Monday, January 4, 2010

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Writing is like sex.

Now wait a minute, hear me out. It’s not a bad simile.

When I write, I find that my progress mirrors the sex cycle. I have to get into ‘the mood’ first, and this sometimes takes a while. I stare at the computer screen, waiting for some spark of inspiration. What in the world are these people going to say next? How are they feeling? What does this place look like? At this point, the writing is rough and I have to convince myself that no, I would rather not browse facebook all evening instead. Captioned cat photos? Those can wait, really.

Suddenly, something clicks. This can be as small as a turn of phrase, an expression; or as major as a new plot development. I stop and think, “Hmm, not bad.” Another tentative line follows and I usually pause again. Easy characters help here. For some reason, characters are either easy or difficult to write; there’s never an in between level (Erica touched on this before). My characters either jump onto the page and practically move my fingers for me or they stare from a corner and make me coax out every syllable. When it’s time for a scene with difficult characters, sometimes the facebook urges win out. But once the flow begins, I fall into a rhythm. Line follows line and if I’m lucky, they make sense.

At this point, I forget the computer, the cramp in my leg, the cat pictures. I list deeper and deeper into the action until I’m there, standing among my characters. I no longer have to wonder what will happen next because it’s already happened without my thinking about it.

This grows stronger and stronger. I’m a transcriber, a channel. I can’t record the things I see before me quickly enough. It builds and builds and builds.

Then I’m pulled out, blinking. If it was good, I’m pleased with what I see before me. If I’ve betrayed a character in some way, it feels like faking and I have to delete it all. But it’s usually good. Once the rush is gone, I’m done. Writing even a single word more feels forced.

If I’m interrupted before hitting the crescendo (such as when the phone rings or I have to be at work in five minutes and I have a fifteen minute commute), I feel groggy until I can get back to the writing. All day long I’ll be preoccupied with a single line of dialogue, or a problematic character. I feel like I’m viewing the real world through a haze and my concentration on every other subject is impaired. When I get back to writing, it takes longer than before to find the rhythm. My story is a stubborn partner.

Incidentally, Hemingway said that sex and writing make bad bedfellows; that the same energy producing a physical orgasm also goes into the creative process of stories. Once he had achieved the former, he said, making any process on the latter was almost impossible until he had built up a need again. Consolation for celibate writers?



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