A personal post, not a tech or anthro one…
This year I committed to working on publishable fiction and set aside three mornings each week to write. I’m vaguely amused when I read other writers sniping at each other about writing technique: prolific ones yelling that dreamier types need to shut up and just do it, the contemplative sorts calling out the others as shallow typists, etc. Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes I’m ready to write and sometimes I’m not, and I can nudge myself in the right direction but it’s useless to force it. Monday I couldn’t write. Today, I had the intensity and focus of a coked-up ’80s stockbroker.
When I’m in my fiction writing frame of mind, it’s as if you can find me in the little fairy caravan in the photo above. It’s a trailer inside a birdbath, at a campsite, in my backyard, inside a virtual world. I may interact with the rest of the world but my imagination is trying out phrases and scenarios deep inside. I’m not completely anywhere else.
I average about 2000 words of writing each morning I set aside, but it’s not a simple matter of adding up words until I’ve got over 80k and then stamping it ready to ship. Sometimes the 2000 is a chunk of a chapter in solid draft form, sometimes it’s character background information that occurred to me at 3:00 am, and sometimes it’s stilted dialogue that I’ll have to re-write a dozen times. I’m learning as I go, trying different styles and deciding which rules to enforce and break. Non-fiction and blog-length essays are so much easier. I tried setting up a writing spot at a table with quiet Baroque music in the background. Sure, that’s fine. I do that some days. I can write just as well where I am now: on the couch, laptop on my knees, and a snoring dog beside me with her nose buried under my thigh.
The one element that seems to be non-negotiable is solitude. I’m lucky and grateful to have a supportive husband. He knew I was a writer when we first met, regardless of my day job, and he’s counting on me to provide our retirement income while he toils away to support us now. He treats my writing mornings as sacred, which helps me take them seriously, too.
In January I started and archived three writing projects before the one I’m working on really started to take off. I love writing. I love words and I love playing with sentence structure and grammar. I love how a story grows in ways I didn’t expect. I love following an idea down the rabbit hole and deciding later if its something to keep, save for later, or burn burn burn so there are no witnesses.
Before my writing time this morning, I talked with Jakob in Second Life. It’s been eight days since his first chemotherapy treatment and he is very sick. I scoured websites in both German and English to find him useful information for talking with his doctor and taking care of himself. As I quipped bitterly on Twitter, I don’t know the words to order a steak in German, but I can describe chemo side effects.
Jakob and I do not have the same philosophy about treatment of terminal cancer. He is on the “quantity of life” side — he wants every possible day. I am a “quality of life” person. I bite my tongue a lot, metaphorically, because I respect his right to make choices for himself, but I ache every day he is suffering. Last week I had a long talk with one of my doctors about Jakob’s condition and when I mentioned he was starting chemo, the doctor’s face fell. “Oh. Why??” The doc and I are in agreement: if we knew the prognosis, we’d rather have five good months than fifteen shitty ones. But if Jakob follows a different path, I feel I should make sure he has information and give him love and support with what he chooses. Maybe he’ll have dozens of months, as he hopes.
However, he is deeply in denial. I visit him in ten weeks and he still insists that he will be able to drive hours on the autobahn and spend two weeks away from his house then. I know that isn’t possible. He can barely walk and certainly cannot drive now; that won’t get better while he’s going through chemo cycles. So, I quietly suggested that maybe I could take a train to him, and I could drive if we wanted to go somewhere. “We will see,” he replied. I’d like to make alternative plans — I’ll be traveling for two and a half weeks before I see him, so I won’t have a lot of chances to research options then — but he wants to wait. Forcing him to deal with reality seems cruel, so I’m prepared to wing it.
I’m stressed now too, with Jakob’s illness and other things, and my tolerance for pettiness and self-orchestrated drama is at an all-time low. I don’t need it and I won’t spend time with it. One deep breath and I’m in my fairy trailer in the birdbath, safely tucked away from all the nonsense.