Novelist Greg Baxter explains how moving to Berlin allowed him the chance to discover the powerful, deceptive simplicity of history well-told.
I moved to Berlin in the summer of 2011; it was the kind of destination I’d dreamed about for many years (I was born and grew up in Texas). I thought the place might immediately inspire me to work, but for a year I wrote nothing. The year after that, I wrote my new novel, Munich Airport. It’s been almost a year since I finished it, and I’ve written nothing, again. This is only mildly noteworthy because I used to be the kind of person who wrote every day. And I used to be the kind of person who believed it was necessary for a writer to write every day.
From 2003 to 2011, I lived and worked in Dublin. I did a lot of different things. I taught in the evenings. I edited a literary journal. I organized literary events. But my main job, nine to five, five days a week, was working as a journalist. It was a weekly newspaper, but the staff was small, so we were responsible for a lot of copy – not just regular stories but breaking news online, features, interviews, opinion pieces, blogs and… advertorials.
In addition to my work as a journalist (and my teaching and everything else), I was writing for myself, and I wrote every day. I woke up at 5am to write. I wrote on the bus into work. I wrote during my lunches. Yes, I wrote a lot during my nine-to-five workday, as well. I wrote in the hour I had between my day job and my night job. I wrote after dinner, and late into the night. I couldn’t quit my day job (nor any of my jobs), no matter how much I wanted to: I was in considerable debt following a house purchase and end of the Celtic Tiger.
But I continued to write for myself, even when I was exhausted, even when I’d had just a few hours of sleep and woke at 5am and part of my brain was saying, “Push the snooze button”, because a much bigger part of me was saying, “Get up, get up, or all you will have in your life will be stories, opinion pieces, interviews, and advertorials”.
I published my first book in 2010, my second in 2012, and now my third is out. And now, when I am not writing books, I write nothing. I wait.
Most of my memories of Dublin are overwhelmingly positive, but I often look back on my work in journalism with disbelief – and regret, even under my financial circumstances, that it took so long to leave. I was never suited for it. There are fine, committed journalists out there in the world. I was in the wrong field.