I may not have met you, but I bet you are a bit of an odd duck. For starters, you like to spend inordinate amounts of time with people who don’t exist. You love these imaginaries as if they were your children. You thrive when you are creating something; you feel crabby and constipated when you haven’t had enough creative space or time. And finally, your home has decent evidence of clutter and piled-up piles of stuff; as a creative, you are much better at generating words, art, stories, songs and piles than erasing them.
Not-writers don’t understand the magic (or the struggle) of spending thousands of hours with imaginary people. They don’t understand the challenge of flitting back and forth between writing and other-jobs; between writing and relationships. Not-writers have a hard time understanding why writing (merely moving one’s fingers over a keyboard) can feel, at the end of a session, like a terrible case of jet lag. Sometimes I don’t understand it either.
This summer I have doggedly found pockets of semi-productive writing time, but this has led to both social isolation and nap-needing. I understand why I miss my friends; it’s the passionate, desperate nap-needing that worries me. After plugging search phrases like “do I have cancer” and “African tsetse fly,” into the Google, I tried “exhausted writers” and “is creativity tiring,” and I found these wise words by Roald Dahl (taken from his memoir, Boy: Tales of Childhood):
Two hours of writing fiction leaves this particular writer absolutely drained. For those two hours he has been miles away, he has been somewhere else, in a different place with totally different people, and the effort of swimming back into normal surroundings is very great. It is almost a shock The writer walks out of his workroom in a daze . . .
My exhaustion, then, is legit, but what do I do about it? Because both my mental health and my family suffer when I am a crabby, sleep-deprived clotpole, I started rummaging around for a bit of extra sleeping time . . . looking under the bed, in between sofa cushions. With the singleton socks. In the junk drawers and piles of stuff that have no home.
But according to this article and this article, scientists believe that while being a bit sleepy may hinder left brain (analytical) skills, being tired helps us in creative, right-brained tasks. I understand it like this: when we’re tired, we don’t have the wherewithal to hire a good bouncer to guard our brain door. Thus, all manner of riffraff may enter our mental dance club–a good thing as the riffraff allows us to explore possibilities that our rational, realistic minds might not allow us to consider. [pullquote] It’s lonely to feel like The Only, and let’s face it; writing is a solitary gig as it is. [/pullquote]
Incidentally, drinking has the same effect. When we drink, we sack the bouncer, and in doing so, we become less adept at blocking and ignoring peripheral information. We feel, according to this article, that we experience more “A-ha!” moments in our story-building. I do love a glass of wine at 5:00:01, and I see why many writers use alcohol to help them be (or feel) more creative. But as someone who writes in morning’s wee hours, relying on alcohol for creativity would only add to my list of social challenges.
There’s the rub: that which allows us to be more creative–sleep deprivation, alcohol, lengthy periods of solitude, a passion for people who aren’t real, stubborn, single-minded focus on a project, an untidy house, a dearth of quality time invested in relationships with real people–are the very things that label us odd ducks in real life. [pullquote] Not-writers have a hard time understanding why writing (merely moving one’s fingers over a keyboard) can feel, at the end of a session, like a terrible case of jet lag. [/pullquote]
We’re already a weird mishmash of artist, inventor, entrepreneur, social critic, eavesdropper, imaginary-world builder/resident. How do we straddle the writing life and the real world? I have a few ideas:
We surround ourselves with other odd ducks. It’s lonely to feel like The Only, and let’s face it; writing is a solitary gig as it is. We don’t need reason to feel more alone. We are here at WU. Let’s hang out, join the WU Facebook page, and watch our connections with other writers expand. Here, we are among friendly odd ducks.
We ditch the unsupportive people. Have you ever worn an ill-fitting bra? One with pokey wires? One that causes back and neck pain, uncomfy ligament stretching, indigestion and back bulge? Well. A person who isn’t supportive of your writing life is even more unhealthy and dangerous than a bad bra. If you happen to be living with someone who is neither supportive nor ditchable, seek others who can offer encouragement, inspiration and hope–an online community, a critique group, other students in a writing class. There are certain people I hide in my Facebook feed or avoid in social settings because hearing about their amazing, wondrous, lucrative literary success irritates me. We are allowed to hide, ignore and avoid braggers as well as those who don’t support our passion.
We set and maintain healthy boundaries. As an introvert, I am challenged by this one. When I am rolling in a story, I don’t want to take breaks to socialize. I don’t want my momentum to evaporate. But I’m not J.D. Salinger. I want and need my friends and I want my friends to want and need me. When I realize it’s been too long since I’ve met up with a pal or called a long-distance friend, I force myself to reconnect with the real world. It always feels good, and I have come to trust that my WIP is always patiently waiting when I return. Say yes to social opportunities, Sarah! (I tell myself that often.)
And say no to social opportunities. Some people in my life don’t believe I have a real job. This is partly because I work from home, and partly because I am a writer, and not-writers don’t understand that writers don’t just drink coffee and hang out in Paris cafes. I have hurt more than one friend’s feelers by saying, “I can’t get together at 1:00 on a Monday; I have to write.” The hurt feelers surprise me; I would never call up my friend, Sarah O., who works at T-Mobile, and assume she has time for a midday walk, nor would I assume that my MD/PhD friend, Heather, can drop her epilepsy research and go grab some falafel on the Ave. Some people understand my editing and writing work are actual jobs; others don’t. Perhaps they never will.
Likewise, some people will understand our work and our lifestyle; others never will. Some people will understand us, our quirks and our traits; others never will. While we can do our best to maintain socially acceptable behaviors and healthy relationships, we may always live and thrive on the fringe. That’s OK as long as we’re paddling along pond fringe with others in our odd species, skirting the margins, marching to the beat of our unique bongos.
What element of your writer’s life do you find most incompatible with regular society. Does it bother you? How do you balance your fictional world-building with the real world? How do you cope with fiction writing-induced jet lag? Are you a pile-er too? Thank you for sharing!
Cute, Socially Awkward People photo compliments of Flickr’s Amber Seegmiller.