Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Finding Time

The most common question I am asked about writing is, “When do you find the time?” It is unfortunate, and maybe ironic, that fiction writing (which I consider to be an escape from reality) is often interrupted by reality—by my other job or time commitments. But the truth is, I am “writing” much of the time when I am nowhere near a computer. I am observing and considering and creating all day. When I’m on my game, I have my trusty note pad or tape recorder with me to put the idea down—though most of the time the translation from my brain to the pad of paper loses something. Anyway, when I am really busy at my “other job” (January through May at least), this kind of loose “writing” is critical to me, because I have almost zero time in front of the laptop.

I also “write” whenever I am presented with art that I truly admire. Occasionally, I go to the symphony and listen to some of the world’s top musicians; same for the annual trip to the opera. Those things are not at the top of my list of favorite things to do, but they inspire me, if for no other reason than because these people are absolutely excellent at what they do. The more common example is exceptional prose. The inspiration comes from the brilliance of the artist. I find myself motivated to be as good at my art as they are at theirs. I often find myself reading prose and suddenly ideas are pouring out about things I want to put down on paper. And the thoughts usually have nothing to do with what I am reading—I’m not stealing their ideas or even touching upon the same topics I am reading. I just find a surge of adrenaline and then suddenly, the creative process is flowing.

I have to be alone when I’m writing—lost in my own world when among others, or more typically physically isolated from others. I don’t sit in a park or a Starbucks and observe others, or anything like that. I don’t consider the process interactive. I could see where others might disagree. I know a lot of my colleagues “workshop” their chapters and their ideas. I don’t really do that. Maybe I should. In other areas of writing—legal writing, for me—I do take into account the opinions of others when formulating my words. But not so with creative writing. It has to be inside my brain, churning and evolving and crystallizing without intrusion from others.

I would be very interested in hearing from others on this score. What inspires you to write? Do you find it helpful to bounce ideas off others, or simply isolate yourself in your twisted, dark inner worlds like me? I don’t pretend to have the answers, and I firmly believe it my responsibility as a writer to evolve. The longer I live, the more competing responsibilities I have, and the more efficient I have to be with my writing. So if anyone out there has some deep thoughts on this topic, I am all ears.

20 comments:

Dana King said...

I think there's a certain amount of selfishness all writers must have, to just make everyone and everything else wait while they do what has to be done. Musicians are like that, too. I used to neglect a lot of things to get in my daily practice. Not saying that's a healthy attitude, or one guarenteed to ensure hapy relationships, but that's the way it is.

I went through a period where I read every chapter to my critique group. Now, I cherry pick. part of it is my growing confidence, and part of it, frankly, is my style is getting to a point where they don't all get it, and much of the comments are trying to draw me back into blandness. So I don't read as much.

David Ellis said...

Drawing me back into blandness---love the comment, Dana. Thanks.

David said...

I agree with Dana. Having spent all of my adult life either dealing with editors or being one, I find that any kind of group action on a piece of writing (too many editors, reading it out in a group setting, etc.) tends to level out the high spots -- as well as filling in the lows. I guess I tend to want to keep the highs, even though I have to live with the lows.

In the newspaper/wire service world (where I lived for a loooooong time), we called it "running a story through the boring machine."

abbourgoin said...

I find that I like to write by myself but then I have some very close friends and of course my wife read my work as I go along. They offer some critique, which I put into a notebook, and plan on going through when my novel is finished. I will use some, not all, but all of it goes in the notebook.

I don't konw if it's because I'm new to writing but I feel that the critique is helping. Maybe I won't once I'm (hopefully) published but I feel that the critique will help me expand my horizons.

Libby Hellmann said...

My inspiration also comes from reading prose by others. When I read a really perfect sentence, paragraph, chapter, it fuels me much in the same way you've described. I find it particularly helpful when I'm blocked. I take a book from an author I respect, open it to almost any page and start reading. By the time I've finished 2 or 3 pages, I'm ready to dive into my own stuff again.

Thanks, Dave...

PS Book lovers in Chicago.. don't forget Printers Row this weekend! A lot of the Outfit will be there. Come by and say hi. Check out the Big Sleep booth, Society of Midland Authors, and the MWA booth. And the schedule... many of us, including Barb, Sara, Laura, me, Sean, and Marcus will be on or moderating panels. More at http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/events/printersrow/

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