.m., so for once I was the chill one. She’s not a sugar-coater, so I actually feel (mostly) secure in letting this lift my spirits. Hell yeah, book! You’re doing the thing!
In the middle of feeling awesome, I get a phone call. I clench, expecting something bad to balance things out, but no—my partner got a job offer! From an interview that just happened earlier today! What is this unicorn of a day, and when is the other shoe going to fall? I shove the thought away. Not today, anxiety. Go fuck yourself.
It’s amazing how the negativity of one partner’s work/life bleeds over into the other’s. I’m thrilled about this new opportunituy…at least partially for me. Yeah, I guess I’m an asshole. But our lives will be so vastly improved by this change. I was planning to write tonight, but this feels like a night for celebration. I stop at Panera on my way home for my monthly meeting of local speculative fiction authors, then spend the rest of the night smiling and laughing more than I have in a long time.
Thursday, January 3
I’m determined to carry the good energy from yesterday into today. 5:30 a.m. Morning routine. A little writing before work. A library shift from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., which is dead quiet in the way only the first day back to school ever is. More desk purging. A 45-minute commute home. Dinner at home is clearly not going to happen due to a variety of circumstances, so we head for the only restaurant we really like in our tiny town of 900 people, a little Italian place. We get home in full pasta comas, and I feebly handle a few bits of author business before throwing in the towel. 5:30 a.m. is starting to catch up with me. All-in-all, not the most productive day. I try not to feel too bad about it.
Friday, January 4
5:30 a.m. Morning routine. I’ve apparently pulled a muscle with my attempts to get back into yoga too quickly. You don’t know me, but this is The Most Typical, I promise you.
I work a rotating schedule where every three weeks I’m off Friday and work Saturday instead. This is one of those weeks. I have one mission today: Get my shit together. I am forbidden from writing today. If I start, I won’t want to stop, considering the early stage of the project I’m in. Instead, my major goal is ripping my home office apart and putting it back together. It’s been a wreck for months, thanks to that whole debut-novel-coming-out business, and I can barely walk in there, much less work. It’s covered in copies of the book, bookmarks, stickers, enamel pins, postcards, cupcake supplies (related, I swear), and a million other things. Not to mention the boxes in the closet I haven’t opened since two houses ago. Today that changes!
I bought one of those cube shelving unit things for the office closet earlier this week, and I work straight through from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., blasting through an entire audiobook in the process. Slowly, order emerges from chaos.
Then, in the middle of the day, the other shoe finally falls. Thanks to our former tenant misunderstanding our instructions, our godforsaken house that we still own from our time living in New Jersey is without power and gas. In winter. AWESOME. After many phone calls and some impassioned-yet-ultimately-pointless pleading with some poor person at Atlantic City Electric, I finally pay a guy under the table to winterize the house tonight. Home ownership is glamorous. Anyone wanna buy a quirky but gorgeous house on an acre of land in South Jersey?
Then, when I finally sit down on the couch to sign bookplates (productive but relaxing), everyone decided to email me all at once: interview requests, guest posts, an event invitation, a local school librarian, a blurb request, and a few other things all rolled in within a few hours of each other, and I feel my tenuous grasp on the week’s cheer start to slip. All good things, but I’m already struggling to get the stuff for my pre-order campaign together, books to giveaway winners mailed, and thank you gifts for my launch crew ready, and, oh yes, I’m supposed to be writing my next book. And yet, I say yes to all of these things. Why am I like this? Don’t be me, kids. My partner gamely volunteers to take over entering all the names and addresses into my pre-order campaign spreadsheet to prep for the mail merge. It’s a precious scrap of sanity I’m immensely grateful for.
This feels dangerously like the start of a spiral.
Saturday, January 5
Saturday Librarian day, whoo. 5:30 a.m. Routine. A little morning writing while my partner cooks breakfast. Library from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., one of those days that’s just busy enough that you can’t actually get into a groove on a project. A huge event, some author business and writing on my breaks, AV troubles (which always means M.K. to the rescue), and a struggle to get everyone out the door at 5 p.m. A pretty fast-paced day, fortunately.
I head home to an empty house. My partner is working the evening shift today, so I have three solid hours to myself to feed the dogs, feed myself (leftovers, thank the stars), and get some writing done.
I get…a little writing done.
I want to take a social media break, badly. Now’s not a good time for that, though, not when the book’s only been out for a few weeks and I have another mini-tour later this month. Maybe February. But for now, it feels critical to keep up with things, reply to people, and stay present. Hearing from readers is one of the joys of my life, but I also know what a trap social media is, and there’s a new book eating a hole in my hard drive. Tomorrow, I’ll wrap up some of this other business, but then I have a date with this book. I’ll take myself out for coffee and make words happen.
Sunday, January 6
5:45 a.m.—and today was a no-alarm day. Perhaps this habit is forming after all. Morning routine, a bit of fan-fic with my coffee, then straight into working on the office again with a fresh audiobook. Somewhere in my brain is this little nugget of belief that if I can just get my office spotless, my life will feel sane and I’ll strike upon the perfect work-life balance. Procrasticleaning strikes again.
My friends are getting together to game today. I am sitting in a pile of old notebooks and dog hair, feeling guilty about not writing. My dog lays on top of a bunch of bookplates I signed last night, ruining a bunch of them. I stumble over the basket of clean laundry I still haven’t put away (I’m a wear-it-out-of-the-hamper kind of person). I feel like Wedge Antilles is shouting “PULL UP!” in my ear as I crash my X-wing into the surface of the Death Star. I know this pattern by now. Anxiety brain is trying to sabotage me, and I’ll be damned if I let it.
So, I pull up. I set myself a hard limit: “You will get in the shower, you will put away your laundry, you will eat lunch, then you will leave this damn house and get work done.” I do all of these things. I eat my lunch out on the front porch because it’s a 65-degree day in January with gorgeous sun shining over the farmland across the street, and I know how sunlight affects my mood. Then I take myself out to the Magic Wegmans, get a nitro cold brew coffee, and set up shop outside in the sun. Leigh and I set up a virtual writing date—she’s out of town for work—then I put my head down and get to it.
It goes okay. Admittedly, a good bit of my time goes to writing this journal thing. I do finish off chapter one, though, and start into chapter two. It’s a dual-POV book, which I’m not as experienced with, so I put some good effort into differentiating the voice from the first chapter and make progress I’m happy with. Eventually, I grab a Wegmans pizza, plus some eggs and semolina for homemade pasta later this week, and head home. I wrap up the night with a bit more writing and some quality audio-book time while I sign swag to mail out. This week has been all over the place, with not nearly as much writing as it normally would. I look back and make a list of everything I’ve accomplished, though, and… I feel okay, actually. And tomorrow starts a new week.
Here I come.