Living With Writers
I was sitting at the kitchen table reading a book when one of our house guests wandered up stairs. I didn’t pay much attention, because we’ve reached the point in their stay when they know how to fend for themselves in my kitchen and I no longer feel obliged to jump up and play hostess. After a few minutes I became aware that he had looked in multiple cupboards but had not selected any food items.
“Are you looking for something in particular?” I asked.
He looked up at me, or at least his eyes did, it took a moment longer for his brain to arrived from whence it had gone.
“Yes, but not in the real world.”
“Ah.” I said and went back to my book.
I’m not sure why wandering around and looking at things unlocks scenes and dialog in the writer brain, but I’ve been around enough writers to know that most of them do it. The symptoms are remarkably similar. The writer moves about looking at things, usually at a somewhat ambling pace. Body motion is not the point, and has to be conducted in such a way that one will not collide with obstacles while the brain is elsewhere. The ambling or cupboard opening will continue until suddenly the writer’s head lifts up and all the casual motion disappears. Movements become extremely purposeful as the writer seeks out pencil and paper or computer. The writer has found the piece they need and hurries to catch it lest it vanish. I do not recommend attempting to communicate with the writer while they are wandering, answers are likely to be somewhat tangential to whatever you want to discuss. If you attempt to communicate after the idea has struck, but before it is pinned down, you’ll likely get a hostile response.
I’m not immune to these writer quirks. Just yesterday I wandered outside. I didn’t even realize I was trying to work on a writing problem. I just thought I was bored. So I walked in my garden, looking at the wet leaves under my feet. I noticed the flower beds I intended to weed before cold weather hit, but then didn’t. I looked at the bare branches of my trees and pondered the pruning that needs to be done in spring. I paced up to the top of our little hill and wondered what I should do next with my day. Before I had time to answer that question, my back brain took a critique comment and the text of my picture book, combined them and the exact words I needed floated to the front of my brain. I headed straight for the house to write them down. I’m afraid I was a bit short with the telemarketer who called the house just as I put my fingers to the keyboard.
It is nice to live with people who understand this process, who will not attempt to talk to the wandering writer and who will get out of the way when the words strike. We don’t always get it right, but practice has taught me the body language to look for when Howard is working on plot. The kids have all learned it too. I’m always amused when I see the same behaviors from the kids when they are trying to sort the thoughts in their heads. Our household patterns probably look very strange to outsiders.
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