I’ve decided, over the past three weeks, that it’s difficult to write when guests are in your house. I suppose all of you, my fellow writers, will read that opening statement and recognize it for exactly what it is: quite possibly the most colossal understatement of … well, ever. It’s even more difficult to write when your houseguests don’t understand how the writing process works. Or when, perhaps, they have little or no respect for creativity and personal space.
I can get how this could happen. Writing is a tricky thing. To the untrained eye — which, I would guess, is about 95% of the population — the writing “process” can look like a whole lot of nothing. Sometimes, staring into space happens. Sometimes, I might click a key here or a key there on my trusty laptop. Heck, there are moments of pure abandon when all the planets align and I manage to click several keys in a row. In the correct order, even. We’re talking writing paradise, here. It’s heady stuff. But, for every moment of clickety-clackety bliss, there are hundreds of heavy sighs and thousands of seconds spent staring at that certain spot on the wall, wondering why it looks like a cat eating a fish. Sometimes, if I am going “old school”, I write with a pen and paper, which, of course, involves quite a lot of pen clicking, tapping on the table, and, if I’m desperate, even chewing on the plastic cap. It’s a nasty habit, I know, but desperate times call for desperate measures. The point is, it looks like I’m goofing off, but I’m not. Even when I’m sitting there, staring off into space, my brain is working. I might not be aware of it, but characters are being born in there; they are figuring out who they are, where they’re from, and what they want. Worlds are creating themselves. Dialogue is being spoken. Truths are being told.
But, it is impossible to meet new characters, learn truths, or find new worlds when real people crowd into my solitude and personal space. A couple of days ago, I had a wonderful new story idea. Not a whole plot … just a little snippet of something. But the character was pretty cute. She was someone I wanted to get to know. I thought a plot might emerge with a bit of teasing. Unfortunately, my hubby was working from home, so he had camped out in my office. I had nowhere to go, except for the kitchen table with my laptop. And so, I set up my little space … with my flash-drive and my music and some iced tea. Ready to rock and roll. Until one of my guests sat down at the table to read to me — from a cookbook. I soldiered on for a bit, but, after five or six times of typing food-related information into my set-in-space story notes, I gave up on the whole endeavor. It was almost time for lunch, anyhow, and we were meeting friends.
That same evening, hubby treated me to a movie. One of the previews was for a movie about the complexities of humanity and relationships and how we work our way into and out of the lives around us. And I leaned over to whisper at my husband, “Why can’t I write something like that?” I was feeling discouraged and still a little dismayed by the whole cookbook thing from earlier that day. My husband told me the reason I couldn’t write anything like what we had just seen on the screen was that I didn’t have enough human interaction. He said I needed to get out more and talk to more people.
I thought about this for a bit. And then, it hit me …
We write about life — our lives, the lives around us, what we want life to be, what we know life will never be. And yet, writing is one of those things that needs to be done in solitude. In particular, what I had needed earlier that very day was less human interaction — not more. It’s probably not an epiphany, but it felt like one in that moment. In that moment, it felt as if I had opened up a special box, with my name engraved on the top in fancy gold letters, and discovered, nestled there amid the folds of soft, lush velvet, the secrets to everything in my universe. No, really. I could have sworn I heard an angelic chorus singing “Aaaaaaaaaah,” in the back of my mind.
But then, the moment passed. The angelic chorus faded. And I vowed to go to the coffee shop next time my guests came for an extended stay. That way, I could have human interaction without actually interacting. When the going gets tough … the writer heads to Starbuck’s. Or maybe Panera Bread.