Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Window Gazing Is Hard Work

It's one of my favorite quotes about writing, and I can't remember who said it.

The hardest thing about being a writer is convincing people you're working when you're staring out the window.

Who said that?

It's true. In a way, you're always working, there's never down time. If you're not actually pounding at the keyboard or scribbling on that yellow legal pad – or writing on scented pink notepaper with a quill dipped in purple ink, I've seen several books that must have been written that way – you're thinking about it. It's not always right there at the front of your mind, but it's there, percolating.

And sometimes an idea, a solution, a clever bit of dialogue or the key to fixing something that's been bothering you seems to spring from nowhere when you least expect it, but the truth is you've been nagging at it in the back of your mind all day or all week.

And even if you're not thinking about a project, you're out there in life, and a writer has to be watching, observing, learning about people and thus learning about the kinds of details that turn characters into people. How someone behaves in a bank line or what dialogue sounds like when it's a real conversation or how it feels to repair a chain link fence when you're not mechanically inclined. It's all grist for the mill, and if you watch life closely enough, you'll learn things you can use. You'll also learn exactly what "grist for the mill" means, but if you're trying to write a kids book you won't ever use the phrase, because they'll never get it. Kids today!

So in a sense, you're always working, all the time, even if you're not technically writing at the moment. You're working when you're staring out the window, or driving across island, or washing dishes. I do a lot of work while doing dishes. Almost anything you do in daily life is part of the writing process, or can be, and so you're always on, all the time. You never really clock out, you're always working.

In which case, I'm not getting paid nearly enough.

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