Monday, February 23, 2009

Musings on Writing, and It's Effects Upon Those Around You

I've fallen into bad habits, whilst away at college.

See, when I started this little blog a while back (frankly I'd have to get into my posts and go all the way back to the first to tell you when it happened) I wasn't living alone.

As such, I had trained myself not to go completely insane when I was writing and someone would feel the urge to talk to me, change the TV channel, sneeze, twitch, cough, scratch themselves, breathe, or otherwise interrupt my writing Zen.

As Heinlein said: (Gimme a minute to search the intarwebz for the exact quote, as my copy of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls is in my car, and it's cold out there, and I'm in my PJ's) ((Great Googly Moogly, how can it be this hard to find that quote?? Who in their right mind doesn't know that it's one of the greatest quotes on writing of all time, and post it prominently on any collection of quotes by the Grand Master of Science Fiction???))

Ok, side track here, folks, I realize that there is a more... base... quote about writing than the one I intended. However, the quote I'm searching for is more complete, highly accurate in my experience, and danged skippy brilliant.

So all you Heinleinites compiling quotations pages, step away from the implied mental masturbation* and think for a moment, will you?

Ok, here's the quote (After locating tenny-runners, donning said tenny-runners, stomping out to my car, and retrieving the book.... damnit that's my emergency book.):

".... Writing is anti-social. It's as solitary as masturbation. Disturb a writer when he is in the throes of creation and he is likely to turn and bite right to the bone... and not even know that he's doing it. As writers' wives and husbands often learn to their horror. And- attend me carefully Gwen!- there is no way that writers can be tamed and rendered civilized. Or even cured. In a household with more than one person, of which one is a writer, the only solution known to science is to provide the patient with an isolation room, where he can endure the acute stages in private, and where food can be poked in to him with a stick. Because, if you disturb the patient at such times, he may break into tears or become violent. Or he may not hear you at all... and if you shake him at this stage, he bites." -- Colonel Colin Campbell/Richard Ames, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, by Robert Anson Heinlein.

Now, to me, this is a perfect explanation of the writing process. I do tend to snap at people for derailing my train of thought, if I'm out of practice in dealing with such interruptions. I did manage to train myself to be somewhat less violent, while living with the Farmparents, and they are understanding of the condition in a way that only people who have lived with such occurrences for years can be.

It helped that they avoided directly interrupting me while I was writing, unless it was absolutely necessary.

Staying with Mamaw and Step Grandpa, however, has made me realize how nice I had it while I was away from home. (I love you guys, really, and it's not your fault I get snippy, not really.)

See, when I was in my own place, if I got the urge to write, I simply turned on some music to drown out the sounds of the neighbors and random street activities, and wrote.

I might snarl a bit if the phone rang, but really, I was interruption free.

Now that I have some more free time on my hands, I've been trying to write more. Of course, I'm also co-habitating with other people. It becomes somewhat tense when I'm in the middle of a phrase that I'm not quite sure how I want to finish, to all appearances staring at the screen with a faraway look in my eye, and someone asks me a perfectly reasonable question.

Occasionally, it derails my train of thought to the extent that the clean up crew can't find any survivors, and the entire thing is scrapped. Which doesn't help the whole cranky writer syndrome.

I'm not the world's greatest writer, but the need to write does not care how good the writing is, it just cares that you write. The quality is dictated by the person, the quantity by that strange urge that, in myself, seems to manifest itself as a twitching in my fingertips. When I have written enough, the twitching goes away.

My hard drive is not full of things that I've written that will never see the light of day. The practice of going through a writer's things after they've shuffled off this mortal coil and hailing that Lo! We have discovered Never Before Published Material! has always slightly disgusted me... the writing of Variable Star and other works which a writer started, or intended to start, is excepted from this, however.

In those cases, the writer either intended what they'd written to be seen, or planned on them being of a quality to be seen. In the case of a sheet of notebook paper shoved in the back of a file cabinet, covered in scribbled handwriting, I feel that it's a case of the urge to write without the ability to ensure quality, at that particular moment. Lacking the testicular fortitude to look at said scribblings, realize that they're crap, and destroy the evidence, or perhaps having the all too common feeling (I get it myself) that everything they write is a piece of themselves (true) but not being able to bear parting with it (bushwa, to steal a phrase from LawDog) they stuff it in the back of the drawer hoping that no one will see it.

Of course, if a writer achieves any measure of fame, upon their death things will be gone through and those things will, inevitably, see the light of day.

In an effort to curtail the publication of such examples of the need to write without the ability to make it quality stuff, should I ever achieve the level of notoriety required (I plan ahead,) I often type up things, read them through, realize they are complete crap, and promptly delete them. No hard copy, no electronic copy, they exist nowhere but in my mind.

Occasionally these pieces of drivel which I have culled from the herd later spark a good idea, so I still write them. I just don't let anyone see them, and get rid of the evidence faster than you can say "flush."

The Ex witnessed me writing, and I explained the snappishness thing to him, but he asked me, one memorable evening, how the book was coming.

"It's not, I'm blocked."

"But, you've just spent the last two hours staring at the computer and typing."

"Yep, I was writing."

"But not the book."

"Nope."

"Was it more weird stuff?" (He found my taste for werewolves, fanciful mental powers, and talking animals a bit strange...)

"Nope. It was a treatise on the habits, appetites and behaviors of the common phallic appendage." **

"Can I read it?"

"Nope." (Cue offended look.)

"Why not?!?"

"Because it doesn't exist anymore."

"Huh?"

"I deleted it."

"Why?"

"Because it was crap."

"But, you edit stuff, right? Go back and re-write it..."

"It had no purpose. There was no reason for it, and it was crap anyway."

Confusion abounded. Why write, if I wasn't going to keep what I wrote?

Because I had to. The twitch was in my fingertips, and if I hadn't written something, I would have wound up even crankier than when my train of thought gets derailed in the middle of a scene.

Writing. It's the monkey on my back. And there is no Detox.

So here's my public apology to my family and friends for all of the times I've bitten, or snarled, or snapped, when I've been writing. And my public thank you for understanding!




* "Writing is nothing to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwords." The most famous Heinlein quote on writing, apparently. While the concept of mental masturbation in writing may be accurate, really, there are other, better quotes!

** Yes, I did write this. No, it doesn't exist anymore.

4 comments:

Old NFO said...

Agree with the RAH sentiment... :-)My problem is I lose the train of thought, then can't find the station... sigh...

Jon said...

Since writing is usually a silent art, people are surprised by an irritated writer, but completely understand when a genius composer takes a chainsaw to an untuned piano. It's a double standard that can have disasterous consequences. ;)

Anonymous said...

Good piece; I work on a novel as much as I can bear, and feel guilty when i don't, but sometimes the pressures of staring at a computer screen all day, then coming home to do more seems to be too much to bear. So I retreat to TV and COPS and NCIS reruns, God help me. I'll do better in the future.

Matt
St Paul

Yuri Orlov said...

Whilst listening to my favorite internet stream and in the groove, writing like there's no tomorrow, I've been known to snap at my five year old daughter if she interrupts me. The problem is also, once interrupted, there's a very good chance it won't come back, and I'll be left staring at the blank page once more with nothing left inside to put down on the page.

Yeah, it's normal.