The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer: Long Days; Short Sprints by T J Lebbon
When I finally gave up work to write full-time almost nine years ago, I thought I was going to turn really prolific. For four years previous to that I’d been working part-time, throwing on my shirt and tie at midday on a Wednesday and trudging back to a day-job that I’d stopped enjoying years before. I had managed to produce a decent body of work already, including novels, novellas and many short stories.
The allure of having all my time devoted to writing was great. And when that time finally came, it was the culmination of a dream.
But things didn’t quite work out as I’d planned. Those long, eight-hour-days of constant writing and revising rarely came to pass. The deals got better and the books sold more, but I was still producing work at roughly the same rate.
I beat myself up about it to begin with. Sometimes, I still do. But it’s healthy to take a good honest look at the process as well as the result. So here’s what happens:
I usually get up around 7:30, when my son and daughter are already up getting ready for school. They leave at 8:00. My wife leaves at 8:45, but as soon as the kids have gone, there’s no reason why I can’t knuckle down and begin. Get all the emails and social media distractions out of the way. Turn on Freedom (a great programme that effectively disconnects me from the internet so I can concentrate on writing. How sad that I need to be forcibly disconnected from Facebook distractions and all the cat pictures and comedy-inspirational-posters that entails).
So I make another cuppa and––
Oh, but the dog needs walking. He only had a quick walk yesterday, so I take him to the woods for a half-hour run around. Get home, my wife’s just leaving, so I pour some cereal and check Facebook again. You know, just in case something momentous has happened in the last thirty minutes that I can’t possibly function in life without knowing or being a part of.
9:30 comes and goes. Might as well have another cuppa.
An email comes in. I need to reply, so I tweak an interview/article/guest blog for an hour or so, attach to the email, send it. By now it’s almost 10:30. I could start writing now, but I usually have a coffee and snack at eleven, so … might as well do it now. Then I can start work and write through ’til lunch.
A family member or friend phones as the kettle boils. “Hi, are you busy?” And of course I’m too polite to say, “Actually yes, I’m working.” So I get embroiled in a conversation.
11:00 comes and goes. I’ve drunk my coffee whilst chatting on the phone. I like sitting with a coffee and working, so I boil the kettle again and top up the cafetiere, worried that I’m over-doing it with caffeine. I like coffee so strong it talks back to you.
It’s almost 11:30 now. I’ve read through the last chapter, and I’m making some notes about what comes next. I don’t plan in great detail from beginning to end. Rather, I have an idea of what a novel is about, and as it progresses I makes notes about the next chapter or two. Notes about characters, plot, set-pieces, some dialogue perhaps. Everything.
Of course, I closely follow the proposal I’ve written to sell the novel to a publisher. Of course I do. Um…
Almost midday. I get an idea for a short story I’ve promised an anthology and which is due in less than ten days. I agreed to write something almost a year ago, so I had plenty of time. Then, at least. Now I have this novel deadline giving me daggers whenever I peek at the calendar, and the short story is screaming to be written. But I can’t yet. Not until I get my words done for the day.
I usually aim to wrote 2000 new words per day when I’m working on a novel. Today’s not going well so far. Word count––zero.
I could start now, but it’s almost lunchtime. So if I start and get into the swing of things, I’ll only have to knock off in an hour or less to eat. Still, I start typing, and I’m quickly into the flow, it’s feeling good, everything’s going well––
The phone rings. I can’t just not answer it, it’s gone midday and it could be my agent from New York with some exciting news. So I grab the phone.
“Hello, is that Mr Leebon? My name’s Sandy and I’m calling to talk about clean energy––”
I’m never rude. Usually I just tell them I’m working, say goodbye, hang up.
Might as well have lunch now. Not sure what to have, so I end up with an inevitable sandwich and a quick watch of the BBC News channel. 24 hour news is painful and yet strangely compelling. They don’t know any more than they knew an hour ago about the Day’s Big Story, so they repeat themselves … very … sloooowly … to fill their time. Then:
Breaking News! I gasp and put down my half-eaten sandwich. These words used to mean that something huge had happened. I can still remember the Breaking News banner when the SAS broke the Libyan Embassy siege. But no, today’s breaking news is that Kim Kardashian’s butt has broken the internet. Should have been using Freedom.
So, to work. It’s 1:00 by now, and the words are brewing. I can feel them. I start typing, I know what’s happening, who’s doing what to whom, and––
The phone rings. My agent will definitely be in his office by now, because it’s in the same large building as his home.
“Hello, Mr Lebanon? My name’s Garfield, and I’d like to talk to you about––”
I tell them Mr Lebanon as been eaten by a mutated antelope. I hope it lightens their day, because it works for me.
Might as well make another cuppa.
By 2:00 I’ve started writing. The words are slow at first, and that always happens, because I find I work much better when I start writing early in the day. Say, eight o’clock, straight after the kids have gone to school.
