I’ve decided to give the topic of motherhood a (brief) rest and blog about writing this week. But since my life at the moment is 10% writing, 90% wiping bottoms, I thought I’d start off gently by writing something simple and bullet-pointy (real word, back off) to get myself back into the mindset of being a writer. It’s a strange mindset, I’ll grant you that. We writers are an odd bunch, and people who don’t write – or spend their free hours occupied in some other solitary, deeply personal, wholly engrossing pastime – often don’t understand why we are the way we are.
If you are fortunate enough to share your life with a writer, and find yourself time and again asking yourself, ‘Why is this person so weird?’, then hopefully this post will help to shed some light on the mysterious goings-on in the mind of a writer. And if you are a writer yourself, you may relate to some of these items. Or not. I’d love to hear feedback from other writers, including anything you would add to this list.
- We are always writing in our heads.
Wondering why the blank stare? The confused look on our face? It’s because we weren’t really listening to you, we were listening to two of the characters in our latest work arguing with each other. We might even have been arguing with one of our characters. “‘For the love of God, Maurice! You have to enter the abandoned warehouse at midnight! It’s where the serial killer has his latest victim bound to a chair and he’s already sharpening his knives!’ ‘Bugger off, you useless writer! You will not make me cliché!'” Or, in a less heated moment, we might be going over in our mind the opening lines to the chapter we’ve been working on. Or simply playing with words in our heads, finding interesting rhyming pairs we’d never thought of before, seeing how many synonyms we can think up on the spot for “quickly”. Our brains never stop processing words – ours and other people’s – and we tend to overload on language.
- We may not be very good with words.
This probably doesn’t make sense, coming straight after point 1. Maybe I should specify that we may not be very good with words verbally. Give us a laptop or a paper and pencil and two hours of solitude, and we could probably come up with prose to match Shakespeare or Tom Wolfe (yeah right, in our dreams. But we won’t stop trying!) Engage us in conversation, however, and we may quickly become tongue-tied. I’m not sure if my tendency to mispronounce words, forget what I was saying halfway through a sentence, stammer, and go all shy and clam up, comes from my brain working too fast or too slowly to process what I want to say. It’s awkward, I’m awkward, but it’s the way I am, and I’ve learned to accept it.
- We are not social butterflies.
This may be something of an understatement. Clearly, anyone who enjoys spending hours on end locked in a room talking to their imaginary friends is generally not going to be the life and soul of the party when surrounded by, er, real people. Writers tend to be introverts. We find large doses of social interaction, particularly in big groups, overwhelming and exhausting. We much prefer one-on-one conversation, particularly on an interesting and controversial topic which we can debate to our heart’s content. We also require time by ourselves in which to recharge our mental batteries. This doesn’t mean we hate the company of others, just that we prefer to balance this with time spent alone (possibly having words with Maurice, our reluctant amateur detective).
- We believe our characters are real.
Of course, we know intellectually that they are not. But to us, well, they still are. We created them, after all, but then magic happened, and they took on a life of their own. When we are writing, it’s our characters who lead the action, behaving in exactly the way they need to behave. Usually the task of the writer is to run, gasping for air, behind their character, trying to jot down at lightning speed everything they are doing and saying. It’s why we feel guilty when unpleasant things happen to our characters. It’s because we know them, we care for them, we have a vested interest in their well-being, even love them. Do I sound crazy yet?
- We don’t know where we get our ideas from, or why our characters behave in a certain way.
See above. It’s our characters running the show, not us. We’re just voyeurs in their lives. And our ideas? Who knows. It’s probably got something to do with our brains being constantly played at 78 rpm, that we’re always taking chunks of the world around us and slicing and dicing them up and then remoulding them into different worlds, different stories. So please don’t make us feel awkward by asking us where we got our idea for the Sci-fi trilogy about the cross-dressing unicorn who discovers a portal to another galaxy where intelligent life is a race of cannibalistic beetles. Because we just don’t know, okay. All we know is hallucinogenic drugs may or may not have played a part.
- We don’t know when we are going to get published.
If ever. Please don’t give us a hard time about the marketability of our writing. We are not doing this writing thing for financial gain, or fame. Well, most of us aren’t. It’s just what we do. The story (or poem, or essay) is the end result, and if nobody reads it, we are fine with that. We don’t write because we necessarily want to make a career out of it (although, deep down, each of us would love to see our name on the New York Times bestseller list). We write because it’s just who we are.
- We love it when you read our work.
Argh, stop contradicting yourself! Okay. Sorry. We writers may not write for any other reason than we simply adore the act of putting words together in sentences and weaving something we hope will be pretty special out of them. But, still, come on. We’ve put all that effort in, could you not at least take a glance at what we’ve written? Of course we want you to enjoy our writing. Our goal is to entertain, to make you laugh, or cry, or feel icy tentacles of terror creeping up your spine. That’s what fiction is for, after all. Just don’t tell us it was the best thing you’ve ever read, like, ever, because we’ll know you’re lying to make us feel better, and it won’t. We are delicate wee petals, we writers. And ever so slightly bonkers.