Writing is a Solitary Business


Most people think that writing is what we do at the PC or laptop or with pad and pen. That we live inside our heads and only when actively pounding away at the keyboard or scritching madly on the pad. The writers among us know that is simply not true. Our minds get caught up in the lives of our characters and suddenly we are writing all the time—driving, eating supper, walking the dogs, paddling a particularly good river (okay that one is mostly just me,) and worst of all, while having a conversation that is important to our mates but not so much to us. Or maybe that one is just me, too?

I try not to get too personal here on MagicalWords.Net but I need to confess something. It’s supposed to be good for the soul, yes? When I’m writing I ignore the hubby. A lot. It’s not so hard for him when I’m pounding away on the PC, because it’s obvious that I am engrossed in someone else. He doesn’t even mind that it is often someone younger, prettier, and more buff then he. And he gave up trying to figure out who I pattern my character’s love interests on when he realized that most of them were based on no one or a childhood crush or someone I passed on the street or saw on TV, and then totally changed so they are unrecognizable to most folk. (Though he does offer to work through any sex scenes I might have write, but that is another subject entirely.)

Sorry. Got off track there. He doesn’t mind that I am writing when I’m physically writing. But he does get ticked off—sometimes really ticked off—when we are talking about golf (which I don’t play yet) or a new river he wants to run (which I haven’t seen, haven’t researched, and have no opinion about yet) and I drift off. I totally lose track of what we are talking about, where we were in the conversation, and he gives me this…look. Do you know the one I mean? Not quite mad, not quite hurt, not quite disappointed, but sort of…painfully exasperated, maybe. I always rush to apologize and turn my total attention to him but the damage has been done. I was writing and got lost within my own world. The world I was building with him disappeared and I…I forgot him. It is a crisis of relationship that many writers face with the their loved ones.

There was a time, for a while after the hubby first fell in love with golf, when we had two totally different conversations every evening on our walks. He was talking about golf, this wonderful shot or this amazing putt, and I was talking about writing, a conversation with an agent or a really great scene or a difficult plot point I’d worked out. The conversations had no give and take but we both accepted it because it was our lives we were sharing, not really info. But it’s different when I drift off and leave him alone in the room. If I am not careful, that can hurt.

My relationships all suffer when I am actively creating—that internal creativity that we do that takes place under the surface of the skin in the deeps of our minds, but sometimes swims to the surface and catches us in its jaws and pulls us down with it. My mom sees it too. Others writers laugh when it happens, when we’re having tea or lunch and one of us drifts away. We understand that that no one—no celebrity or politician or anyone—is more interesting than the people in our brains. We understand. But we do have to be very careful not to hurt the people we love when we are writing.

Just saying…


25 comments to Writing is a Solitary Business

  • Last Saturday when I was out at the faire, Paradiis and Farashah were discussing a particularly challenging dance, and they asked me a question. One I never heard, since at the time I was staring off into the sky. Farashah touched me to get my attention. “Misty, where were you?”

    “I was writing,” I said.

  • Tom

    Huh? What were you saying? Sorry, I drifted off there for a sec…

  • This goes hand in hand with convincing our loved ones that Yes, when I’m laying on the couch with my eyes closed, sometimes I really am working!

  • I feel guilty about writing in church, but inspiration strikes whenever it wants to.

  • It’s real bad when it happens while I’m driving. Thank goodness for mental autopilot. “Huh! I don’t remember driving those last 5 miles…err…” 😉

  • I’m going to have to ask Ted if I do this. I /know/ I do it if I’ve come to him for help with a plot point or something, because when he hits on The Idea I need, I apparently get this very specific distant expression and often drift into silence while I contemplate the revelation. In those circumstances he’s always very pleased with himself, because if I do that it means he’s given me the piece I need to make the story work, or he’s given me enough that I can see it from there.

    But I honestly don’t think I drift off into my writing worlds when I’m not working. Granted, ‘working’ is a nebulous term for writers, and plenty of train rides are spent ‘working’ in terms of staring out the window and thinking vague thoughts about the book. But I don’t think I drift during conversations and the like. I’ll have to ask Ted. 🙂

  • I certainly do it when I’m driving, hiking, lying in bed waiting to fall asleep, doing mundane stuff like grocery shopping or cutting the lawn. I don’t do it when I’m out taking photos — I’m pretty absorbed when I have my camera in hand. I try not to do it in conversations, particularly with my wife and kids, but I know that it happens occasionally. Nancy laughs at me . . . most of the time. The girls get mad at me. To be honest, I get mad at myself, because I know how much it can hurt. But it’s hard to stop, and even if it wasn’t hard, I’m not sure I’d want to stop. Inspiration is unpredictable. It can come and go, and when it’s there, right in front of me, I have to follow it, because I’ve set it aside in the past, attempting to be polite, and I’ve lost whatever idea it was that had come to me. As much as I hate to hurt those I love in this small way, I hate losing ideas even more.

