|The glamorous life of a writer
||[Sep. 18th, 2016|10:03 pm]
Before I was published, I had pretty much the same romantic vision of the writing life that I'd had in high school and college and after, based on books and TV shows like _Murder She Wrote_ (or, more recently, _Castle_) in which a writer had a nice house or apartment, always "interesting" in its location, design, or decoration, lots of friends, and--most unrealistic--lots of time to go do interesting things (solve murders, take the handsome dog in the picture on long walks, travel all over (often on book tours paid for by someone else), and so on. None of the writer characters were married with children or caring for aging parents.
I knew that prior to publication, writers "suffered," in various interesting ways. They worked long hours at uninteresting jobs; they lived in garrets with inadequate heat, a shared toilet one floor down, and not enough food. They had demanding wives (most of the writer characters I read about early were of course men, except for Jo March in _Little Women_, who had a surprisingly demanding husband ("Let's go be poor together and have a school for runaway and troubled boys...though I really do like what you write when you write what I tell you instead of those stupid adventure stories...") ANYWAY.
What I didn't know and hadn't considered (even though there's a hint of it, in terms of academic publication, in Sayer's great mystery _Gaudy Night_, was the non-creative part of a writing life. The creative part is what everyone knows about...the image of Virginia Woolf with her head in her hand, clearly thinking Creative Thoughts expresses it. And that part is, of course, the fun part, the part without which no actual writing is ever published. But there's the other part. Nine parts out of ten. And it starts with the plain old boring everyday, mundane, routine aspects of everyone's life: the need for daily sleep, clothes, food, and some minimal standard of organization and maintenance. Often complicated, in real writers' lives, by the other people with whom the writer shares space. Sleep goes better if you have a half-way comfortable place to do it, indoors, with a roof that does not leak onto you. And that means a house or apartment, however small and humble, and that means...well, the broom and mop and bucket and hammer and screwdriver and pliers and a sink to wash things in and someting to hang the wet things on while they dry (or, of course, washer and dryer but I'm starting small here.) And money. Because whether rent or own, a roof over your head isn't free. Or not often or for long. Even your tent needs mending from time to time, and mending takes tools and materials which...cost.
I will never forget the idiotic New Yorker review of some new young male novelist's book in which the reviewer, after pointing out certain shortcomings, then consoled himself by mentioning that after all, novelists shouldn't be looked to for guidance about any life issues because their kind of work was so solitary and so protected, that they just didn't have the experience. I read that review after a day that had included hauling the autistic kid to and from a country day school, a trip to the vet to take the cat for an overnight since the termite guy was coming that day, grocery shopping (since I had to be out and about anyway), and working on book of that year in the day school's parking lot, because....termite exterminator fumes at home. And when I'd read the review and muttered, there was supper to cook, laundry to do and then fold, and...more. Lots more.
What brought up this topic was the thought of tomorrow's chore list. I'm in mid-book again, and in day-dreams imagine that every day will afford me the time and energy to write a significant number of words on it until the first draft is done. But. Not So Quick, writer-brain.
Tomorrow I need to be working on the book, yes. And I need to be working on a story that's also on-contract. And there's the laundry. And the kitchen floor is begining to feel crunchy when stepped on. And the hand-knit socks that need to be hand-washed (a quick chore, a nice break from writing, but alas the other laundry will not do itself. Certain small tiled rooms must be tended to. There's the personal hygiene aspect, too: writers at home alone may skip some of these (perilous but they do it) but writers who need to go pick up a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, a bag of carrots, four onions, some garlic...and "something for supper" ...need to be at least reasonably clean and clothed. Medical issues will need attention several times a year, lest the writer be laid low with flu just when a deadline looms. The larger the family, the oftener medical issues come up, never conveniently for the creative process.
