Although I love you, I may not see you for hours or days or weeks, even if we live or work together.
When writing, my inbox and voice messages pile up around me until I forget that they are there. My intention is to get to them, but in all probability, they will be lost. I appreciate your efforts to send me repeated messages. I do not see these as nagging reminders. I see them as the effort of someone who understands that five reminders for a lunch date or an email every day until you get an answer, are not annoying—they are necessary.
If I do answer the phone when you call, I will be brief or sound crabby. The fact that I have answered the phone rather than let it go into voice mail signals that I am either: a.) on a bathroom break, b.) procrastinating, c.) stuck on a challenging part, d.) cleaning, or e.) eating. I will be cranky if interrupted doing any of those things. Please do not take it personally. I am anxious to get back to work.
I forget real-world details, like birthdays or plans made. I can be tremendously organized with charts of plot and sketches of characters taped on the wall or to my computer, but things like dentist appointments or lunch plans may be forgotten unless they are also taped to my laptop. Even then, I may mistake the note for a plot point, and my character may be the one to go to the dentist or attend a baby shower.
If I am writing, I won’t leave the house unless I absolutely have to. If I do, the laptop or notebook will come with me, and I will remain in my own creative bubble appearing quite vacant or mad to people who do not know me. This is because I am actually writing in my head even when I am paying the cashier or pumping gas or walking. I will usually choose to walk rather than drive. For me, walking and writing work better than driving and writing.
Once a story takes root, I forego dishes and vacuuming, quite possibly eating and drinking for small stretches of time. Then I will do them all at once in a manic frenzy, eating a piece of cheese, while drinking coffee, washing dishes or vacuuming, maybe both. Please resist the urge to laugh or criticize.
I drink a lot of coffee. This is not hyperbole. I may drink pots of coffee and will leave the house to get more, even when I will not leave the house for food. We all have our vices. For some it’s tea or cigarettes or sorbet. This is the Universe’s way of forcing us to interact with the world, although online shopping and delivery may thwart that as well.
I spend more money than I should on books, and many of them will find their way to the growing pile(s) on my nightstand. It’s not (only) that I lack willpower, but I buy them because they are somehow important to my writing: for comparison, education, research, or encouragement. It does not signal a problem unless the piles take over the entire floor of the bedroom.
I forget that characters are not real for you, because while I am writing them, they are real for me. I know things about them that I do not know about you. I know their greatest fears and secrets, what they do in the dark when no one is watching, what they dream and desire.
If I stare into space when you are talking, I am neither bored nor daydreaming. I have likely caught sight of something provocative: a sunset perfect for the backdrop of a murder, a woman arguing with her lover who punctuates each word with a stalk of asparagus, or a child that has fashioned a robot out of olives and carrots and while singing the Rocky Horror Picture Show in falsetto. These moments are creative catnip.
You may find me staring out the window or pacing around the living room or twittering. Rest assured, I am writing. Sometimes the mind needs to process. If this lasts more than a few days, I am procrastinating and need a proverbial kick-in-the-ass.
Someday you may find yourself in a story. No one else will probably recognize you; you may not even recognize yourself, but a characteristic or anecdote or snippet of dialog will finds its way in. To love a writer, is to accept eventually being written into something.
If I need that proverbial kick-in-the-ass, be kind. It is likely that I know I am procrastinating, and I know that you know I am procrastinating, and I probably feel terrible about it. Asking questions about the plot or characters may help to get things moving again. It may not. Hugs are always nice.
When signing books, I will ask you to spell your name even if you have been my best friends since the first grade. After signing dozens (or hundreds) of books, there is a process of dictional shutdown where even my name starts to look funny. You know when you look at a word for a long time and it just looks wrong, even though you know it’s correct? This is like that, but worse.
If you see me in the company of other writers or artists, do not take offense. This does not negate #5 above. Less than socializing, this is a survival instinct. Writers are an odd breed, we gather together in workshops, conferences, or reading series to reassure one another that we are sane and not alone.
I may become preoccupied with a particular object, food, or musical selection. This may be a stone, a special Mexican hot chocolate, sandalwood incense, a silk scarf, or Chopin album of compositions for the piano. These items are book or story-specific, tied to the plot or a character in some way. They do not signal an addiction or collection. Please do not buy me stones, hot chocolate, incense, silk scarves, or Chopin cds. It is not necessary.
Do not attempt to foil any new routines that may develop. The drinking of the Mexican hot chocolate or the playing of the album over and over again may drive you mad and appear obsessive, but they are part of a necessary ritual. They become a familiar backdrop and subliminal prompts to help get me into the story. Routines are also a way to help deal with the chaos of the creative process, as are charts and notes (see #4).
I may choose to go away from time to time, to be alone in hotel room or a cabin or a friend’s house. This is not because I do not want to see you. Quite the opposite. This is because I do care about you, and it is hard to withdraw into my own little world when I am surrounded by people I care about and with whom I want to spend time. Going away removes the temptation of you, and allows me to focus. Even though I miss you, I will not write often (see #1, 2, and 3).
Please do not compare me with the person I am when not writing. To you, we may not appear to be the same person, but we are. I am. I am the introvert hermit scribbling away in my sandalwood-scented room wearing a silk scarf around my head and listening to Chopin on repeat while drinking Mexican hot chocolate in one hand and playing with a stone in the other. I am also the wife who loves to curl up on the couch watching Doctor Who with her husband, the mother who dances to the Beatles in the kitchen with her children, and the hostess of formal dinner parties for her favorite circles of friends.
The writing life is a slightly schizophrenic way of being, perhaps the price for creating worlds in our heads.
Know that while the incense and scarf and chocolate are touchstones for my creativity, you are a touchstone for my life.