The postman rings the doorbell. He has a parcel, and I have to open it because it might be that new bit of kit I’ve been looking forward to. I enjoy swimming, biking and running, and I do my best to put them together in triathlons. (My love of endurance sports is a big influence on my new novel, The Hunt). So I open the parcel and try out the shirt/shorts/socks/essential electronic gadget which will definitely make me faster.
Freedom’s timed out so I check Facebook. Three people have liked my post from the morning, and two people have invited me to play Candy Crush. I surf a little, ‘like’ a few posts, make a few comments.
Freedom again. Thirsty now though, and I’m out for a run this evening, so I get a pint of water.
The dog needs feeding.
Oh s*$%, I forgot to hang the washing out! So I do that, chat briefly with our lovely elderly neighbours over the garden fence.
Almost three o’clock now, my children will be home just before four. I’d better get cracking! Make another cuppa, the phone goes.
“Hello, is that Mr Le Bon? My name’s––” Hang up. Life’s too short.
And then I get into it. The words flow, I’m in the book, my characters are speaking to me, I know exactly what’s happening, and my cup of tea goes cold. I lose track of time. Freedom times out again and I don’t even turn on Safari!
Dan gets home first, running and sweaty and scruffy like an eleven-year-old boy should be, and I go out to see him and chat about his day. I’m feeling so bad that I haven’t done any work. Another day wasted. Another whole day being my own boss, something I’d dreamed about for years and years when I worked for someone else for a living, and here I am wasting my time.
I say hello to Ellie when she comes home too, then tell them I’m going back to work for an hour. Do a word count. And somehow, between phone calls and dog feeding and hanging washing and drinking coffee, and all that procrastination, frustration, deliberation, consternation, distractions that aren’t really distractions at all, but are a vital part of the process of allowing my brain the room and time to think, I’ve managed over 2,000 words.
I read them through and they’re good words. I’m pleased, although still vaguely annoyed with myself for wasting the day. Could have done three thousand if I’d worked properly, I think.
And I promise myself that tomorrow, I will.
But it’s not hopeless, and all is not lost. There are ways to avoid those distractions. It doesn’t always work … but that’s up to you.
Firstly, lose the internet. Unplug your modem, disconnect the computer, use programmes like Freedom. And make sure your phone is somewhere out of sight! First time I used Freedom to give myself four internet-free hours to work, I spent half an hour texting back and forth with a friend saying how useful it was. Epic fail.
Avoid distractions around you. I work at home so there are always distractions, so most Friday mornings I go to a local cafe to write. I find I usually do a day’s work in two or three hours. But … I’ve now started chatting to another guy who also goes to the cafe to work, so now we’re both wasting preciously gained time. Another potential fail.
Start on time. The longer you mess around and find other things to do, the harder it is to start work. It’s easier said than done, but for me the secret to a satisfying day’s work is to start early and work hard. This might mean that by lunchtime your word well is dry and you’ll spend the afternoon unable to write, berating yourself for not making the most of your time, and generally thinking it was really quite a big mistake even thinking you could be a writer in the first place.
But this is a momentary annoyance. It’s the end result that counts. And that is … get the words done, and enjoy doing it!
(c) TJ Lebbon
Tim J Lebbon is a New York Times-bestselling writer with over thirty novels published to date, as well as dozens of novellas and hundreds of short stories. Recent releases include The Silence, Coldbrook, Into the Void: Dawn of the Jedi (Star Wars), Reaper’s Legacy, and Alien: Out of the Shadows. He has won four British Fantasy Awards, a Bram Stoker Award, and a Scribe Award, and been shortlisted for World Fantasy and Shirley Jackson awards. A movie of his story Pay the Ghost, starring Nicolas Cage, will be released soon, and other projects in development include My Haunted House, Playtime, and Exorcising Angels.
He has had around 20 novellas published and hundreds of short stories, steadily building a dedicated following among the horror & dark fiction community. A movie of his short story PAY THE GHOST was filmed last year in Toronto, starring Nicolas Cage and Sarah Wayne Callies, directed by Uli Edel. Other projects in development include My Haunted House, Playtime, and Exorcising Angels, two TV series ideas, and a new original screenplay.
About The Hunt
‘A great thriller … breathless all the way.’ Lee Child
She will hunt down the men who took her family. She will have blood. Rose is the one that got away. She was the prey in a human trophy hunt organised by an elite and secret organisation for bored super-rich clients seeking a unique thrill. She paid a terrible price – when she escaped, The Trail murdered her family. Every moment since she has been planning her revenge. Watching, waiting …And now her day has come.
Chris returns from his morning run to find his wife and children missing and a stranger in his kitchen. He’s told to run. If he’s caught and killed, his family go free. If he escapes, they die. Rose is the only one who can help him, but Rose only has her sights on one conclusion. For her, Chris is bait. But The Trail have not forgotten the woman who tried to outwit them. The Trail want Rose. The hunters want Chris’s corpse. Rose wants revenge, and Christ just wants his family back.
The Hunt is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here.