Messy desk

* * *

Friday night, around nine or 10 o’clock, my cell phone rang.  I swallowed the bite of peanut butter and jelly sandwich I had in my mouth and answered the phone.

The caller was a friend I hadn’t seen or talked to in months.  We’ve both been too busy.  He asked what I’ve been doing.  “Working,” I said, pacing the kitchen in my gym clothes.

“What else?”

“Nothing.”  I walked over to my briefcase, back to my dinner, over to the sink, back to my briefcase, my dinner, the sink and back.

He asked again what else I’d been doing.

I could tell then that he didn’t understand a writer’s life, particularly a writer under deadline.  I understand that.  One cannot comprehend a writer’s life unless one is a writer, or at least lives with one.  After all, the cliché fantasy is that of a glorious life spent drinking in exotic locales while trading tales of adventure with glamorous people, perhaps making strange and exciting love with those same glamorous people, and then, in the wee hours of the morning, falling into brilliant words that are slammed perfectly onto the page and then fly off the bookstore shelves.

Such wonderful fiction. This is this writer’s life – under deadline:

Yes, I wake whenever I want.  Depending on the stress in my mind, that’s usually somewhere between 5 AM and 8 AM.  I roll over in bed and read my Bible and Al-Anon daily devotional.  If my mind isn’t reeling too much with the worries of work, I lie there and pray for a while.  Yes, I realize that when I’m worried is exactly when I should pray more.

I get up, turn on NPR on an old clock radio, because I’ve purposely disconnected my TV cable and Internet so that I won’t be distracted from work, and jump in the shower.  After I dress, I grab my briefcase, which is really a 30-year-old black leather bag holding my laptop, yesterday’s work for rewrite, today’s work for rewrite, notes on both, notes on characters, basically a ream of paper, a thumb drive or two with the various versions of my book on them, my cell phone, wallet … well, you get the picture.  I throw these pounds over my shoulder and slump out the door.

While slurping down a ridiculously unhealthy breakfast, I check and answer email and start work – editing, cutting, rewriting.  (Yes, I’m writing this while eating breakfast.)  I work until my laptop battery flashes that it’s almost dead.  I pack up, throw my bag over my shoulder, and schlep back home.

There, I fire up both my PC and laptop and get down to the serious work of the day – editing, cutting, rewriting, double-checking facts and timelines, trying to figure out how to make this manuscript riveting and the best book I’ve ever written in my life.  After all, this will be my income for the next three to 10 years.

Around 2 PM, or maybe it’s 4 PM, it all depends on my concentration, I grab a horribly unhealthy lunch.  If I grab it at home, I pace and think about the book while eating.  If I go out, I work while eating.  Usually, somewhere between 4 and 6 PM, my mother phones and asks if I’d like some dinner.  I bark, “I’m working!” even though I know she’s only trying to help.  Around 7 or 7:30 PM, I shut down my computers and pack up my laptop.  My back is burning from being hunched over the keyboards and I’m too tired to think about cooking.  That’s when I often phone my mother and meekly ask, “Are there any leftovers?”

Sometimes I go over to her house, eat fried meat and potatoes, check email and come home and crash.  Other times, I know I need exercise to alleviate the back pain and stress, so I go to the gym, maybe work out 20 minutes, maybe an hour, then crash on one of the gym couches and check email.  That’s what happened Friday night when my friend called.  I’d just gotten home from the gym, had spread a half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and sliced half of a banana, and I was pacing around the kitchen, thinking about my book, eating, and stressing.

Yes, I could have told my friend that I did take an hour and a half off one evening to see another friend I hadn’t seen in more than a month.  And, yes, I did take two hours off one Saturday to go see my 11-year-old cousin’s football game.  (He threw one touchdown pass, while playing offense.  He intercepted a pass and ran it in for a touchdown, while playing defense.)  But now I’ve even taken my cousin’s football games off my calendar because that one game blew my concentration for the next two days.

After I hung up from my friend, I finished my sandwich, sank into a bath, climbed into bed, read, and fell into another fitful night of sleep – waking with leg and foot cramps from too much sitting, too little exercise, too much fried food, too few vegetables, and thinking about my book.

The reason writers disappear, cocoon, hibernate, hole up, become anti-social, whatever you want to call it, when we’re writing is because we’ve got to live in the world we’re writing about.  Call it method writing, I guess.  Anything that takes us out of that world – like a football game – destroys our ability to work.  At least it does me.*

So that’s why my friend – any of my friends – won’t see me until I meet my May 2 deadline.  But after May 2, I’ll be ready to live that glorious fantasy life of writers drinking in exotic locales while trading tales of adventure with glamorous people, and then, in the wee hours of the morning, falling into brilliant words that are slammed perfectly onto the page and fly off the bookstore shelves.

And I wouldn’t trade any of it for any other career.  I love what I do.

* Admittedly, mothers who write are better at juggling than I.  They have to be.  And I don’t know how they do it.  I admire them.

Suzy Spencer is a New York Times best-selling author and journalist.
  1. Lorelei Reply
    Loved this blog, Suzy! You're so descriptive. Good luck with the edits/rewrites/food:-)
  2. Elizabeth S. Brinton Reply
    I wish I could tape this to my front door and send it in an email to every person I know. Thank you for stating the truth. Ernest Hemingway made it all up, that interesting life he lived, while sitting in his underwear at the typewriter. Well, maybe he went fishing sometimes, but I bet that was about it.
    • Suzy Reply
      LOL. Ironically, right now I'm reading Hemingway. He spends a lot of time eating, drinking, swimming and sunning. Okay, I eat a lot when under deadline. I drink a lot of Diet Coke while under deadline. But having time to swim and sun? No, I'm pale as a ghost blob. (Can't work on a computer in the sun. Too much glare on the screen.) Oh, yeah, he's also having a lot sex, too. The only thing I relate to in his writing life (in The Garden of Eden) is that he's constantly reading his reviews and tallying his royalties. Then again, I've stopped reading reviews. And I noticed that he fails to calculate in returns against royalties. Back then, did publishers not hold back royalties in anticipation of returns? Hmm.
  3. Carlotta Lehmann Hunt Reply
    Suzy, I met you about 10 years ago when we set up a signing event for you and Joe Lansdale at Kurth Memorial Library, part of our Grand Opening activities for the new Library in Lufkin. It was a firecracker evening and memorable even though our turnout was disappointingly paltry. The recent and puzzling Casey Anthony trial in Florida made me think of you and your excellent true crime writing. My thought was, "Boy, would I love to read a Suzy Spencer account of this murder, trial, and the colorful cast of characters." That all led me to your website. Glad that you are still writing; it looks like I have some catching up to do on your latest books. Hope that you'll give some consideration to that Florida case. No one could write it like you. Wishing you well with deadlines and life. Give your Mom a "hello" from an old hometown customer. Carlotta
    • Suzy Reply
      Thank you, Carlotta. Yes, I do remember you. I won't be writing a book on Casey Anthony. Diane Fanning did a book on the Anthony case a year or two ago. Besides, at least for now, I'm easing away from true crime. My next book will be a memoir. It has a tentative publication date of October 2012. Yes, that '12. I hope you'll pick it up. It's going to be completely different from anything I've ever done, and I hope a lot better than anything I've ever written. :)
  4. Carlotta Lehmann Hunt Reply
    I'm already intrigued and looking forward to the memoir. Non-fiction is my favorite genre, and I sincerely find your writing exceptional. Carlotta
    • Suzy Reply
      Thank you, Carlotta. I really appreciate the compliment.

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