THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE AUTHOR

I used to make fun of them. I admit it, and I’m not proud of it. I would use unkind words like “needy” when describing them. I would screen my phone calls based on how much time I had till the next meeting. I would answer voice mails with emails.

There were excuses, to be sure. Working in corporate America, there’s very little time set aside for actual work—for completing the things that appear in your written job description. Instead there are meetings. I’ve actually been to meetings that were planning sessions for other meetings. It was rare that anyone at the vice president level or higher actually listened in meetings, and they never read anything, ever. So it required a long string of meetings, in which the same information was repeated over and over and over again, before even the simplest message penetrated enough to get a signature on a piece of paper. That’s a good excuse. It wasn’t my fault. Believe me—please believe me—I would much rather be on the phone with an author.

But that was then, and this is now.

Now I go to very few meetings, all of them have purpose, and the vast majority are via telephone or Skype. It’s extremely rare that my time is wasted by some outside influence. I am in control of my own schedule and my own to do list. My kids are at school, my wife is at work, and my dog is asleep under my desk.

And I am desperate for human contact.

I am “needy.”

But most of all, finally, I get it.

When I was working as an editor at Wizards of the Coast I was in an office every day surrounded by people, most of whom I actually liked. There was down-time, camaraderie, and the Tuesday scheduling meeting/group therapy session that kept me from going fully insane. There were spirited discussions of Survivor and fantasy football. There were D&D games, board games, and the occasional meeting that wasn’t actually a colossal waste of time. And though there are significant positives to being out on my own, making my own way through the current depression (economic, that is, not emotional . . . well, not entirely economic) full of piss and vinegar, working much harder now than I did then.

But where the hell is everybody?

Most of the authors I worked with a Wizards of the Coast had day jobs that kept them busy while my day job was keeping me busy, and communication was via email, the occasional quick chat on the phone—pleasantries, sure, too, a little chit-chat, but mostly business. Then there were the full time authors, the precious few who figured out how to do it for a living. These are the home office warriors—and since corporate America has decided it can make due without luxury items like employees, there’s an ever-increasing number of us. For writers, this is the dream. When can I quit my day job and write full time?

Careful what you wish for.

Eventually you start to lose your mind. I know one author who fills his day with cable news, and though he’s become very knowledgeable on current events and politics, once you get him talking about it, you’re in for the long haul. Another is a father of five, and one of the sincerely nicest people I’ve ever known. We’d talk about our kids, the weather—never politics or religion—and there were calls that went on for two hours. Another lives, I’ve been told, out in the middle of nowhere, and though he maintains a day job for the retirement benefits, he’s another sincerely nice and gregarious sort who is always game for a review of modern fantasy, the publishing business, and literally any subject you choose to engage him on.

It took me a while, being a little emotionally stunted, a little suspicious of other people’s motives, to finally understand why it was I couldn’t get these guys off the phone. This is why: They’re out there on their own, removed from the decision making process, starved for feedback, and spouses, kids, and friends aside, starved for human contact, banging away at their work in isolation. Once I understood that, I stopped being a dick about it behind their backs. The word “needy” fell away, and though I’ve never been a “phone person” I started getting at least a little better at it.

And now I’m one of them. I’ve written already about patience, and how hard it can be for an author to sit and wait while decisions are made that affect his fate. I’m having trouble adopting that myself. I bug people. I send too many emails. I leave pleading voice mails. I need to stop that. But I’ve also started to do weird things—weird for me, anyway. Normally I’m a bit closed-off until I get to know you. I’ve never been one for small talk. I do not trust easily. My often confusing and offensive sense of humor sometimes confuses or offends strangers. But now I engage in impromptu bullshit sessions with super market clerks, or random people at other stores. I strike up conversations. And believe me, I never used to strike up conversations.

You never know how addictive day-to-day life surrounded by coworkers is until you go . . . what’s it been, almost sixteen months? . . . largely on your own.

Summer vacation, and before my wife went back to work full time helped. But now, it’s just me, the snoring dog, and my to do list. So if you know my phone number, please set aside an hour or so in the next couple weeks and call me.

I’m losin’ it out here!

 

—Philip Athans

 

 

 

 

 

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the recently-released How to Start Your Own Religion and Devils of the Endless Deep. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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3 Responses to THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE AUTHOR

  1. If you lived a little closer, I’d have you over for a game or five. But I think the drive to Ohio would be a bit of a commute for you…

  2. Neeks says:

    If you lived near me I would ask you to help me create a local writers group. Is there one in your area? I’ll bet they would be ecstatic to have such a prolific writer in their midst! I know I would. 🙂

  3. Amen! It’s amazing isn’t it? I tried to go away for a writing retreat…alone. I came home three days early because i needed to be around people at least a little bit in order to stay on top of my creativity. Welcome to the needy!

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