Friday, May 22, 2009

Consuming Passion

On Thursday this week I had tea with a friend and fellow unpublished writer. She and I try to get together at least once a month at a cafe downtown, mainly to hash out where we are in our writing journey, what God is doing in us, showing us, through the ups and downs, triumphs and setbacks of growing in the craft of writing. We often talk about what else is going on in our lives, too, but far more often the subject of conversation stays on writing, because, well, it's really nice to sit across a table from someone whose eyes don't glaze over or go all shifty after two or three sentences on a topic such as capturing a character's voice, or the research required to set a story on a modern day cattle ranch (her story) or an eighteenth century North Carolina plantation (mine), or how if we'd realized what we were getting into from the start we might never have had the courage to plunge into this consuming business of writing a novel.

And consuming it is, as author Bonnie Grove blogged about, tongue-in-cheek (I think!) at Novel Matters today.

Writing is demanding. Learning the craft takes time and dedication. That's a given. But sometimes writing can become too consuming, a subject my friend and I talked about Thursday morning. She and I both find comfort in solitude. We're the introverted types that are rejuvenated by long stretches of alone time--when we can get it. Social interaction often drains us. Even if we weren't writers, we'd be this way. Have been this way since we can remember.

But we are writers, and writing requires even more solitude for thought, for reading and for the actual work of fingers-to-keyboard. Yet there are family members, friends, errands to run, houses to clean, dogs to walk--the fullness of life that needs to be taken care of--too. More than taken care of. Needs to be lived, fully engaged. For many reasons, but one of them is, in fact, for the sake of our writing. As author and literary agent Donald Maas writes:

"How can you engage readers in your fictional world if you, the author, are not engaged by your own world? To write about life, you must live it. You cannot make readers cry or feel joy until you have wept and exulted yourself."

~ Writing The Breakout Novel

Every so often we find ourselves in the opposite mode--mentally stiff-arming those we love, because we feel compelled to be spending time with those who live inside our heads, whose story we're trying to get out of our heads so it might be transferred via the page into someone else's. And this inner resistance isn't in play only while the interruption is going on. It's the hours before (if we are forewarned interruption is coming) and the hours after, while we mentally unwind from whatever the interruption was. The whole day can be colored by an unexpected visit, urgent errand, or someone legitimately in demand of our time and attention.

We might (might!) seem gracious on the outside, as we deal with life, but on the inside we're clenched and resentful. We get through it and get back to our computer (at last!). But we're tense, unsettled, unfocused. It's hard to write when one's mind is clenched like a fist.

Or, when those interruptions come, we refuse them. We jealously guard "our writing time" because, for crying out loud, God gave us this need to spill words on the page, we are ob-leee-gate-ed to work it out, invest it, see it multiply like biblical talents. Well done, good and faithful servant!

Yeah. Perspective check. We know this isn't an attitude that's healthy or God-pleasing.

What I've described are our bad days, of course. Those days when we've let writing take too big a place in our hearts, until it blinds us to other areas in our lives which are also gifts and need nurturing. Some days grace seems to flow through us, and we make the choice to tend to family, friends, errands and home without the angst, realizing the importance of these things over the gifting we feel called to nurture and see God use. Knowing that time for writing will come again. For my friend and me, it's all about balance, and being in tune with the Lord day by day, so we recognize His voice when it's time to focus on those other facets of life, and when it's time to say "No" to things that might be good, but are only distractions.

I wonder if this is a struggle other writers have? Many are introverts, but not all. Perhaps there are writers who find it easy to bounce from running errands, to a lunch date with friends, to child care (or parent care) to a day job to writing and back.

I'd love to be one! But not being one, it keeps me clinging close to the Lord, listening for His Spirit to give me a check when I'm too jealously guarding my time and space, or give me the peace in saying "No," and protecting it.

Addendum: today was a life stuff day. I did laundry (requires trip to laundromat with a week's worth), I shopped for groceries for two households, I delivered groceries, I ran errands for others, I wrote this blog post. That's all the writing that happened today. My plan is to post that aforementioned out-take scene... tomorrow. And edit. Edit with all my undivided heart. :)

6 comments:

  1. Wow - that sounds like one, excellent tea-time you had. I often thank God for the friends He sends into our lives who not only *know* us, but help *us* to know us. You know? Thanks for sharing, openly, from your heart. Cool.

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  2. I wish we could record our conversations, but then, we'd probably both get mind blank if we knew we were being recorded!

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  3. Your blog sounded soooo familiar. I scratch out time to write around my day job and sometimes resent the intrusions of family life. But not really. Just last night, I put aside my marketing stuff when my son (21) dropped by with his girlfriend just to hang out with us. Am I going to pass that up, no way! Market tomorrow. I love what Madeleine L'Engle said about getting her best ideas or story solutions while washing dishes. There's hope yet!

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  4. Debbie,

    As I wrote this post, in the back of my mind was a little voice saying, "And think how hard this balance must be for writers who have day jobs." If I wore a hat, it'd be off to you for managing to carve out a writing career around a job and busy family life. Not to mention, your contribution to a really cool blog (Novel Matters, for those who don't know).

    Thanks for stopping by. :)

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  5. I completely agree with that quote on living in order to be able to write. Thanks for sharing. :-)

    ~Brenda

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  6. Brenda,

    Lots of great gems in Maass's book. Can't believe I waited this long to read it. I have his new book, The Fire in Fiction, on deck.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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