Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Writer

To be a writer is to be an outsider, never 100% part of the group, always watching, weighing, thinking 'how does this read as a scene?’ To be a writer is to be objective for the most part—if you want your fiction to be believable, your non-fiction to be taken seriously. To be a writer is to be a scavenger, letting nothing pass, go, disappear or die.

I remember reading something once, by another writer--can't remember his (her?) name—about how he'd stopped writing. He'd become appalled by the way he was using everything, every fight, every joy, every tragedy in his life. He'd come to find he didn't like himself, come to think of himself as some kind of scavenger or vampire or parasite--I don't remember exactly. But that's the gist.

I don't feel that way. Learning to write gave me—for the first time in my life—some purpose for the obsessive habit I’ve had since childhood of standing outside myself and observing—my own feelings and ideas as well as other people's. Learning to write put my habit of analyzing every encounter and social exchange to good use. As a child, I thought I was abnormal in these traits—and I was. But as I discovered other artists, I found that this abnormality is ubiquitous.

That’s my take anyway. Are you a professional voyeur? Does it ever make you feel guilty?

26 comments:

Maryann Mercer said...

I love watching people, filing away little quirks for later, and then seeing where they fit. I asked lots of questions as a kid, and I still do, only now I have some of the tools to find the answers and see where they fit in my view of the world. Still watching and listening and forming my own opinions is a habit from early on, as is using my own experiences to create a story. Great post, Michael.

Barbara D'Amato said...

I spent six hours in the waiting room at a hospital a few weeks ago while my husband was having surgery. After an hour or so, I noiced that a woman sitting across from me was putting on lipstick. But I had seen her do this only fifteen minutes before. Surely she didn't need fixing. Over the next four hours, she wiped off all her lipstick on a tissue, then carefully replaced it, at least a dozen times. I would never have thought of this as a way for a character to deal with stress, but I intend to use it in a book some day.

The Home Office said...

Ex-wife Number One once said I was an observer, not a doer. She meant it as criticism. This was before I got interested in writing. Now I see it's not only a help to me as a writer, the writing has made me more observant. Not only do I notice more of what people do, and think of how I would describe them, I wonder about their motivations. Not only has it made me a better writer, I think it's increased my empathy. Unless I'm looking plot ideas, and think of how this seemingly innocuous action could have nefarious intent.

Sara Paretsky said...

Grace Paley died today. I feel a personal loss, although I knew her very slightly. One of the most gifted storytellers I've ever read, hard to characterize, and a woman with such a passion for social justice that even as she was dying of breast cancer she could still be found at her regular spot on Broadway, handing out leaflets and cajoling passersby.

Rosemary Harris said...

Airports (like hospitals) are also good for people watching, and sucking up little bits of life stories to use later on - although if you live in a large city, all you really have to do is walk outside. Only once did my habit of appropriating details come back to bite me- as they say - it was a nonessential but I liked it line about a nameless character whose girlfriend dumped him for a classic car salesman in New Jersey. Afterwards I remembered that happened to a friend of mine and it was just kicking around in my head with all the other stuff.

Michael Dymmoch said...

Maybe observing--when we bother to do it--can make us more patient (or empathic, as the Home Office pointed out). We live in a gottta-do-it-now world where people lay on the horn when the guy in front of them hesitates after the light turns green. Sometimes he's hesitating because there's a pedestrian crossing his path, or an ambulance coming--which the idiot honker would notice if he would just slow down and NOTICE.

Sara,
My condolences. We don't have to be relatives or close friends to grieve the loss of someone. The world is just a little smaller when someone like Grace leaves it.

Namaku Keren said...

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

teguh priyanto said...

H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H

teguh priyanto said...

H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H

teguh priyanto said...

T
B
B
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H

teguh priyanto said...

H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H

X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X

teguh priyanto said...

T
B
B
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H

teguh priyanto said...

H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H

X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X

teguh priyanto said...

X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D

teguh priyanto said...

D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D

D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D

Namaku Keren said...

`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

Namaku Keren said...

`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

teguh priyanto said...

A
B
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
C

C
C
C
C
C
C

teguh priyanto said...

C
C
C
C
C
C
C
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
BE
BE
BE
BE
BE
BE
BE
BE
BE
BE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE

Obat kanker serviks manjur said...

TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE

Obat kanker serviks manjur said...

TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE

Namaku Keren said...

`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

Obat kanker serviks manjur said...

TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE

Obat kanker serviks manjur said...

TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE

Obat kanker serviks manjur said...

TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE

Obat kanker serviks manjur said...

TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE
TE