  • Sarah

    Can I just say, Faith, that your husband sounds like a particularly fantastic guy? I definitely do what you do and you’re right – it’s very easy to hurt people we love by tuning them out mid conversation. For me the most dangerous is when I drift off in the middle of a class. I can be staring straight at a student and plotting a scene while some distant part of me watches the student’s lips move and wonders if the movement has anything to do with me. It has nothing to do with the validity of the student’s question either – sometimes the best questions can spark a train of thought that takes me off to a different world.

    And then there was the time I convinced my brother I had multiple personalities – he caught me acting out a multi part dialogue while folding towels.

  • Well, I’m not married, so no spouse to exasperate. But I used to do this in class, and my algebra teacher just couldn’t understand that faux-composing a fictitious flute sonata was more important to me than inverse functions.

    I think I do this to my friends a lot, too. Or when I’m on a run with a group, and I turn exactly the wrong way, and someone has to drop back and slap me upside the head. I only feel bad if it was right in the middle of a conversation though. Otherwise, them’s the breaks.

    I’ve talked to one writer who would do this sort of thing to her (young)kids, and she got very upset about it. She wrote fantasy, and consuqently, her kids were very knowledgable. They would express their irritation by pretending to interrupt her “conversations” with remarks directed at her classical fantasy discussion partner. I found it funny, but obviosuly an eight-year-old is going to be a little put out that Mommy can’t talk right now because she’s “got ‘Prince Caspian’ on the line”–as her son once explained her inability to talk with me. 🙂

    There are funnier ones, but she’s unpublished, so a starnger wouldn’t get the reference.

  • Yes, I know, 8 comments and no reply from me. Today was this month’s *tea/lunch with writer friends day*. It’s like a holiday from writing that leaves me ready to write again. Today I had tea with Miz Kim and lunch with Miz Tamar. (waves to both!)

    I’ll take them one at time from the end back up and hope no one posts between!

    Sarah — Rod is wonderful. He supports my writing, my writing career (not the same thing) *and* my internal writing when I’m not writing. And only a fellow writer will understand the difference between the three. Rod lately has introduced me to his friends as his first and second wives. They look puzzled and it took me a while to figure out that they thought we had married, divorced and remarried.
    Also, >>some distant part of me watches the student’s lips move and wonders if the movement has anything to do with me.>> Oh yeah. I know that feeling!

    David, you hit it right on the head. >>As much as I hate to hurt those I love in this small way, I hate losing ideas even more.>> I *love* my family, my hubby, my friends. But ideas have a *very* short shelf life. They flit into my head and they die quicky if not planted and watered and attended to.

    Catie, you said, >>In those circumstances he’s always very pleased with himself, because if I do that it means he’s given me the piece I need to make the story work, or he’s given me enough that I can see it from there.>> Yeah. It does make them happy, doesn’t it. Rod will be reading a book of mine several years after I wrote it (he’s way behind on wifey’s books) and he’ll say, “So *that’s* what you wanted to know! Good! It worked!* I have no idea what he’s talking about, but he sees his hand in my life, in my work, and it pleases him.

    Daniel, Yeah, I know. Writers need a special category like DWI, driving while intoxicated. DWW, driving while writing.

    Kristen, You can say that you were writing down the preacher’s comments and you will share them at the next Bible study. Wait. That’s lieing. *Another* sin! (slaps self for suggesting it)

    Stuart, yeah, I do that. I tell the hubby I am taking a nap because I am stuck on plot point. But it really works. After a nap I seem to write through any problem I had. Really. Stop laughing y’all!

    Tom. Pay attention in class. (Did you get that a lot in school? I did.)

    Misty, oh yeah. >>I was writing.>> And no one understands. Sooo dang often I am writing.

  • I knew that would happen (laughing)– someone would comment in the middle of my reply. Sorry I answered out of secquence, Atsiko!
    >> found it funny, but obviosuly an eight-year-old is going to be a little put out that Mommy can’t talk right now because she’s “got ‘Prince Caspian’ on the line”–as her son once explained her inability to talk with me.>>

    OMGosh, Atsiko that is so funny! I totally get it! I have to use that one. “Sorry, sweetheart, I was talking with a werewolf! What did you say?” (laughing!!!!)

  • I love not feeling alone in the world. I just wish I could write down my ideas at church–I tried it a couple times growing up and got my wrists literally slapped by my mother so I have this compulsion against it now.

    As for the plotting while driving… I’ve developed this bad habit/skill of jotting ideas down while driving to and from work. I usually wait for stop lights that are red (which is when every one of them is green) but i also have learned how to write quick phrases without looking at the paper. Its not always a straight line, but its usually legible enough to bring the idea back.

