Refuelling. That’s what Poppy Z Brite called it, standing on a streetcorner of Royal Street one evening in 1997. “Reading books, going to clubs, listening to music,” she said.
It’s the part of writing that a lot of non-writers don’t really understand.
I’ve just spent a very pleasant afternoon cutting out shirts for myself. Later I’ll go for a walk, and hope to put in a couple of hours this evening slaughtering unoffending Evil Mercenaries on the X-Box. This is as much a part of being a writer as the actual sitting-in-front-of-the-computer part. Getting out. Breathing air. Talking to friends. I find I always work better, when I can put my brain in a bowl of cold water for a couple of days.
Sometimes, one has no choice. Lower advances = taking as many projects as are offered, and these +a part-time job (see: “lower advances” above) = a heavier work schedule. I am fortunately insanely disciplined about my work, and, when possible, insanely disciplined about my rest-time as well. (I’m a Virgo, it’s what we do).
But a part of writing is – metaphorically or actually – lying on one’s back staring at the clouds, and this can get difficult if there is another member of the household, and understandably so. (I’m sure the legendarily crabby Xantippe, wife of Socrates, got pretty tired of Soc just hanging out talking instead of bringing in even a minimal paycheck). I’ve been on both sides of that line, and both are ugly. Where does refuelling turn into procrastinating? I generally know for myself (since I don’t procrastinate about writing), but living with a writer who had a different clock-speed than I got pretty tense sometimes. “Why don’t you help out around here?” is bad enough, but there’s also, “I’m bored, come talk to me…” I have no idea what the appropriate response connected with either of those is, but closing the study door did not help).
Essentially, the part of me that writes is still a five-year-old child. During the ‘seventies those New Age effusions about “Caring for your Inner Child” put my teeth on edge – they often seemed to me to be simply a justification for bad behavior, irresponsibility, and selfishness – but yes, the part of me that writes is very much a child. Writing – any kind of art, I think – is a balancing-act, being simultaneously child and adult. The stories – the dreams – the people I see in my head – those are produced by that five-year-old sitting in some mental inner closet pecking away at a keyboard. But it’s the adult that crafts them, so that other people can see them exactly as I do: “WAY too many adjectives, dear… that’s the fifth time you’ve used the word ‘deleriously’ in three paragraphs… does the reader really need to know about Zelda’s toenails?” Or, “What does the air smell like, when it smells like that?”
And the adult has the responsibilities of an adult, to make sure the dog gets fed, to behave responsibly with sales people, to maintain her part of the relationships that nourish the soul.
But part of my job as the adult is to take care of that child. And children need their naps.
(I also buy her presents from time to time, which unfortunately I can’t deduct from my income-tax the way I can a new monitor for the computer.)

One response to “Refuelling”

  1. Is that why adult stories about children, or from a childs view point seem to engage people more? To me the characters are often more realistically rendered.

    I’m thinking here of the excellent child characters of Terry Pratchett, Stephen King and George R R Martin (Arya Stark is the favourite of many readers).

    … or is it because a child’s character is simpler, with a simpler understanding of their environment, and therefore easier to envision and write?

    Hmm, I shall have to have a further ponder, but thanks for the thought :)

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