Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Writing in the Time Warp






Perhaps not as much as with Dave Freer at the moment, but sometimes I wonder what I expected when I became a novelist. I know I had some vague idea – when I was very young, say, Junior Highschool – that writers were very important people and therefore I assumed that they had important-people trappings.



My dad talked about writers with far more respect than he reserved to doctors, engineers of anyone else. Writers were, in fact, superhuman as far as he was concerned. And I assumed these rare achievers had ... well, prerogatives. Secretaries, a research staff, people to fawn on them and bring them coffee. This seemed logical given the effort that went into producing books.
By the time I was in highschool, though, I’d heard enough grumbling from writers – in prologues and afterwords and in interviews – to surmise they were one-man operations, sometimes with staff.



But I still didn’t "get" it. I thought, you know, you write a story once a month of so. For this you need inspiration, so you travel a lot and take picturesque walks, and you do an awful lot of looking romantic while sitting in a coffee house. Okay – that’s not true, exactly. I’m being sarcastic about the motives of my younger self, but that’s more or less how I viewed it, absent the heavy dose of sarcasm.



Of course I always envisioned having a family of some sort or at least a home but I assumed, perhaps with more excuse, that the day to day issues of family care would be lifted off my shoulders by menials.



With more excuse? you ask. Why, certainly. You see, almost anyone with my level of education and in a professional or even semi-professional career in Portugal would have a cleaning lady and – at least while the kids were little – a nanny of some sort. (If the grandparents didn’t take the kids for the day.) Later on there would be after-school tutors to help them in any project/subject they were having trouble with. At the level of income/success we’re at as a family if we lived in Portugal we would have just that. (The pay offs, even at the material level are myriad, though. I’m not implying I’d have lived better there. Trust me when I say I’m not stupid and there’s a reason I live here. Someone said in a blog I was reading that going to Europe be prepared to take two "levels" of pay off your lifestyle, because that’s how daily life would translate. I’m sure there’s some mitigation at the highest ranks and in some European countries, but in general that’s my experience in Portugal. Hotels "better" than the ones we can afford here are considerably less comfortable and "cater" less to our whims, etc. This is not an argument, just my experience. However, human labor is cheaper in Portugal and therefore having cleaning ladies and such far more feasible.)



So imagine my surprise if I’d ever been told there’d be days like this. Younger kid has project due at school, so he was working all day every day over the weekend, then after school yesterday. He came down with some form of laryngitis late last night. Cue in the argument over whether he HAD to go to school today. He said he did, but since my last flue started at the throat I wasn’t sure. By the time it was decided it was past midnight. I then had to get up at seven to take a note to his chem lab partner (actually to attendance, to pass on to her.) Then when I got home I found his mandatory volunteerism forms would also have to be turned in today. (No, I’m not without appreciation of the irony of the concept, but I prefer not to dwell on it, since I’d rather not get sick all over the keyboard. It’s a sick concept and if we’re lucky it breeds cynicism. If we’re not lucky it breeds a perverse idea that people are supposed to work for no pay when authorities tell them to. What it does NOT do is encourage people to care for other people. That is at best done by educating empathy, not by mandating – mostly – make work.) So, back I go with the forms. Somewhere along there I ate lunch, then spent the afternoon (as the kid got up and tried to finish his project) fielding questions and trying to help when his computer went belly up (which it’s doing a lot now.)



In the middle, between all this, I tried to do a little work on the proposal that was going so well yesterday and that I couldn’t wait to continue. I think I did a page, which is pathetic, but pretty good considering.



So, what is the point of this long rant, other than belly aching, which I confess I’m doing. My point is the same as last week, with illness. We tend to look at books and think we’re reading optimal work. We tend to imagine someone – say Pterry – working in his office, with the door shut and maybe music playing. We never wonder if a chapter was pounded out while he was dealing with a terminal cat having seizures next to his desk and requiring medicine. Or if he had to drive his daughter (some years back) to her choir concert, between one paragraph and the next. And yet, it’s far more likely the books we read were written that way than that they were perfected pieces dropped from the sky. All these interruptions and multitasking are more likely for writers – I think – than most other professionals because we work from home. Also, more and more, we’re required to keep an eye on promotion and an eye on agent/editor relations, and an eye on field rumors, leaving us the mythical fourth eye to actually look at the writing.



Right now half of you are saying "Well, that’s why you re-write and proof read." Noted. And of course. These posts are often not proofread – due to time constraints – so you all know how much I need that. BUT the rewriting and proof reading, too, go on under these conditions.
So, is any work ever perfect? Probably not. But it happens. In between all the rest. Someone said that life is what happens while you’re dealing with other things. The same could be said of your life’s work – what really commands your passion. It happens between other tasks, disasters and events.



