Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Care and Feeding of Your Writer

I am writing to you from the keeping room in my childhood home. I am here because it is quiet, and no one is standing next to me or perhaps just outside the window, asking me questions or just "saying Hi".

I don't want to say hi. Or answer questions. And the very last question I want to answer right now is "How is that book going?"

The book is not going. I had hoped to have the book edited and sent out to friends for their reviews, re-edited and published by the end of the summer. This was not a lofty goal, had I actually sat down every day (or even every other day, or even a few hours a few times a week) to work on it. But I cannot.

There are several reasons for this.
First, I find it very hard to concentrate, and spend a lot of time searching for the perfect writing situation that might allow me to write uninterrupted and undistracted. (Spellcheck is saying "undistracted" is not a word. This is very distracting to me. And so it begins.) This place which would provide the perfect writing situation may or may not exist.

And second, my children - ages 12 and 8 - do not nap, and are completely incapable of entertaining themselves without making tremendous amounts of joyful noise, bickering incessantly, or staring at a screen - none of which makes it easier for me to work. The guilt and frustration of this is such that I have continuously put the book aside in favor of trying to find a way to keep them occupied, and then hoping that, perhaps, it might last for a few hours. Then maybe I could relax, knowing they were busy elsewhere, doing something worthwhile during their summer vacation. And then perhaps I could write.

The mommy guilt, it is crippling.

As I sit here in a straight backed chair, the only quiet place I could find, I can still hear my son - metal garbage pail lid as a shield, yellow plastic whiffle ball bat held aloft as a mighty sword, occasionally roaring like a viking as he bashes everything in sight (and he's the 12 year old, might I add) while his sister runs in circles around the yard, leaping on and off of the lawn furniture, shrieking here and there.

Very, very peaceful.

My husband is doing home repairs. While it might seem like that would be a good thing, and would keep him busy and out of the way, somehow this involves asking me a lot of questions. Even though this is not my home, and I do not know any of the answers to questions like "Where do you think the electrical box is?" and "do you think I should just keep drilling holes in this wall looking for the electrical box?" My answer to any question that begins with "do you think I should keep drilling holes" is always going to be "No." which is, evidently, the wrong answer, judging by the number of holes that have been drilled in assorted walls hither and yon. (note: this message just interrupted by my husband, asking me about the wall. And the holes he has drilled looking for the aforementioned box.)

And so, rather than work on my book, which is apparently a lost cause, I have compiled for your (and my husband's) reference, some notes on the care and feeding of a writer. In the hopes that they might actually be able to write something.

1. Go away. Either the writer, or everyone else they know, must go away.

Writers, I recommend finding a quiet coffee shop where you don't know anyone, and where they have a bathroom and snacks. Important note: do not go somewhere that offers table service. Waitresses do not want you sitting in their section for 5 hours nursing a cup of coffee and will interrupt you as often as necessary to get you to leave. I know other writers that have gone to hotels to work - I do not do well if I know that there is a hot tub nearby that I could be sitting in, or a bed to nap in.

Lovers of writers, I recommend going somewhere free. After all, you will be doing this quite often if your writer is going to be writing on a regular basis. Begin compiling a list of places to go on the spur of the moment, so that you can always find a way to keep busy that will be fun for you. Your writer doesn't want to add to your stress, or feel guilty about wanting to be alone - they just want to write.

2. Stop talking. It is hard to concentrate.

I wish I could remember what it is I was going to tell you about this, but my aunt just came to find me, in order to introduce me to her carpenter, and to tell him that I am from Hawaii, and then to discuss the state of roller derby. This is a topic that I could talk about for hours, and I was about to launch into a huge discussion about roller derby then vs. now when I realized that I was supposed to be writing. I excused myself and I have now moved out to the barn where we are sleeping. Almost immediately after I closed the door and sat down in here, my son came in to hand me $22.75, because he owes me $12.75 from a model tank I bought him 2 weeks ago. Could I please give him $10 change? "But no rush, mom" was hastily tacked on when I looked up at him vacantly.