    I also get really frustrated at Yoga when i’m mediating at the end of class and my instructor rings this bell and brings me back from my drifting thoughts with a startling crash that leaves me with this feeling of having lost something as vital as a limb, and I’ll probably never see it again. sadness…. but I’ve at least learned that if i got up and write my instructor wouldn’t slap my wrist… just my mom if she looked over from her mat next to mine 🙂

  • Stacie

    you hit the nail on the head! i remember a time when i used to do that during a part time job. not exactly the safest thing to do while climbing ladders to stock shelves or carry items down 10 ft. and the worst was realizing one day that it really is a writer’s thing. what do normal/nonwriters think about??? what must that be like?? most of my family and friends call me “spacey stacie” – it’s hard to explain that you’re really working not just “not” paying attention.

  • Axisor, My dad used to slap me in church too. I can still remember the sound and the stinging feel on my thigh.

    But a bell after yoga???? I’d bring teacher a soft wind chime to ring, maybe one made of hollow wood sticks that would clunk musically. Or a wood flute to blow softly. Poor unthinking teacher, to be so unkind as to ruin a writer’s best work! (laughing and understanding)

    Stacie, I have no idea what nonwriters think. My schoolmates used to think I was crazy, standing on the playground, staring into the distance, my mouth moving as I *talked* to my characters. I learned quickly to keep my mouth shut and work out my stories in my head. It was such a relief to discover I was a writer and not insane!

  • Sarah

    Already commented, but I can’t help myself. I write in church too! So glad to find out I’m not the only one. I could lose myself for days in the stained glass in my grandmother’s church as a kid. Going to a church now that has a lot of stand up, sit down, responsive reading from the congregation helps me stay focused on actually worshiping (cuz, you know, that’s what I’m there for) but oh, I do have some lovely memories of fantasies woven while in church. They’re as vivid as memories of things I actually lived through – more so, in some cases.

  • Wow, does this hit home! Fortunately, my companion is an artist, so he totally understands my lapses and uses humor-“Kathryn, Earth to Kathryn, come in, Kathryn” usually works-when he requires my attention.

  • Sarah, I do understand! And I have the similar kind of childhoood memories of cool dark sanctuaries, stained glass, and that strange waiting silence of a church. It is the same kind of hushed expectation that I found (and still find) on rivers and in the forest.

  • Faith this really hits home. It wasn’t that long ago that I actually leaned over to my wife in the movie theater during a flick and made some comment about my characters. After the show we talked about my problem putting the story aside, and since I’ve been making extra effort to leave the story at the laptop when my honey and I are engaged in conversation or time together. I tell the characters to bugger off for a while and report back to me later. Most time this works, but I still occasionally get an idea and politely excuse myself to go jot something down.

    Like your husband, my wife’s been understanding, so I think she accepts the infrequent polite interruption in lieu of frequent distraction.

  • OMGosh, Kathryn, my hubby has said the exact same thing to me. One time he added, “Who are you killing off now?” Sad, yes? (seh said laughing)

    NGDave, I have been there. Oh, dear, yes. I no longer go to movies (though I did see one this year with my bestest pal since age 8, Joy) but over TV, I’ll lean in and say, “Leo said something like that except he was talking about a blood meal.” Hubby goes, “Ick. Watch the show, baby.”

  • Dino

    Though not a writer, I do the same thing between customers at the post office.
    My partner and I run 200 aquaria as our business.
    During down time at work, I am mentally making list of which tanks I need to check for babies, which ones the plants need trimmed in, ect…

    I have always wondered about people who claim they are not always thinking about something.

  • I asked a coworker today what he does when he’s not concentrating on the task at hand. He said he doesn’t think. If he’s not thinking about the task that’s right in front of him, he just isn’t thinking about anything. He gave me an explanation about the first flood of testosterone flooding a little fetus boy’s system and causing brain damage in such a way that the left and right hemispheres can no longer communicate as smoothly, making all males powerful thinkers but horrible multitaskers….

    I’ve heard this before but I can’t help wondering how there can be so many male writers agreeing with the females on this issue. Maybe instead of their being just a writer’s gene… maybe that gene makes a writing gland?

  • Dino, I get it, I do. Some people’s brains are geared to working on more than one level at once.

    Axisor, your co-worker is not alone in thinking that about testosterone. But I don’t know that I believe it either, after seeing the men affirm that they too think on multi-layers. I like the idea of a storyteller gland!

  • Liz

    I recognise so much of this in myself and my husband too. We are both aspiring writers.

    Our breakfast conversations are really a copper’s dream:

    “Which weapon do you thinkis best for long range assasination?”
    “I would say xyz.”

    or my favourite conversation thus far:
    “I need to break into the British Museum.”
    “Are we doing it through the skylight or are we in disguise as cleaners.”

    And then this leads me to a tiny bit of good news which I would love to share with you guys here at MW: through perseverance and listening to your advice I have made my first sale. It’s a 10,000 word short story to an anthology which is being released both here in the UK and in the US, entitled: The Mammoth book of Special Ops Romance.

    So, with a massive thanks to all of you, especially Faith, David and Catie: your words of inspiration, your actual novels (which I love) and advice on here has not fallen on sallow ground!

    Huzzah for MW!

  • YEA!!!!!! Liz that makes my day! Whoowhoo!

  • Oh, hooray Liz! That’s *fantastic*!