Add to this the non-creative parts of writing. There's the revision the writer does on her own. There's the revision the editor asks for after the writer turns in her absolutely-perfect-best-ever-no-word-punctuation-needs-changing* manuscript. (The * refers to the chimaeric nature of the absolutely-perfect-best-ever manuscript. This is a mythical piece of writing not known in real life.) (And NOT just because "editors want their stamp on it.") Revision can actually be fun if you have enough time...time between finishing something and doing the revision, and time for the actual revising. Usually, though, writers don't have enough time. They're on to another project as soon as the one just finished is off to the editor. Beyond revision is copy-editing, about which much has been written by many people, including me. I am firmly on the side of "let writers check the copy-edited manuscript" --a standard in The Old Days, but now some publishers won't let writers check the copy edits. It does take more time, because to do it right the writer will compare the copy-edited manuscript word for word with the approved revised version and make (one likes to think) intelligent choices where the CE has changed, or queried, something. And beyond that is the page-proof stage, when the manuscript is "set in type" (even though it's all done electronically now, not actual pieces of type racked into a form) and the writer gets to see for the first time what the book may look like. Page proofs need to be checked against the final copy-edited pages, also word by word. Both hand-set type and electronically set type are prone to certain errors (not the same errors.) For instance, early in the electronic typesetting days, there was some program that--when working from a word processor's output--would smuch together two paragraphs of dialogue into one, burying the double quote marks of the joint in the middle, if one of the dialogue paragraphs crossed the word processor's page break code. It was hard to see, if you didn't learn to look for the double-double quotes or actually read every paragraph. And that was only one of the systemic mistakes that used to show up.
So...I'm in mid-book, and the story's running freely...and in comes a non-creative part of the writing life. I have to detach my writer-mind from the book, beg the book not to die while I'm neglecting it (and books will do that sometimes; they're like small children--scant patience for being ignored), turn the mental gears from "Make story" setting to "Find mistakes" setting. The alternative is to allocate the time available for writing to the different writing-related chores, which takes the nimbleness to jump quickly from Make Story to Find Mistakes and then back to Make Story and so on. Meanwhile, that kitchen floor...and checks to write for LifeStuff, and getting a flu shot, and keeping track of various family members' medical appointments, and the growing grocery list, and the laundry, and...so on.
It's my life and I like it, but glamour--the imagined Writer in the Ivory Tower, or the plush study with lovely bookshelves stuffed with books that I thought of when younger and unpublished--is not a part of it. When my first book sold, the muffler fell off the car the next day. Another book, and the hot water heater line burst in the middle of the night and flooded the hall. Getting a new contract doesn't cook supper, or get the laundry into the washer, or keep the car from needing repairs or the septic tank from needing a pump-out. The writing life is just life...life plus writing. Which is why so many of us say, to someone who says they'd like to write but will have to wait until they're not so busy and can find some time to write..."You don't FIND time to write; you MAKE time to write." And that explains the crunchy parts of the kitchen floor. It's not glamorous, but the writing will get done (with as much of the other as can be squeezed in as well. Which is quite a lot, actually.)
1. Get up, dressed, personal hygiene
2. Breakfast eaten at computer, checking email without spiling cereal on the keyboard.
3. Wash dishes and at least sweep whatever's crunchy off the kitchen floor.
4. Write on the new book and new story
5. Grocery and flu shot run (20 mile drive there, 20 mile drive back)
6. Laundry (could be started earlier, but realistically....) and putting up groceries
7. Sandwich. Pay bills. Check email, Twitter, Facebook, etc *briefly*
8. Post Office if not included in Grocery and flu shot run (should be but will I remember?)
9. Check to see if FedEx delivery has come.
10. Prescribed rest perior in afternoon.
11. Check to see if FedEx delivery has come (branch here--if it has, clear kitchen table, change supper plans)
12. Prep for supper (the chopping of onions, peppers, celery, carrots, and garlic is heard in teh land.)
13. Write on new book or story, whichever is moving best OR (if FedEx delivery came) start on page proofs
14. One hour from sunset, actually start supper (husband comes in from outside work at sunset.)
(you get the idea...totally glamor)