Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why writers need blinders

One of my favorite things to do on Facebook is to look at everyone else's photos. I am always astonished at how clean and spacious and uncluttered homes or offices are, how amazing vacation pictures seem. It puts me into a kind of panic state, as if I am doing something wrong because my personal photos are not like that. I know that I love my messy home, our odd vacations and I adore my family with a passion. Of course I know that pictures do not really tell the whole story, just one of them. I know that people spruce up their space before taking a shot, that no one posts the vacation pictures of someone throwing up on the beach or the apartment where a mouse just took up residence. (It should be noted that, too when it comes to relationship photos, sometimes the most romantic portrait of love can be of a spouse bringing you tea when you have a 104 degree fever and look like the cat's dinner, but those pix are never posted.)

Today I was browsing writer blogs and reading about what everyone is writing and I had the same sort of panic. One author wrote about how easily she wrote her upcoming novel--that she finished it in six months and was now on her second, and everyone was adoring it and already awarding it prizes. (I reached for the chocolate.) Another wrote about how she knew instantly what she was supposed to be writing about and she let the characters dictate the story to her and now she is on a 450 city tour (OK, I exaggerate, but still...) I hyperventilated. I read the plot lines of both books--simple, straightforward--and thought, "Why didn't I think of that story? What's wrong with me that I didn't?"

Then I looked at my pages, which are complex, convoluted and I felt something centering. I like--no, I love what I am working on. It obsesses me. I have been trying to figure out how to write this particular novel for years and I finally figured out how to do it, and if it takes me two more years to get it right, then it takes me two more years.

I know my process is not everyone's process. I know I could no more write a book in six months then I could sing opera, nor could I write a book about something that did not speak to me in some deep and personal way.

It's difficult not to compare yourself to other writers, but I certainly don't really think that writers put up blogs for that purpose. I also think it's dangerous to think like that. Stories are like your fingerprints--yours are unique and that uniqueness is what makes them powerful. I think that's a good thing to always remember, even when other websites seem to be whispering challenges.


Anonymous said...

It is more than dangerous for any artist of any variety to compare his or herself with any other artist to any degree, even the most trivial, in spite of what I suppose are natural curiosities and desires; it is self-destructive. My advice, unasked for, is stop doing it. You are on your own, and if you thought you couldn't handle being on your own, you would not have chosen this way of occupying your life. Now, would you.

Gina Sorell said...

Caroline you are fabulous!! Don't change a thing.

I am one of those "neater" artists with the less "cluttered" home. But remember, it is because my brain can only handle so much chaos, so much uncertainty after a lifetime of uncertainty as an actor and writer, that if I can organize it, or in other words dominate and control it...I will! Even if if it is just the way I stack my books, or the order of my clothes in my closet.

And of course I am so easily tempted on hard days of writing, like today, that a bag of miscellaneous things that is lying in my office cupboard is calling out my name. It does not need to be organized, but it can be, and like a crazy organizationally obsessed person I hear it calling my name!

And if you ever want your place organized, just invite me over, give me a big cup of coffee, put on some music and let me go for 5 hours :)

Caroline said...

Donigan, I loved your very bracing post and your advice. I'm saving it.

Clea Simon said...

I advise the kind of night I just had: Jon and I went out to see Dennis Brennan, a musician we love. He had a brush with fame in the '80s. Now his son's band is probably better known. But Dennis is the real deal: a hardworking artist who does it because he's born to. He may never be famous (again), but he has a reliable audience who appreciates incredibly well crafted and well performed rock 'n' roll. And he shows no signs of stopping. I find this incredibly inspiring.

Though of course both you and I will become famous!

Jessica Keener said...

Keep those blinders on, Caroline. I love your novels!!!