Monday, August 16, 2004

Fishing, writing and inspirations

I just had one of those exchanges that makes writers crazy.

My head was full of thoughts about a substantial topic -- cultural dexterity. I was eager to get some thoughts written before they escaped. Then it happened -- in popped an instant message from a Good Ol' Boy friend.

He posts. I answer, then flip back to type furtively while he reads and responds.

It's the usual exchange of pleasantries: "How's your morning?" "What are you doing before work?" "What are you up to today?"

I try to explain that I'm writing in my journal. (I'll learn not to do this.) I figure that's a simple explanation of what my blog is. Likely I won't invite him to read this, so I didn't want to get into details about the form. Just that I'm writing some thoughts on a deep subject.

Friends, learn from me. Just let it be. Don't engage in the conversation while you have the fire to write. Especially if you're unequally yoked on the topic.

Here, in condensed version, is kind of what happens:

Me: I am writing about cultural dexterity this morning.
He : k too deep for me
Me: writing about how communities get along better when there is more diversity. How there are fewer problems if there are three (or more) cultures in an area instead of just two.
He: sounds neet
Me: The more cultures involved, the fewer clashes because everyone is a minority instead of there being one dominant class.
He: ok, like the human race
Me: Yes. We've gone from a black-white culture clash to a more diverse society when there were other groups added like Hispanics and Asians. But we may be shooting ourselves in the foot as the rich create exclusionary communities where everyone is like them.
He : of course
Me: Some areas of the country are working to prevent that by requiring a percentage of affordable housing in all new communities.

A small debate follows, about cultural groups, economics and class distinctions. It's getting farther away from my original thoughts. He's not understanding my point when I talk about people who live in gated communities, and asks if I like those houses. He thinks I'm probably hoping to have a house like those and is surprised when I say I would never want that kind of life.

Eventually the conversation takes a different turn. You should probably know that I'm working on a book based on my great-aunt's life.

He : do you like to fish
Me: I don't like hooking fish. I sometimes like the solitude and serenity.
He : ok. does it inspire you to write
Me: Sometimes. Inspiration is a funny thing. More often writers need to be stimulated by thoughts in order to get going.
He : what makes you think of your aunt's life.
Me: Looking at her things and family photos. Remembering things she did and stories I've heard. Reading about what life was like when she was a young woman.
He : what things
Me: Her ledger. My great-great-uncle's camel-back trunk. Magazine photos she collected. Letters. Photos, newspaper clippings. Dresser items.
He : what photos?
Me: family photos
He : have you seen them in a while
Me: I see them every day.
He: ok I wish you could achieve your dream and publish her book
Me: It's my book, not hers.
He: for sure. so many things side track you
Me: I guess it may look that way from the outside.

OK, so this is why you shouldn't engage in the conversation. People who DON'T write don't understand the process. They don't understand inspiration. And they don't know what we do.

Writing is a business like any. It takes the discipline to sit in the chair and do the writing. But there are different kinds of writing and some are not linear. Writing my book is NOT a linear process.

The writing I do to pay my bills is completely different from the book. I make the phone calls, do the research, set up photos and do the writing. I turn it in and eventually I'm paid. Then it is over, done and I move on to the next topic.

The book, however, is a different matter. It is personal. It takes living it and feeling it to make it happen. Once a section is "ripe" in my mind, the typing takes mere minutes. But the typing is not the writing. The writing is the story that has been haunting me as I drive, as I wash dishes, as I dream.

I've had many supportive friends who have been standing by me as I have taken the time to work on this book. Many of them do understand the creative process, and they have the ability to cheer me on and encourage me when I hit the wall.

These people are different from those who think there's something wrong with me because I'm not yet published.

Folks, if you're a writer, you don't need those "friends." They think we're lazy or sidetracked and find fault with us when our minds are drawn to other subjects. They think we should just sit there and type.

Look. We don't tell you how to do your job as airplane mechanics or insurance agents or auto parts salesmen. Trust me, I know how to handle my work. Your criticism and attacks are not welcome. They are not productive or helpful.

I've been at this for a long time now. I'm 49 years old and I've been a working journalist since I was in high school, 31 years ago. I've seen a lot, I've done a lot. I've had fantastic opportunities in this profession.

I am well trained, well educated and experienced. Don't give me any pity speeches about not having a "real job". I chose to leave the office a couple of years ago so I could explore different parts of my life, pursue some unrelated interests and let this book ripen in my head so I can put it on paper.

For now, I do my freelancing. It gives me time to deal with some real estate business, do volunteer work and put a lot of effort into church programs. It gives me time to think.

It is all time well spent.

Soon enough some loose ends will be tied up and I'll be ready to work full-time again. But for now, I am debt-free and have enough money to cover my living expenses. Don't try to rob me of my joy by imposing your notions of what I "should" be doing on me.

This is my life. It is my book. I'll be the one to write it.


TECH said...

I find it better to never discuss writing with non-writers. Keeps my blood pressure down. I particularly like when they say, "Oh, I've been meaning to write a book. I just can't find the time." As if time were the only factor keeping them from doing so. The assumption is that any fool can write. They ignore the hard work and hours you have to spend to achieve any type of excellence. I bet they don't go up to a doctor and say, "Oh, I've been meaning to do a bit of brain surgery, but I just haven't been able to find the time."

In a way, it's not their fault that they don't understand the difficulty of writing. They're misled because good writing seems easy. The words flow as we read them. It seems as natural as talking. And that's the way it's supposed to be. If someone can see the writer's labor behind the writing, then the writer hasn't done his/her job.

Erudite Redneck said...

This is EXCELLENT, mi amiga. :-)

Once a section is "ripe" in my mind, the typing takes mere minutes. But the typing is not the writing. The writing is the story that has been haunting me as I drive, as I wash dishes, as I dream.

YES, and amen.

Teditor said...

Now I know what you've been up to. BTW, my computer crashed two weeks ago, so I lost all e-mail addresses. Send me a note so we can be back in touch.