In my recent post ‘The Writers’ Network’ I explained how blogging can provide a new social network for writers.
Interestingly some of the comments on the post extended this new society to an actual social life. As if talking to other writers online is the closest thing a writer might have to a life of her own.
The idea of a writer not having a real life of her own angers me. As I explained in ‘Writing from the Heart’, it’s important to know and understand the things you write about. So how can a writer convincingly write about the exciting lives of her characters, if she herself lives a rather mundane existence?
For me, becoming a good writer has meant understanding people. And that involves communicating with, and engaging with, people from all different backgrounds and in all different situations. In order to have the imagination to create a full range of characters, and empathise properly with those characters, I feel like I need to truly understand the world around me. As a result I often feel like I’ve lived a hundred lives. I’ve tried anything and everything … possibly one of the reasons why I’ve adapted so well going from Cambridge Law student to professional babysitter! Every adventure is two-fold. Not only is it interesting and exciting for me as an individual, it’s also useful for me as a writer. I’ve stood on both sides of the fence – the served and the server – and as a result I understand life ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’.
I’ve noticed that a lot of people write their first novel in their mid-thirties. However I was 25 when I finally committed Flicker to paper, and I think the reason I did so at such a relatively young age, is because I feel I’ve had more than enough life experience. The adventurous and constantly-changing way in which I live my life has equipped me with the knowledge and empathy to write from various different perspectives on a number of different subjects, which has proved particularly useful, particularly where books like ‘My Ten Future Lives’ where the characters’ situations change with every chapter.
In my opinion the traditional image of an author as a loner, trapped in a room, able only to socialise through her pen is out-dated and unrealistic. Just because I can write, shouldn’t mean I can’t talk to people … and vice versa.
Personally I like to think of myself as a rather bubbly and sociable person, who also enjoys writing, and I hope that this personality shades my writing rather than hampering it.
The idea of the loner writer is a rather romantic one. As if she puts her all into the book and has no time for a life of her own. However, it is more than possible to have a life, and dedicate your time and energy to writing a book … it’s simply a question of understanding your writing.
As I explained in ‘The Author, The Journalist and The Blogger’, everyone writes differently depending on the nature of the task. I also find that within each ‘discipline’ of writing, I work differently according to the task.
Take, for example, the administrative side of writing a novel. As I will explain in more detail in a later post, it’s important as an author to present your work in a user-friendly manner. And this involves headers, footers and page-numbers. Compare this side of writing to expertly selecting the perfect words for the opening paragraph of your novel, and you can hopefully understand the different mental demands of various tasks. Labeling my pages uses 2% of my brain power … finding the perfect words, maybe 92%. And then there’s re-reading and editing. The more often you have revised a piece of work, the less attention you need to pay it.
And so, with this all in mind … it’s actually possible to be rather sociable, and still find time to write!
When I’m writing prose, I know I need to be alone … whether that privacy is offered by four walls, or simply by my laptop headphones. Similarly, I need to have relative focus when it comes to my initial edits. I’ll perhaps play music I know well, or a tv show I’m not captivated with in the background.
But in the later edits, where I’m simply skim-reading for mistakes or repetition, and when it comes to numbering my pages and making everything look neat and tidy, I don’t need anywhere near my full attention on my computer. And so these activities don’t require me to be a ‘loner’. In the same way that I’m sitting writing this blog post whilst half-watching a movie with my boyfriend, and contributing (all but half-heartedly) to a conversation with him and one of our friends, a lot of writing tasks don’t require my full attention, and so I have adapted my life to include ‘laptop’ moments.
It’s not gospel, and probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but knowing when I can fulfil tasks in a sociable manner definitely helps me feel a lot less like a loner writer.
Finally, the other thing which keeps me sane is knowing when NOT to write. As I mentioned in The Writers’ Network, I’m between books. And three novels into my writing career, I understand my habits well enough to know that I need to take a decent break in between projects. I need to switch character perspectives, in order to write convincingly from that new point of view … and whilst I’m not exactly lazy during the gaps (as perhaps best evidenced by this blog!!) I definitely take a proper break. Which leaves more time for that life part of the life/writing balance …
Two years in, and it seems to be working for me … what about you? Have you found the perfect balance? Are your coping methods different to mine? Or are you the stereotypical loner writer?
As ever … discuss!! That’s the whole point of the blog 🙂 Get social with the rest of the internet’s aspiring authors!