Today’s post comes to you via my new netbook, my new key to freedom! Or is it…
When my first iBook laptop went kaput after 5 years in 2007, I have since been desk-bound with my newer iMac. Yes, I am on Team Mac, but unfortunately don’t wish to shell out the quid on another iBook. But this is beside the point…
My new lil’ Sony netbook is liberating me from my hybrid home office/guest bedroom. So far, I’ve made it all the way to the living room. Baby steps, baby steps. What I’m getting psyched about is the ability to work on my writing project remotely in London cafes, pubs, parks, and even cemeteries, such that I can still get out and about and explore this city in the newly-turned gorgeous weather without the eternal guilt over neglecting my writing.
The guilt…oh, the guilt. I am wondering if other writers out there will gasp at what I’m about to confess or own up that they sometimes feel the same way. When I speak of liberation, this applies to writing as well, as, along with reading, it is the ultimate way to escape into the free life of the mind at any given moment, taking me into other locations and minds and hearts.
Yet as of recently, I’ve been more conscious of the limiting effects of indulging this pasttime. Rather than free, I can feel trapped…for one thing, there is the guilt I mentioned above when I heaven forbid do something else with my free time after work or on the weekend and have not planted my bum in my desk chair to crank out at least a couple more pages or revise what has already been written.
Adding to this, I once thought it freeing that I could work through my plots and characters even away from my computer and pen and paper, as ideas and revelations will come to me in the shower or during my commute.
“The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” –Agatha Christie
“What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.” –Burton Rascoe
This has had the effect, however, of overwhelming my thoughts, exhausting me noggin when it’s set in hyperdrive and I find myself trying to figure out how to get a character into or out of a situation while I simultaneously need to get my work done…my brain needs to be in on that, too, after all, and my high levels of distractibility ever since I took on writing as a primary and ongoing endeavor are leading me into some embarassing situations. The other week, I was working through a plot line in my head as I was exiting the Notting Hill Gate Tube station, and, realizing I should probably top-up my Oyster card—my prepaid public transport pass—I walked up to a kiosk touch-screen and cancelled a stranger’s transaction, not realizing he’d been standing there and about to finish adding £50 to his card! I’d never felt so foolish and kept apologizing profusely from the adjacent kiosk as I saw him restarting his transaction all over again in my peripheral vision.
“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” –E.L. Doctorow
Even when I try to escape into reading to calm my overworking mind, I find I’m not enjoying it in the way that I used to—reading as a writer, there is the tendency to analyze the character and plot development, the descriptive detail and overall style and construction, not in analysis of the text itself (which is perfectly okay and necessary to truly engaging with it), but in comparison with my own style and approach, which is maddening. Yes, reading can inform our writing, but what if I just want to read for reading’s sake? Can I recover this ability at some point, or in taking on writing have I forever altered the relationship I have with other people’s stories? And most importantly, should I feel bad to be feeling this way, or is it natural? Writers of the world, please advise 🙂
In the meantime, I’m hoping that I haven’t just substituted a ball and chain with a house-arrest bracelet that permits me more mobility, but still holds me prisoner to obligation and guilt. I think instead my wee netbook and I will have many happy travels together as we get back out there to resume control of my everyday and observe life for it’s own sake—and, sure, if it provides good material for a story, that’s not too shabby either even if it does serve to feed my aforementioned neuroses.
“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” –Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 19 August 1851
May 22nd, 2010 at 13:19
Oh this all sounds too familiar… 🙂 Just the other day, I was taking a bath and I was too lost in my own head and the story that I’m working on, I couldn’t tell how many times I washed my hair! I thought it could be nice to just forget the story for a moment but it felt impossible, my mind just kept sliding back…
And I don’t think “read for reading’s sake” is possible anymore, although it sounds like a nice fantasy, doesn’t it? 🙂
About four years ago, right before our first class began, my creative writing teacher told the class that he was about to “break a spell”, that after we learn the craft of writing and start writing our own stories we’d never be able “just read the story” anymore. I had no idea what he was talking about at the time but I think now I understand…
Than again, we made a good bargain, we traded that joy for the joy of writing!
May 23rd, 2010 at 09:34
*shakes fist at sky* Curses! Why does it have to be like that? *sigh* But I guess you’re right, Lua, that it’s something delightful (if not masochistic) that we get in return. That’s good that your professor gave fair warning as you all stood at the precipice…wow, what a red pill/blue pill moment 🙂
May 22nd, 2010 at 16:27
An old journal entry of mine: “I write aphorisms. That gives me time to jog, to see friends, and drink cream sodas.” The self-absorption involved in being a “serious” writer is anathema to me. I like hanging out and doing nothing too much.
