Wednesday, February 21st, 2007 • 1 Comment on How Not To Talk About Writing
I know very few writers who actually talk about their writing. Oh sure, if they’re in a room full of other writers they may toss out some information about what they’re working on or their latest sale; if it’s a conference or a workshop, they will discuss plot, narrative, character and the like. But around non-writers, most writers are pretty close-mouthed unless it’s to mention a new release or to ask research-based questions (i.e.: “I hear you’re a funeral director. I’m writing this story about the sex lives of funeral directors and I was wondering…”).
Writers, generally speaking, don’t like to talk about writing to non-writers. For one, non-writers don’t get it. There is nothing exciting about the act of writing. To watch a writer write is to watch grass grow. Selling is only slightly more interesting, but the only thing anyone really wants to know when you sell something you’ve written is how much you make, but that—in addition to being rude—is about finances, not about writing. Publishing is cool and people like to point to things in the bookstore and say, “I know him.” but there is still a distance between the writer and the written word that the non-writer can’t usually bridge.
The other reason writers don’t talk to non-writers about their writing is because, well, it’s hard to talk about something that is so intangible. Writers are usually too busy writing to talk about writing and if they’re not writing, they’re thinking about what they’re going to write, but the stuff in their head is so convoluted, it wouldn’t make sense to someone who doesn’t also write (and even then it’s an iffy proposition). The thought pattern of a writer might go something like this:
Blue. Her eyes were blue in the first chapter, right? I need to check that. Blue works because it’ll be a clue to her paternity. Her stepfather has brown eyes, her mother has brown eyes, but her eyes are blue. Blue like… blue like what? Blue like that blue bottle I have, the one that was a wine bottle. The wine wasn’t very good, but it’s a good color blue for eyes. So maybe the wine bottle will be in there, too. Maybe the real father will actually comment that her eyes are the color of a wine bottle and she’ll realize his eyes are the same color, but will that be too obvious? Maybe it shouldn’t be an eye color thing. Where is that chart on recessive genes? I should check that. No point in making a big deal out of blue eyes if two brown-eyed parents can produce a blue-eyed kid. DNA evidence will be necessary, but that’s just so Jerry Springer it’s not even funny. I need to write this down before I forget it. I’m going to forget it, I know I’m going to forget it. What if he’s not her father at all? Oh, wait, that might work. Maybe it all leads up to him being her father, but he’s actually the one who kidnapped her as a child and her memory of his eyes is what makes her think he’s a real father. Still would like to get that wine bottle in there somewhere, though…
Now, tell me, how do you talk about that with someone who isn’t a writer? You don’t. People will think you’re crazy. Which, as everyone knows, most writers are to some degree. It goes with the territory. Still, it gets awfully lonely hanging out with non-writers who have concrete, interesting, sane stories to tell about the work they do when all you can mumble is, “My laptop battery died when I was in the middle of a scene and I can’t remember the rest of what I was going to write.” It’s really quite sad.
So imagine my frustration when I’m wandering around the bookstore yesterday after putting in a good number of hours working and feeling this overwhelming urge to write and there’s no one around to understand how I feel. It wasn’t just a need to just write, like I do on a normal basis, but really, truly write. Something big. Something important. Something that no one else can write. It’s this incredible drive, a need to leave a mark and say something about the world. Say what, I don’t know. Just say something. A dozen ideas popped into my head as I checked out fiction, nonfiction, new releases, children’s books, popular culture… ideas about things that haven’t been written before, things I know I could write, subjects I’m passionate about, things that would be interesting, funny, meaningful, entertaining. “Write!” my brain screamed. “Write!”
I’m pretty sure there aren’t accountants who are suddenly overcome with the urge to do computations or doctors who wander through a medical supply store and have the immediate need to perform surgery. No, this is a strange drive that I’m fairly certain is limited to creative types. Writers, artists, mimes. People the rest of the world doesn’t understand and, let’s face it, aren’t always understood by their brethren. To be creative is to be constantly trying to create something other people understand. If they get it, it is art. If they don’t… well, then you’re left mumbling about your inspiration and how you’re not really a writer, you’re an accountant who just thought you might write a little something for fun…
It’s hard for a writer to talk to non-writers about writing without sounding pretentious. To call yourself a writer is to align yourself with the greats, to toss yourself up among the stars—and who do you think you are, doing such a thing? You use the word “writer” because “novelist” or “poet” or “essayist” sound even more pretentious, but even the basic, unadorned term “writer” conjures up an image… and believe me, whomever you are, it’s not the image most non-writers have of what a writer is supposed to be.
I wandered the aisles of the bookstore, needing—desperately—to write. To create. To leave my mark. Will anyone care? Will anyone notice? Will anyone pay me? It didn’t matter… all that mattered, correction: all that matters, is that I write. Write and write and write until everything I have in me is on a page, in a file, on an editor’s desk or in the bookstore. Write until the need is satisfied and whatever it is I think I need to say has been said. Write because it’s all I know how to do. Write because it’s all I want to do. Just write.
You think I’m crazy, don’t you? That makes two of us. Writers are a crazy lot. It’s all that talking to ourselves about writing that does it. At least, that’s what I tell myself.