Do you ever hear voices in your head besides your own? Pace anxiously, trying to clear your head? Fantasize and daydream about several different scenarios, some fantastic and others terrible? Talk to yourself, as if you were interviewing someone, which sometimes leads to an argument? Have trouble sleeping? Have multiple characters living in your small (and unbelievably cramped – thanks to them) headspace? Congratulations you are a writer (or crazy, but since I am not a mental health professional, this blog isn’t about that).
I always hate the idea of trying to explain the way I work to nonwriters because I know I will be labeled eccentric at best or at worst, a ‘concerned friend’ may look into having me committed. I talk about my writing zone as if it were its own living entity and find it difficult to write when others are present (and now I am wondering if this is simply because I would not care for the strange looks I am sure I would receive). I can’t let all of my walls down unless I am alone and to do what is necessary, I need to be wall-less.
What I need is more or less the same no matter what I write. I need to be alone with few exceptions. By alone I mean I cannot see anyone, hear anyone (though that’s not a problem with me) or sense anyone’s presence, which typically means I need to have my own floor to myself. (When I am at home – I am not so unreasonable to demand an office building clear out a floor just for me… wait, do you think that would work?) I need to be inspired or already in the zone, no distractions, preferably at a small work area with goodies on hand. My writing brain food consists of 80% chocolate, 10% other miscellaneous sweets or baked goods, and 10% of some coffee concoction like a mocha or flavored latte. If I have these things then I am set, if I don’t then I try to make do or improvise. For example, my dining room becomes my office, I take my hearing aids out and my husband is doing his own thing in the family room, which is out of eyesight on the main level or in his man cave in the basement (even better).
My process or why I need these things vary, depending on what I am writing. Basically my crazy wears many faces, but for the most part I can group them into three primary faces: fiction, nonfiction and verse. While each face has many expressions and moods, it is easier for me to generalize when it comes to each face’s process, or brand of crazy.
My verse face is my most low-key face. I think that is because when I write verse, it is not necessarily willingly (see Why I Don’t Do Verse). Poetry to me is raw, pure and not-to-be-tampered with so there is no premeditation on my part, no characters to create or memories to recall. It flows out of me faster than anything else I write and I am lucky to get it all down in time. And then I’m done. I don’t try to alter the poem. I don’t consider other people’s reactions because I have no intention of doing anything else with it. I file it away, a snapshot of raw inspiration that forced its way out, while I was merely a tool for release.
So, you can forget me talking to myself or pacing because there isn’t time for that. If I am in a poetry mood and more than one comes out (they typically come in spurts of three to five to be honest) then I am probably one of many writer clichés. You know the moody, dark, antisocial person who is always watching, almost on edge with their glass of wine (though for me it was usually a can of coke or some coffee drink) who is all angst, all the time. I see this face less and less as time goes by, perhaps it is because with my kidneys, I rarely drink wine anymore.
My nonfiction face is the one I have been donning the most lately. This is the face where being alone or at least zoned out is the most important, though ironically not the craziest of the three. Writing is many things for me, but trying to get to the root of all those things… it is my truth. With verse I can hide behind the abstract, symbolism and creative flashes that capture a singular moment in time. Fiction is even safer because I can hide behind the idea of make-believe, when in fact every story I have ever written started with some grain of truth and some are downright autobiographical and really fiction in name only (FINO). When it comes to nonfiction, however, there is no question that this is me uncensored. My life, my traumas, my experiences, losses, joys, mistakes, regrets and the moments when I am more concrete than a sidewalk are out there for anyone to read. Seriously, how terrifying is that? My trick is not to think about it – at all, until it is out of me and onto the page. So, I need to feel like I am the only person in the universe, with nothing else except that truth.
When I write nonfiction I don’t talk to myself much unless I am struggling with my memory and recounting past conversations aloud. When I am debating on the best way to say the same thing sometimes I will speak each option aloud. And when I am revising or editing a first draft sometimes I think about the ramifications of what I am saying and how it will be taken through mock interviews, which is really just me being devil’s advocate (DA) with myself. (I hate myself the most during these times, DA me is so annoying!) This is typically the only genre that will make me need to stop and breathe or when I might break down in tears (try reliving your worst of times repeatedly and see how you handle it). And pacing… well I do A LOT of that when I have this face on, much more than the other two faces.
And then there if my fiction face, the craziest of the lot. Whether it is a novel, screenplay, or short story, when I am in my fictive dream (a term I first heard from one of my writing mentors, Alma) I am all about the crazy. I still pace, but everything else I mentioned before I do tenfold. I talk to myself, which is really me talking to my characters. Sometimes I am learning about them, interviewing them and other times I am arguing with them because I always set out with a plan and at least half of my characters don’t give a flying fig about those plans. (I have learned, you always have to listen to your characters… unfortunately it just won’t work any other way.)
Each character in my head is a fully formed person, down to personality traits and quirks, taking up temporary residence within me. Each character is as distinct as people around me in the flesh. I know their voices, sometimes they’re friends and other times I cannot wait until it is time for them to move on, but either way when I am in my fictive dream I am at least four people at any given time (only one of them being Michael, the writer).
I know this makes me sound like a harmless loon, but a loon just the same, except to fellow writers. I have a sneaking suspicion that my process or faces are not that different from others. Alma mentioned carrying out conversations with her characters when I first met her – it was one of the ways we bonded so quickly. (She also agreed, sadly, the character is always right.) I know that most of my friends who are writers need the same things I do and while I have never asked them why, I wonder if one of the reasons is so that they can let their walls down as well, and feel 100% secure in their craziness.
For me, I am comfortable with my crazy, because I understand where it comes from. Now if I was describing these things to someone and had never written a thing in my life I would probably be concerned (or just decide to start writing – hey, it’s a great cover).