May 23rd, 2010 at 09:29
So wise, nothingprofound, so wise. There’s nothing more I love than hanging out and doing nothing too much. I really think I could watch paint dry and be perfectly content…will have to seek out some equilibrium that won’t erode away at my joys. And, ah, cream sodas…today is one of those warm, sunny days that would be perfect for one of those!
May 23rd, 2010 at 17:59
Hmmm, this is a great topic. Yes, I know the feeling of constant guilt and as well irritability when I am not writing. As well I know the temptations of just do other, easier things than thinking of your characters or creating their world. As a full-time writer, both commercial and literary, I find it hard to not busy myself with little things that give instant reward and recognition over the exhausting long-term project of the book. My way out – artificial deadlines. Only thing that helps so far. 🙂
On the analytic reading. Guess you’re gonna have to say good bye to just reading, if you’re anything like me. Hear the same from my brother, a musician. That is the downside of making your favourite passion your job. It starts to resemble a job much more. A great job, though, very worth the struggle, don’t you think? 🙂
May 24th, 2010 at 15:31
So long, Reading for Enjoyment. Was nice knowin’ ya.
Resembling a job is quite right, m’dear, which I guess I inflicted on myself for a reason…even though that job is non-paying 🙂 I have to concede that you’re right…it’s worth it.
May 24th, 2010 at 09:59
I stopped listening to music for a long time because I couldn’t listen w/out trying to figure out everything they were doing. Melody, harmony, rhythm, form, sounds, etc. It drove me crazy and took all the enjoyment out of it. (I’m a musician too)
The same is starting to hold true for books.
Try reading some magazines. That might make it easier. And definitely don’t read things that are similar to what you are working on, unless you want to be admitted.
May 24th, 2010 at 15:35
Ha! My straight-jacket just got back from the cleaners, but I’ll keep it hanging in the closet for the time being 🙂 I’ve actually been reading more nonfiction lately, which has helped immensely (and is probably something I should do more of anyway). Oh, I just couldn’t imagine not being able to enjoy music in the same way! ’tis a blissful ignorance that I’ll hold onto, and, in the meantime, I hope you’ve been able to gain back some of the magic. What instrument(s) do you play?
May 25th, 2010 at 19:06
Yo, playing five-minute hooky from work to treat myself to more Monkey. 😉 Did you really cancel that guy’s transaction? Hahahahahaha!!! Good Lord, I love that. For a long time one of my neighbors has been hassling me because I never notice her when we’re driving past each other. She says she’s waving away trying to get my attention, and I just drive past with a far-away smile on my face. Then when she found out about my book she’s like “AHA! Now I know why you’re always in the clouds.”
Anywho, what I’ve done is read things that are very far removed from anything I’d ever consider writing myself. I’ve been reading the Bernard Cornwell series about an archer during the hundred years war. His style and subject matter are completely different than mine, and I’m easily getting lost in his world. His editor needed to use more comma though. Sometimes it is difficult to turn off that part of my brain.
Congrats on the new lappy toppy! Love the ball and chain for the house-arrest bracelet analogy, very clever. But won’t happen–you’ll strike a balance.
(Hey, can you tell me an easy way to get my picture on here instead of that horrid quit square? It’s so easy everywhere else but I can’t figure out the WordPress.)
May 27th, 2010 at 18:52
Ya know, I have the same issue every time I comment on Blogger blogs–you’d think they’d make them more compatible! My way around it was loading my image on my Google mail account and selecting that option for posting–assuming it’s giving you that option; is it?
And yes, I really did cancel that guy’s transaction. It took me a second to realize when he looked at me oddly and withdrew his credit, and I twitched to life (i.e., back to reality) and exclaimed, “Oh my God! I’m so sorry! I don’t know what I was thinking!” He was nice about it…I was humbled another ten notches. Thank you for the reading advice, as I’m finding that’s really what I need to do–read someone totally unlike me in style and content. Thanks, “Nicki”!
January 31st, 2011 at 21:23
[…] Netbook-n-me will hang occasionally on the frumpy but oh-so comfy sofa that came with the flat and which we’ve since pimped out with some Marrakech bling. While I’m usually writing my daily London blog for work if writing anything here, I must acknowledge that about 10,000 words of my manuscript were drafted with that wee keyboard in a surreal burst of inspiration whilst reclining here. It’s the one portion I consider to require the least revision, so I don’t know what Victorian spirit must have been lounging there to whisper it to me . […]