Clocking In and Checking Out

“Work every day.  No matter what has happened the day or night before.  Get up and bite on the nail.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

When I was sixteen, I got my first job, bagging groceries at a small-town Hy-Vee.  I was “a helpful smile in every aisle” no matter what the day had given me up to that point.  I stood at the check-out, cheerfully asking “paper or plastic” to every customer.

I learned a lot in that first job.  I learned a firm handshake, a warm smile, and how to work hard.  My approach to every job since then has been a constant continuation of striding quickly, grinning in a Looney Tunes tie, to the front of the store to deal with the six o’clock rush.  Clock in and get to work.

That is the way I write.  I will write anywhere, at any time, on anything.  No matter what else is happening around me, no matter what other issues life has presented me, no matter how I feel, I straighten my Bugs Bunny tie, put on that smile, and get to work.

My novel was written in a combination of coffee shops, libraries, Hy-Vee deli’s, sports bars, the break room at my day job, sitting outside of doors waiting for appointments, outside on my deck, in cars, and in my study.  I’ve written first thing in the morning, last thing before bed, during lunch, and even in the middle of the night.

I haven’t noticed any discernable difference in writing quality based on time or space.  Two constants prevail, me and my work.  I’ve worked in quiet libraries or within loud crowds, with or without music, by myself or with several other writers around me.  None of it makes any difference.

I’ve developed a few preferences, however.

My study is a windowless dungeon-like room with cold concrete floors and lots of books.  The only sound is the furnace’s breath and the constant clicking of keys.

I prefer writing first drafts on my Alphasmart NEO.  The screen holds five lines of text.  I am forced to keep moving forward, never looking back at what I’ve already written.  The biggest benefit of the NEO, though, is battery life.  The thing will run forever on a set of double A’s.  I sometimes write for several hours at a time.  Doing this on a laptop chains me to places with an available electric outlet.

My life requires flexibility.  I prefer tools and methods that allow for it.  If I waited for the perfect time or place, I would never finish anything.  My work is all that matters.  Anything that allows me to write is perfect.

Jack Campbell, Jr. is a dark fiction writer in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in various venues including Twenty 3 Magazine, Danse Macabre, and Insomnia Press. He writes about reading, writing, and life on his blog at

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