Travelling, Writing, Mostly Failing


These days I am spending about a third of my time on the road. I’m not complaining. It’s such a privilege to get paid, (albeit not very much), to do what you love and when you get paid to do what you love in an exotic location like Belgium, or California, or Norwich, well it’s like Christmas, Birthday and a new season of Casualty all rolled into one. Traveling so much poses a few challenges for me, mostly self-inflicted: propensity to purchase too many books whilst travelling and consequently break my back hauling them from one town to the next, tendency to eat enormous breakfasts when staying in hotels then forget to eat lunch and by seven o’clock find myself jittery and migrainous from sugar low, occasional bouts of crippling homesickness, missing many episodes of Casualty, so many they are no longer even available on the Iplayer etc. However, the biggest challenge for me has been attempting, (and mostly failing), to adjust my mindset to what travelling means these days.

Before I started traveling for literary events, airports equalled adventure, hotels were associated with luxury, and I couldn’t get enough of buffet breakfasts and tiny little one use bottles of shampoo and conditioner. I had an almost insatiable appetite for meeting new people. I truly enjoyed taking myself and a good book out for dinner alone. I adored trains. I still love all those things in moderation, but for me, travel has morphed into a very different experience over the last few months. I am almost never on holidays when I travel now. I am heading to a literary festival to read, or going somewhere to teach workshops. I am also still on the clock for part time jobs I work back home. Almost all working writers make so little money from book sales they have to juggle other jobs and income sources in order to survive. Mortgages and electric bills don’t pay themselves while we’re on the road reading and I’ll often come across people, like myself, who are working remotely at a part time job, while they’re traveling from one literary event to the next. On top of this, there is the always pressing, guilt-inducing, constantly itchy need to be writing. This has only just occurred to me as a problem this year. If I’m to be on the road promoting one book, which probably won’t generate enough income to give up my part time jobs, I still have to keep writing away at my next manuscript, trying to immerse myself in its plot and characters whilst flitting about all over the place. This can sometimes -particularly over the summer when it’s festival season- mean working the equivalent of two full time jobs while you’re in almost constant transit. I’m honestly not complaining. It’s a privilege etc etc. But you can see where the glamourous side to all this travel hits up against the reality of hard work and, almost constant low-level exhaustion. Just being sociable every day for weeks on end with strangers is pretty tiring.

I’m leaving America this afternoon. I had high hopes for this trip. I would not treat it as a holiday. I would get up early. I would write for two hours each morning, then do admin for two hours. I would fulfil my obligations at various readings and literary events. Whatever time was left I would allow myself to use for leisure, tourism and the consumption of pancakes or beer. I would also read ten books in preparation for the interviews and talks I am committed to host over the next few months. And I would write a Postcard Story every day. And I would rest.

Hmmmm. It was a nice plan, if somewhat overly ambitious. I have had a thoroughly lovely time in America. I have ticked my boxes on Postcard Stories and the consumption of beer and pancakes. I have just about managed to keep up with all my admin from home, occasionally crouching outside closed Starbucks to patch into their WiFi and send emergency emails home, often staying up til one and two in the morning to get paperwork completed after events. I have not written anything, though I have so many new ideas for short stories, I will now be guilt-induced about not writing these stories for several months to come. I have not read the books I was meant to read for forthcoming events and have, instead, blown my carefully prepared budget on millions of other books which seemed more interesting at the time. I am now developing back ache from carting these books around airports and train stations. I have not rested though I have met lots of wonderful new people I did not know before.

I am, in short, failing at the whole, traveling and writing at the same time thing. Which would be fine if I didn’t have another eight trips for readings to fit in before the middle of December. I am feeling a little anxious. Not defeated. Just slightly concerned. This isn’t one of those blogs where you get answers. It’s more of a half-hearted cry for help. Does anyone have any suggestions for being productive whilst spending a serious chunk of your time in transit? Does anyone know how to sleep on a long haul flight and not wake up feeling completely hungover? How many trees should I be planting to compensate for all these flights? Not complaining. Privilege etc etc. But v. tired.

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