Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rather Belayed Butt-Kicking On Being a Writer

I know I promised a butt-kicking back on Monday, and I was hoping to do a more involved one, but as I am being slowly devoured by Bologna preparations, this will have to suffice. I will warn you in advance that I will be slooooooooooooooowww at replying to comments (I have a bit of a backlog already, but I'm workin' at it, I swear).

So. That said. I wanted to talk about how creative people work, how they play, how they manage their time. It's something that's been weighing on my brain lately because I have been full time at this now for about a year, and my bestest writing friend Tessa Gratton just went full-time as well. Before that I was full-time as a portrait artist, so I sort of knew what I was getting into, time-management-wise. What I didn't realize would be challenging would be scheduling time to live.

I know what you guys are thinking. You're thinking I'm talking about time to watch TV, kick back and read a book, sleep, go to movies. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about time to live, to have experiences, to have something to write about. I don't mean that my next book is going to be autobiographical. But I do mean that as long as I sit in my office all day long, either writing or answering e-mails or composing blog posts, I am drawing from the same pool of life experiences that informed my last book.

And this is what I wanted to blog about. If you are a writer, it is just not good enough to be only a writer.

I think it's why some authors say that they intentionally hung onto their day jobs. It's not that writing is a lonely profession, exactly. It's just that, after awhile, if it's all you do, it's like those pictures of snakes eating their own tails. You will mine the same experiences and character interactions until finally, they are done. We're observers of the world, writers, and we can only make so many biscuits out of one batch of dough.

Would you look at the number of metaphors in that paragraph? 

Anyway, it's why I tend to leave the house when I get stale. Go somewhere, do something new, see someplace different. Something that will feed me. It's why I'm a writer, yes, but it's also crucially important to me to keep being a musician, a composer, an artist, a mother, a wife, a dog-walker, a fast driver, a nature-lover, a horseback rider, a -- fill in the blanks. Everything that I do other than writing, things that are me.

Because here is the other point of the post: being a writer is not really being anything at all. It's like saying that you're a talker. An observer. Yes, you may be able to do it very prettily, but really, my writing is my way of processing things. My storytelling is a way of forcing structure on top of something that is chaotic. It is not me, my desire to write. It's a byproduct. The words I churn out are the dirty oil that keeps the gears running. And if that engine is never run, the oil stays exactly the same. If the gears don't move, you don't need the oil at all.

So be a writer. I'm proud to know many. But be something else, too.


Frankie Diane Mallis said...

Oh this is soooo true! I was thinking about this the other day and need to see something new. Also...I kind of want a new pair of heels, but you dont really need them to sit down and write...thats the other thing...a lot of alone time and not needing to get dressed, which is fun for awhile, but kind of gets old.

Shannon Messenger said...

Well said! (And I suspect this is why so many characters in books are writers, since it can become the only thing we know.) It's easy to panic and feel like you don't have time for anything else, but I have found that when I give myself a break for a day and do something else, the words flow SO much better the next time I write. So I'm going to *try* to be more balanced during this next round of revisions. We'll see if I can do it. ;)

Crystal Cook said...

This is such a great reminder. I think passionate people (which writers, you know, are) tend to lose sight of the big picture and their life gets out of balance. Causing their work to suffer and just about everything else. And yes I'm talking about myself here too. I don't want to see my life go by without me because I was too focused on one single thing.

Thanks Maggie :)

Jo Treggiari said...

I agree. Writing is so solitary. It's easy to get engrossed in it but important to live because that's where our inspiration comes from

Shannon said...

I think that's such an interesting point, and definitely true.

But that's not really why I'm commenting. As an Irish dancer and an avid fan of Lament before I even knew there was such a book as Shiver...


Phoebe said...

Maggie, this really, really resonated with me! I have an MFA in poetry and, upon arriving at my graduate program, was pretty shocked at how much some students disliked taking, say, English graduate seminars because it took away from their time for writing. That's where most of my inspiration came from (undergrad was even better--I took classes like field bio and philosophy, which really had my brain active). I think it's important to not just live in a cave. What would cave dwellers even write about?!

Solvang Sherrie said...

You put that so perfectly. It's the reason I go to the beach with my family even when a deadline is creeping up, the reason I am thankful when my children pull me away from the computer. By living I'll have so much more to say :)

Sabrina said...

Yes, this.

It's why after being all degree'ed, I am making so much more of an effort to have a social life. In high school and college, I didn't really get out much, hanging out with friends was relegated to recess and lunch for the most part. But now that I'm walking around with an MA (and still looking for work, oy), I almost frustrate myself with the finagling of schedules to meet up with friends. I usually leave the where and what to them, though, in the hope they'll suggest something I've never done before.

And when I am faced with a new experience, even if it's something I don't think I'd enjoy, I go, because it adds to my breadth of knowledge. I -can't- just sit at home and write every day.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

You guys always have such great comments. It's surprising how often I have to be reminded that I don't need all my time to write. My best scenes are often the ones stuffed into just an hour after a great day of something else.

And Shannon, THANK YOU!

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