Jet-lag Vs. Writing. This is war.


For the past twenty or so years I have advanced, sometimes danced, less frequently pranced through life, hand-in-hand with this most unwelcome guest.

It’s been there, hiding in the pews, through weddings. It’s accompanied me, silently perhaps, but definitely there, to Christmas celebrations. It’s joined me, albeit uninvited, on nights out. It’s even had the audacity to come to bed with me on more occasions than is decent.

It has discovered a penchant for hiding out in my writing space, where it crouches, unseen, unheard, unwanted, ready to attack. It scares away my muse, who, to be honest, doesn’t exactly visit THAT often.

So far, its attempts to get into my writing have been unsuccesful.

It might just be a matter of time.

The one question I’m asked by passengers more than any other (well, the one interesting question I’m asked) is “how do you cope with jet-lag?”

My answer: “I don’t”.

Actually, I never have. I have just brushed it aside with youthful abandon. Ignored it with the arrogance befitting someone in their twenties. Through my thirties I pretended it wasn’t there, wishing away the ever-darkening circles beneath my eyes. Now, in my forties, I still attempt to pretend it doesn’t affect me.

But it does.

Truth be told; it always has.

And now when asked the BIG question, I answer honestly. I do not cope with jet-lag. It has a hold on me at times and can no longer be ignored.

It makes me tired in the middle of the day.

It keeps me awake in the middle of the night.

In the middle of my life it threatens to derail me from my writing ambitions.

I took a holiday last week to California. It was wonderful. The sun shone. The wine flowed. The whales migrated past our rented terrace, spouting and fluking as they went. I went to bed early; rose from bed early, aided, in part, by the time change to the West Coast. By the end of the week, thoroughly rested, I promised myself, this was how it was going to be: bed early, rise early.

Write early.

And then my working life intervenes and I have to fly east. Eight hours east. Having been eight hours west with the whales and the wine and the wonderful rest only days previously, this equated to a sixteen (count them, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16) time change.

Result: no sleep. Plenty tossing. More turning. Tossing and turning physically and mentally. I turned ideas over in my sleepless mind; tossed them together, spat some out, kept some in to chew over.

And yet I am unable to write them. The ideas remain locked away by this time lag. It’s like my muse has been incarcerated with no visiting rights.

This folks is the mean face of jet-lag. It fells me without notice. It offers unwanted, and untimely, bursts of short-lived energy. It sneaks onto my desk and leaves blank pages blank. Or worse: it snakes into my pencil and forces me to leave wriggles of gibberish on the paper. I might as well be writing in parseltongue. That’s how much sense my words can make.

With the passing years, and accumulated miles, the jet-lag gets worse; less managable; more debilitating. A case in point: I hoped to be at my desk in good time today. Like many writers, the earlier hours are for me, more productive. I like to get the words down before lunch if possible. The other stuff, blogging, tweeting, subbing to agents, I leave until later. My day’s reality has been somewhat different: awake between the hours of 3.30am and five. Desperately-grabbed sleep between five and ten. Breakfast. Tea. Shower. Laundry. Desk at ten past twelve.

Oh, and the fridge was empty, so I had to factor in a trip to the shops.

Jet-lag is for me what children are to other writers: a preventative measure!

It stops me getting on. It slows me down. It holds me up.

Unlike with children, there’s not a lot to show for the effort. Jet-lag isn’t going to heap love on me and come to visit when I’m old and unable to hold a pencil.

And yet….

This can go one of two ways:

I can succumb. Surrender. Submerge beneath the waves of tiredness.


I can ride the wave. Not give in. Fight my foe. Because you see, I am guilty. Guilty of placing jet-lag in the procrastination file. I use it as an excuse: I’m too tired to write; It’s not worth it for half an hour; my ideas will be rubbish.

So, they might be. But then, many ideas produced in my non-jet-lagged hours are rubbish too. It doesn’t stop me coming up with THEM. I just filter out the crap at a later stage. There might be more crap to filter from the jet-lagged ideas, but one or two good ones might remain. Those migrating whales don’t stop to pick out only the edible from the mouthfuls of ocean floor they sweep up; they filter the goodness and discard the rest.

Yes, I need to heed my body’s cries for sleep, be they made at midnight or midday. Likewise I must listen when my muse cries out from his jet-lagged state, muffled, indistinct and almost defeated. Be it for ten minutes or ten hours (anything is possible with jet-lag), I must write if I can. If I only feel the tiniest inkling, I must not give in to this most insidious of enemies.

I shall fight it.

Fight it.

And write it.



3 comments on “Jet-lag Vs. Writing. This is war.

  1. I think you need a dictation machine. You can speak the words before they are lost in your sleepy mind. Or do what I do and ‘collect’ ramblings on post-its. Sometimes the scribbled words mean something, other times they make me question my sanity. Keep on keeping on. Your stories need to be heard. Great post.

  2. Aww Justin I feel you! It’s like you’re perpetually in nanowrimo mode, snatching whatever minutes you can get. Btw aside from deep fatigue from your work you may also be experiencing the instinctive MUST SLEEP NOW urge that hits a lot of writers when they sit down (says Betsey Lerner, editor turned agent in her awesome FOREST FOR THE TREES book about the writing life). Keep going. I wish you could trade miles flown for a two week writing-only retreat.

    • Thanks Sheila
      How I’d love to trade in for a retreat…the stuff of dreams…
      I wouldn’t mind so much, but it’s getting worse with age! Basically, I need a massive publishing deal so I can hang up my wings. Ha!

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