Writing is quite a solitary experience. Even when you’re writing in a library or crowded coffee shop you’re not exactly inviting people to sit down and chat. You don’t want to be interrupted, torn from your story and required to make conversation; all you want to do is explore that really important plot development you’ve just thought up. The folk on your wavelength give you a wide berth, appreciating your need to be alone. And you’re grateful for the solitude.
So why is it that after a long day with only the notebook or keyboard for company, you feel exhausted, intellectually drained, fit only for an evening vegetating in front of the television?
Maybe because you’ve been talking all day. Engaging with your characters; listening their problems and solving them like an agony aunt; sorting out their issues with other characters – issues that you have manufactured, situations you have put them in. Then there are the arguments you have with yourself. Have you been too hard on them? Is this resolution too simple? Should you put another obstacle in the way of their happiness? This playing God business can be gruelling.
It’s easy to feel isolated but you’re never really alone when you’re writing. If you’re like me, you carry your characters around with you all the time, like excess baggage that you can’t abandon. Do you find yourself wondering how would a character react to the particular set of circumstances you find yourself in just now? Do you imagine how they would solve the problem?
An unexpected event in your own life might change your plans for another strand to your plot. A beautiful view might suggest a different setting. How often do you wake up in the middle of the night with the perfect resolution to an intractable problem? Your brain never switches off. Your characters never shut up. It’s like throwing a party where the guests never leave. Spending time with your cast of characters can be mentally stimulating; it can also be as tiring as physical labour or a session in the gym.
They even invade your other pastimes – the margins in my Sudoku book are littered with snippets I just had to make a note of whenever a thought popped occurred, suggested by the character who has taken up residence in my head for the evening. It’s like having multiple personality syndrome.
Apparently, the average person has 50,000 thoughts per day. It’s the writer’s job is to sort out whose voice to listen to. Anyone who tells you that the writing life is a breeze isn’t doing it right.
A really good analysis, sometimes I am working and then have to write down a line of dialogue or when in a meeting instead of taking notes I plot down ideas.
Have a good day.
My husband is used to me interrupting conversations with, ‘Sorry, can I just write something down?’ or, if we’re out and I’m driving, I ask him to make notes for me.
Great post Maggie and so true. Yes, just like the lyrics of the Eagles ‘Hotel California’ your characters may check out but they can never leave. The worst problem for me is those moments of inspiration in the middle of the night. Unless I make an effort to write them down, they are lost by morning.
… and you’re left with the ghost of a thought, not the idea itself. I know just what you mean, Jo. These days I keep a notebook beside the bed, my memory is not to be trusted!
You’re so right, Maggie. And it is really difficult sometimes to leave everything in the notebook/computer afterwards and sometimes I get cross when real people barge in on me and my characters!
I get the occasional moan about daydreaming. Daydreaming? I’m not daydreaming, I’m constructing a whole new world!
A fascinating post. Thanks, I can really relate to it. So often it looks like we doing ‘nothing’ but the brain is working nineteen to the dozen.
Thanks, Carol. Don’t you wish it would shut up occasionally!