Saturday, June 16, 2007

On Writing While Travelling

Today I get asked one of the most frequently posed questions during tours: do I write while I am travelling. The simple answer is "No." I am, despite my best efforts, a creature of routine. I know a number of writers who have learned to snatch moments here and there while on tour - sitting on aeroplanes, lying in bed in hotel rooms - but I am not one of them. I need my space: my office, my desk, the knowledge that I have four or five uninterrupted hours ahead of me. I write slowly, and painstakingly. The way I work does not fit into the routine of travel and touring.

There is also the matter of time. Tomorrow, which is Sunday, I will awaken at 5.30 am. On a Sunday. This is not through choice, I should add. The travel agents who booked my flights via my publishers decided on an 8.39 am flight to LA. On a Sunday. I hate to labour that point but, well, it's Sunday. There's no good reason for me to be taking an 8.39am flight, but I am taking it. I need to get up, shower, retrieve my rental car from the garage, drive to the airport (it's San Francisco International), dump the car, take the train to the terminal, check in, and get on the plane. When I arrive, I will pick up another rental car, and try to hit as many bookstores as I can before 6pm, when I will check into my hotel. The list of bookstores I've been given isn't complete, however, so, in addition to writing this little post, I will find the addresses of the chain stores and independents in the LA area and add those that have been missed to my list, as there is nothing more frustrating than to find that one, unawares, been yards from one bookstore while visiting another.

On Monday, there is a 4.50am start, although this one is justifiable. I am doing what is known as a "radio tour". Essentially, this means that stations across the country will call me at my hotel room and conduct live interviews over the phone. There are 16 of them between 5am and 10am. When I received the schedule, I did a second count and there were still 16 of them. On one level, it's a great opportunity: I get to talk to listeners across the nation without leaving my hotel room. On the other hand, it raises certain issues. I need to shower before doing the interviews, if only to wake myself up. I then have to decide if I will do them naked, or semi-naked, or clothed. I know, that's an overshare but, seriously, it's just after 5am on a Monday morning. I'll feel happier clothed, or at least wearing a robe. I suppose I live in fear that one of the interviewers will ask, in a suspicious voice, "Hey, are you naked?" and there will be that telltale pause before I answer, indicating that I am, in fact, speaking as God intended. I am letting it all hang out. On radio. Even I find that thought disturbing.

The other problem is that these morning interviews do not tend to be sedate affairs. Morning shows are designed to keep people awake and listening while they negotiate the freeways. They require hosts, and guests, to be lively and zany, and the only people who are alive and zany at 5am are those that have been driven insane by being required to be lively and zany at 5am. It's a cumulative thing. The only thing moderately interesting about me at 5am is that my hair looks funny and I'm likely to be naked, and neither actually merits the adjectives "attractive" or "interesting" at that hour. Or, indeed, at any hour.

My working day on Monday is unlikely to come to an end until 10pm or 11pm at least. I have a siging in Orange, and then I have to drive back to LA so I can be up early for a meeting on Tuesday morning. That's a long day by any reckoning, and I can't see myself fitting any writing into it. Writing is work, to be perfectly honest. It's work that I enjoy, work that I find immensely fulfilling, but it's work nonetheless. I don't just immerse myself in some river of words and get carried along by the tide. Most of the time, I sweat the words out, sentence by sentence. I'm just not capable of doing that at 4.30 am (or, if I am, I have no intention of finding out) or after midnight having been awake since 5am (ditto).

So I suppose I'm feeling a little frustrated at the moment. I keep having good ideas about 'The Reapers', the next book, but usually when I'm driving between bookstores. I don't have the time, or the energy, to put these ideas into print, and I know that some of them are going to be lost. I love meeting, and talking with, readers and booksellers, but I know that, while it's part of what I do, it's not the most important element. Without books, I have nothing to discuss. If I'm not writing, then I'm not moving forwards. I am resting on my laurels and that, frankly, isn't good enough. Much as I love meeting readers and booksellers, I think that something has to give in the end. I want to get back to writing. The end of the tour beckons . . .


Sarah said...

Thanks again for coming to Sacramento!!! =) I'm sorry your schedule is so chaotic. As for the radio interviews...I think wearing your birthday suit would be hilarious. That way, people won't know they're talking to you naked but you will and that makes it all the more fun, =D.

cs harris said...

Perhaps you could get one of those little voice activated recorders to catch your thoughts while you're driving. When I lived in Australia, I used to take long walks through the bush that always inspired wonderful ideas I frequently forgot by the time I got home. I started carrying a tape recorder.

Looking forward to seeing you in New Orleans!

Mystery Dawg said...

Hey John,

Contact me off list. I started reading THE UNQUIET and no cd.....

beverly said...

come to south carolina
mrytle beach and hilton head are the best!