Here’s the thing about the writer’s life…we’re all a little nuts. We work in a solitary job, spending most of our days or nights alone at the keyboard, or with pen and paper. After a while, we have to get some outside input. I had a nice visit with friends this past Sunday afternoon. It was exactly what I needed, to get out of my own head and out of my characters’ lives. And this is what I’ve learned through the years: Real life must be maintained and interacted with if the writing is to go well. Do I write more and faster when my kitchen is clean? Absolutely.
Still, the solitude is needed for me, to get anything done. Yes, it may take a reminder from my best friend R to ‘open the damn curtains’ once in a while, but I like writing in my high-tech cave. Going for a walk, opening the curtains to look outside (and occasionally curse at the birds), having dinner with friends, all add fuel to the writer’s imagination. I know some writers find they can get the words flowing while sitting in a coffee shop. That will never be me.
The wall above my computer screen, what I see when I look up from the computer, is completely blank. I have artwork on other walls, but nothing in the spot I look at the most. I still can’t decide if I should try out some piece of art there. Now, with it blank as I stare at it, it acts like a blank movie screen and suddenly I can see the action, the next scene. It gives my eyes a quiet place to rest while my imagination churns up fresh plot lines or dialogue to move the scene along. This castle inspires me when I look at it. I immediately have stories rolling around in my head. The colored pencils above open up my mind to just look at them. All those colors equate to all kinds of stories, and characters, each in their own hue. And the bowl with shells on it? Reminds me of days at the beach during summer vacations, when the sun and sand and sea all made me feel warm and somehow loved by the very planet herself.
What, you may be asking, does that last part have to do with writing? I think the writerly life includes experiences that stay with us in memory, vivid in detail. These experiences sustain us, make us grow, urge us on to describe scenes as clear and intense as the ones from our lives. I remember exactly what it feels like to swim in an ocean, to be surrounded by water that lulls, or waves that crash, to believe in my own control as I ride a wave in to the shore, only to realize at the last minute the wave is the one in control. All of this gets poured into my writing. Say, for instance, like when a character is falling in love.
But that kind of experience isn’t the only way to enrich the writerly life. Reading is the other way. Reading books, all kinds of books, so that our minds become filled with new thoughts, ideas, perspectives. A well-described experience of a character in a book makes us feel like we were right there with them. This can have a similar effect to actually having it happen in real life. Reading spurs on the imagination, taking it down avenues we might never have gone without a book leading us on the way. All of this is to say that yes, writers write, but we also experience life, living it physically, emotionally, imaginatively, storing up every detail so that it can all be used later. The writerly life is, at its best, about living life completely.