The public and private face of a writer

You may have seen me at book signings or a writers conference. We could have run into each other at the grocery store. I know we’ve talked about the current book, the new book, the audio version while at work and wondered if you, too, can get your name included (i.e. “be a character”). This is the outgoing face of a writer, the person who recognizes that the product IS the person. However, in order to get to that point, there is an awful lot that goes on behind the scenes, shall we say, that most people are not aware of.

First, most writers have their own special place where they reside: an office, an unused bedroom, even a corner of the dining room table after the meal is over. Many writers also retire to the confines of a coffee shop or small bistro with wi-fi in order to get away from the staid old surroundings of the familiar in hopes of generating the energy required to write. By this, we refer to mental energy, the fuel for any creative effort.

Depending on whether your “old school” or not, there is a kind of notebook, whether written or digital, that contains ideas and research material, character bios and possible plot lines. This goes alongside the laptop, tablet, or one-subject notebook where the work is being created.

While the external world provides the sensory data and experiences that are necessary, it is necessary to exclude it during this process. Perhaps if I were writing poetry and wanted to be inspired, I would be like Wordsworth and remain outdoors. When writing historical crime fiction, as I do, I need to be able to eliminate modern contrivances to allow my mind to inhabit a time period seventy or eighty years prior.

“Sorry to bother you” is an expression that, although gracious in its sentiment, breaks the concentration, especially if a scene was progressing fabulously. Gritting teeth and almost pounding the fists after an intrusion does nothing to regain composure but is a required outlet.

“I really need to get this done” is a comment made with a trembling of guilt in the voice because, after all, is writing more important than anything else? The answer is Yes.

As with all other efforts, there will be a time when the writer tires. It takes a great deal of that mental energy to write a chapter or edit a manuscript. If you are not a full-time writer (i.e. you have a day job and other domestic responsibilities), you may go into a writing session already short on energy. However, just being able to get something accomplished provides a great feeling of satisfaction.

In a rush, there is reaching out to your publisher, working with your editor, doing a cover reveal, announcing the release date, making marketing plans, creating a book trailer. All this requires yet another form of energy and specific mental calculation.

And everything leads to that guy you see at a writers conference or in the office, energetically talking about his book and the writing process. You will only ever see the public face.


The Commitment

April was National Poetry Month. I haven’t written all that much new poetry since my days in Boston over 20 years ago. A piece here and there as something inspired me. Concurrent with that, a Facebook friend sent out a challenge for a daily minimum of 10 minutes worth of writing. I came up with a poetic idea and accepted the challenge, feeling guilty that it wasn’t fiction and, in some cases, I wrote such a brief amount. Nevertheless, this was worthwhile.

Inspired by Wallace Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, my idea was called “A Month of Sundays in Stevensville.” It was to be impressionistic snippets of what Sunday meant to me, in the distant past as well as the present. I found that it became increasingly difficult as the month went on. But I succeeded and paid homage to National Poetry Month while motivating those within the Facebook challenge.

I used to participate in NaNoWriMo and found it to be entirely useful in motivating a daily writing goal. I know these sort of things are important, especially if you find yourself in a position where “real life” is encroaching too much on your creative life. I have also learned how to integrate both which is why I do not create daily writing goals.

This does not mean that I am not motivated or that I am not committed to my efforts, regardless of what others on social media may think. You can be committed to writing every day. There is Stephen King’s famous quote about that. However, like NaNoWriMo, simply putting words to paper (if you’re Old School) does not mean a novel is finished after X amount of words or pages.

When I do sit at my laptop, I am investing my all into the work at hand, becoming annoyed at an interruption, discarding thoughts of food or anything else from the outside world. I have stepped, like Alice, into my own personal Wonderland and that is where I must be.

All I have described is my personal preferences, how I work and prefer to work. The most important thing is to be committed to your writing in a fashion that suits you. The commitment is everything.

Looking for the Macguffin: The Final NaNoWriMo Update

This past Monday, I was sitting at 41,000+ words, trying to wrap up NaNoWriMo for the year. I knew how I wanted the story to end but I was at the point in the story where I need a plot element to get past the hurdle.
I need a Macguffin.
(Those of you familiar with Hitchcock know what I mean. Those that aren’t can always Google it.)
I had placed ideas for subplots earlier in the story but, being that it was NaNoWriMo, I never developed them and it was too late to bring them up now. that’s all for the editing WAY later. I kept thinking and trying to come up with something that sounded legitimate and would fit in without too much explanation.
I used the notorious “files”. They were something just hanging around the bad guys house, in his safe, or somewhere else undefinable. Despite the fact that he had taken great steps to avoid association with the other bad guys, he just happened to have them hanging around his house. In paper. Traceable.
The point is that instead of just sitting there at 41,000+ words, I continued trying to put together just a couple of hundred words to make enough sense to blaze through the last few thousand to get to the finish line.
All this, mind you, while my wife and I were enjoying two days off together BEFORE Thanksgiving, trying to decorate the house for the Christmas season (which included me putting up the lights), AND preparing the food to bring to our Thanksgiving dinners (as in plural, as in more to make).
Waking up at 5:45 am on Tuesday and this morning and writing until about 8:30 am brought me to the finish. Fourth year in a row having completed NaNoWriMo with perhaps the biggest load of crap in any of those years.
However, it will rest and rise (like the bread I am now baking) and be ready for MANY rewrites after the first of the year.
I want to give special thanks to two Wichita regional NaNo-ers, katismom77 and SusanPopejoy, beside being writing buddies on NaNo were also friends on Facebook. I don’t usually get to the write-ins because I don’t use a laptop and if I’ve got time to meet-and-greet then I have time to write. Writing is more important. These ladies were encouraging, motivational, and just a lot of fun to gab and jest with. They finished either late last week or earlier this week and they deserve the praise that any participant deserves for completion of a very difficult task.

What will I do?

My PC is in the shop for maintenance.  There were issues involving files disappearing but thankfully no writing files have been jeopardized.  So my wife, knowing what the computer means to me and my writing and networking efforts, graciously suggested bringing her laptop up to my office for the time being (maybe four days).

Okay, it’s still a computer, but it’s not MY computer.  I don’t use a laptop generally and am not 100% comfortable.  It’s on the desk and not in the cubby where my PC goes.  And there is the matter of the files and having to transfer things from my USB drive to the laptop to work and then loading the saved files back on and…

I remember years ago when it was a matter of 3.5″ floppy discs and just storing those somewhere.  Or the typewriter days when you “printed” everything because that was how you saved things.  I’ve gotten so “digital” that I have to be my own IT guy just to do what I want to do which is WRITE.  (Notice the IT is right smack dab in the middle of the word WRITE.)

I’m feeling like some sort of techno-conspiracy-theorist burdened by the ever-increasing knowledge we knowledge we are required to stuff into our brains merely to allow that smaller creative portion an opportunity to escape and perhaps grow into something entertaining or thought-provoking or evocative.

I hate to say it but maybe I should suggest to my wife that she give me some honey-dos for the next couple of days.