3. Do not attempt to be quiet.
That is actually more annoying. Really, just go away. See #1.

4. Do not bring food or drink unless asked.
Because having someone come and ask me if I am hungry, and then what I want to eat, and then the specifics (wheat or white? Toasted? Mayo or mustard? coffee? Cream and sugar? Regular or decaf?) are even more tiresome.

5. When asked to bring food or drink, just go ahead and get that for them.
Because if a writer who is writing has managed to come up with something they want to eat or drink, but they are unable to tear themselves away from the writing to get it themselves, it means they are in a very good spot  or perhaps they have found their rhythm or maybe they are really on to something. Regardless, they can't stop working now, and if you really want to support them writing whatever it is they are trying to write, then feeding them is a good idea. Or they might never finish.

6. Go on about your life.
Your writer does not want to inconvenience you in any way - they just want to write, which shouldn't be a bother to anyone else. It is a very quiet pastime, done in solitude for the most part. Knowing that people are waiting for them to finish adds immeasurable amounts of stress. They know how to reach you, so just go right ahead and do your thing, and they will catch up. The satisfaction of writing whatever it is they are trying to write will far outweigh the disappointment at missing whatever it is that they miss while they are writing. So let them be allowed to miss stuff now and then, without guilt. Just go. See #1.

Let me give you some real life examples of how to live with your writer:

scenario 1- morning
You wake up, and hear your writer typing away in the other room. How lovely! But they are sitting outside of the bathroom, and you need to use it. What to do? Get out of bed, walk up to your writer, say "Good morning dear, happy writing!" and walk into the bathroom and close the door. Turn on the water and do whatever you need to do with the water making white noise, drowning out whatever noise you might make, and allowing your writer to continue to write. Then, with a quick "See you later!" walk out of the bathroom and leave your writer to write in peace. No flashing of nakedness, suggestive comments, hugs and kisses, quick questions, or chat about the rest of your day.

scenario 2 - mealtime
You are hungry, but your writer is busy writing. Decide what you are making, and make enough for two. Then put some of that food on a plate and pop your head into the room where your writer is writing, to offer it to them. If they say no, go back to the kitchen (or wherever you were sitting) and eat the food you have just put on the plate. If they say yes, hand them the plate with silverware and napkin, and say "Enjoy!" and then go make another plate for yourself. NOTE: If your writer is writing in the kitchen, please see #1.

scenario 3 - you need something in the room they are writing in

Learn to live without it.
Alternatively, if you absolutely must go in the room where your writer is writing, make it quick. No chatting! And if you don't know where that thing that you need so desperately is, well, I repeat: learn to live without it. By no means should you ask your writer to help you locate that missing object.

Scenario 4 - bedtime
You are ready for bed but your writer is busy writing. Give them a kiss goodnight and say "See you tomorrow!" and then go to sleep. Do not go sleep on the couch. Do not wait up for them. Do not turn the light out on them. Just climb into bed, close your eyes and then magically it will be dark and you can sleep. And whatever you do, do not fucking snore.

There. Does this help? I hope so. Please keep in mind that every writer is different, and some writers may have a very different set of wishes and desires - so if the above does not work, it would be best to ask your writer directly how they would like to handle situations that arise while they are writing.

Just don't ask them WHILE THEY ARE WRITING. As that would be very counter-productive indeed.

(note: this list can be applied to anyone who works at home. And remember: when in doubt, just go out)

And with that, I am off. I have banished the family to the beach so that I could finish this, but now I find myself sitting in the barn where there is a bed for napping, and no drinks or snacks. I have broken 3 of my rules already, and I see another day of writing slipping away. Perhaps a quick nap would get me back on track......but I doubt it.

1 comment:

50Peach said...

I adore you. This should be printed out and given to my honey when he arrives. He does not know me as a writer yet, but he will need to learn!