Monday, September 20, 2010

Define "normal"

“The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art” by Joyce Carol Oates

According to Oates, Stanislaus Joyce (the brother of Henry) noted in his diary in 1907: “Jim says that . . . when he writes, his mind is as nearly normal as possible.”

How can one argue with that? For me, writing has turned into tunnel vision. All that extraneous stuff: having a job (a part-time, miserable job to boot), having to eat and sleep, even having conversations with my sisters, interrupts the interactions in my head. I’ve lived with these characters for over 30 years, folks. I remember coming home from an Elton John concert in the mid to late 70s, on a cool, rainy night, watching the rain blow in sheets, thinking that this was just the sort of night Lennie’s girlfriend left him. I was in my mid-teens at that point. I already knew the band members, the name of the band, where Sandy and Lennie grew up, had already written scenes involving Sandy’s girlfriend leaving him and Lennie getting mixed up with her, briefly. I am most comfortable, most at home, inside other people’s heads.

Some say being a writer is a lonely life, because in general, you have to be alone when you’re writing. I find that I’m able to focus best when there’s nobody else around in the same physical setting as me, but most of the time, I am far from alone. I don’t just mean the cats Raz and Maggie. My two main characters, Neal and Sandy, talk a lot; peripheral characters add their two cents; characters who play important parts but still only appear in my WIP for a short time have things to say; plus, since many of my characters are musicians, sometimes I hear music too -- stuff that hasn’t been recorded in this universe ;-)

Recently, when a song (complete with words and music) popped into my head in Sandy’s voice, for just a moment it was a bit weird. A disembodied voice, that I recognize? Like snowflakes I could feel but not see? Then I realized it was the same voice who sang something else back in the late 70s, and as the current song replayed over and over, I fell into it like a favorite cashmere blanket.

You writers know what I mean. I think this is why most new writers “head hop” so frequently. They’re so in tune with the characters that it’s natural to follow what other people (er, I mean characters) are thinking, all at the same time. Mixed up in that is the underlying hot desire to have other people fall just as in love with the characters as the writer is. Of course, for that to happen, readers have to know everything the characters are thinking, just like the writer.

Tune in next week when I take this further and say something guaranteed to make writers, editors, and agents spit nails at me. :D

1 comment:

  1. Something that would make them spit nails at you? Now I'm curious! Give us a hint, please?