Why Writers Aren’t All There
If there’s one thing the lockdowns have taught us, it’s the importance of developing an interior life. My father, first and always a scientist, spent years staring out to sea, working out the cubic capacity of ocean ships through water displacement or trying to figure out how electronic circuitry could be reduced in size. My mother read, wrote and dreamed of travel. Both had well developed interior lives in very different directions.
The writer builds an enclosed mental space in which is placed the furniture of the imagination. Once behind this door, you can create anything. To leave, you must exit the house and re-enter reality. The danger is that mental worldbuilding becomes more appealing than reality, so that you opt to stay there. It’s an idea I was attempting to get at in my novel ‘Calabash’.
I have friends with sons locked in their bedrooms unable to leave, unable to deal with the real world on any level. One has a son still trapped like this in his late thirties. For writers there’s a way of making sense of this; world building is practical because it has a productive outcome – the creation of a piece of work. You can leave it running in the background of everyday life, but I don’t. I’m either in the world or out of the world.
People ask; ‘Do you live with your characters?’ I reply, ‘Only when I’m at my laptop.’ It’s true; I don’t consciously think about writing when I’m ‘outside’. But subconscious processing plays a big role. Genre novels often have a great premise but tail off into rote scenes after the opening idea has been explored because the writer hasn’t properly planned the ending.
I’m not great at high concepts but I usually deliver a killer ending, because that’s where I start my planning. I’m not aware that I do this, though. It just seems to happen because I’ve defined the characteristics of all the players, and they need to follow their paths to a conclusion that feels organic and inevitable.
But all this is locked away in my mental writing space. The rest of the time I’m in the real world doing chores, taking walks – and yet something must be running in the background, picking up scraps of detail and storing them away for future use.
What’s your ‘other life’? Do some hobbies or activities allow you to cut yourself off from everyday life more than others?