I often hear newby writers say they’re waiting until – fill in the blank – retirement, vacation, the kids move out, they get a promotion, whatever before they write their big book. The book will never happen. How do I know? I have a collection of tomes on my bedside table. The sort of hard cover book you don’t want to drag around while cleaning or washing dishes. I’m going to read them as soon as I have a free afternoon/a day off/a week away that I’m not working in. Only those things get filled with family outings, shopping for books, or just napping on the bed with the cats.



Imperfect and sometimes frustrating as my writing is, I do it when I can. Because it’s what I love, so I make time for it. Even when it’s shuffled amid all the rest.
So, what are your strategies? What would be your ideal writing day? What are your main frustrations, trying to write if you do? And if you’re not a writer, how do you see the life of your favorite author? Do you think he/she is above this mere mortal fray?

11 comments:

matapam said...

In the perfect writer's life the writer never remembers at the last moment that they need to pick up the dry cleaning or go to the bank.

Their pets are very polite and don't inform them that they have run out of pet food or barfed in the living room, right in the middle of a crucial scene just flying off the fingers.

There are never annoying barking dogs. They cannot hear the neighbor's having a discussion. The phone never rings at the wrong moment.

They never get sick. They do not spill things on their computers. They always remember to back up their files.

Their pantries and fridges are always stocked, they never run out of milk or toilet paper. Their clothes last forever, or at any rate until they are between books and need a leisurely shopping trip.

And they make enough money to live on.

I think I always envisioned writers as living alone, with no one to make demands on them. It seems a rather sterile life, seriously lacking in things to write about.

I'm glad I was wrong.

matapam said...

In the perfect writer's life the writer never remembers at the last moment that they need to pick up the dry cleaning or go to the bank.

Their pets are very polite and don't inform them that they have run out of pet food or barfed in the living room, right in the middle of a crucial scene just flying off the fingers.

There are never annoying barking dogs. They cannot hear the neighbor's having a discussion. The phone never rings at the wrong moment.

They never get sick. They do not spill things on their computers. They always remember to back up their files.

Their pantries and fridges are always stocked, they never run out of milk or toilet paper. Their clothes last forever, or at any rate until they are between books and need a leisurely shopping trip.

And they make enough money to live on.

I think I always envisioned writers as living alone, with no one to make demands on them. It seems a rather sterile life, seriously lacking in things to write about.

I'm glad I was wrong.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Matapam,

me too. Only I'm studying how to remodel an attic room on shoe string so I have semi-privacy at lest.

matapam said...

Oh, left out, and never remodles, certainly not in a manner that has her sharing the office of a spouse who whistles, taps his feet, hums and sometimes sings his own twisted lyrics to songs he obviously hears in his head.

If he worked full time at home, I'd have defenestrated him by now. But my office floor should be finished by next week, and I can move everything, again.

Good luck with the attic.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I must admit with 6 children, volunteer work and life, I've often thought fondly of living in a monastery.

Imagine having a little room where no one bothered you and there was a kitchen down the hall that provided food.

Kate said...

My dream involves an actual library with all the walls lined with bookshelves, comfy chairs, and a desk at a window with a nice view out to something peaceful. The only problem with this is that in that environment, I'd never actually write. As it is, as soon as I go to look something up in a reference book, I end up reading the whole thing.

matapam said...

Rowena, how, with six kids, do you find even the mental space for writing?

The thought of a monastery filled with people each creating whole Universes, Gods and religions is a bit mind bending . . . but where else would you put them?

C Kelsey said...

I've always desired a large sitting room. Massive windows to my right, a library's worth of bookshelves to my left. A MASSIVE fluffy arm chair in the center of the room next to an equally massive chart table. Roaring fire place on the nearby narrow wall. Pipe in hand, plenty of wine and scotch available... stormy sea outside. I could write very happily with that available.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam,

6 kids equals lots of hectic moments, but it is the writing that keeps me sane.

That, and teaching 140 kids at college.

That, and setting up a national workshop for Romance Writers of Australia.

That, and volunteering to help do programming for World Con next year.

No wonder my poor husband says I have no time for him!

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Rowena
when the boys were small and the younger was having heart problems, there were days I got up and stared out the window next to their room and thought "out there, in the mountain, there's an isolated cabin. Just give me a week in it!"

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Kate,
I would still like the library to write in. I have iron discipline...

Or something.