Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Balancing a Writing Life
So, today is the last day. This residency went by all too quickly and I have loved every minute of it. I was here at the Marion Davies Guest House almost every day of my tenure. This was a perfect residency for me because it balanced my two sides: the introvert and the extrovert. I love to spend hours alone – and here I was able to look at the ocean while working, a definite perk -- but I also enjoy getting out there and sharing my love of fiction with other people.
Being asked to plan and run two community events when you usually spend most of your time at home in yoga pants can be challenging, but thanks to this residency, I got into the habit of suiting up every day and taking the introvert outside to play.
I think of myself as a commercial writer. I describe my book as light, but not so light that someone will have to scrape you off the ceiling. It may seem antithetical to artistic or literary purists, but I aim to please. I want people to enjoy my work. I love to make people laugh.
I don’t often have much control of a first draft and that drives me crazy. There are two sides of writing for me. The first draft makes me think that I’m either brilliant or insane. Then, I am comforted when all the revisions shape those initial ravings into something that might be conceived of as art.
For a writer, I’m a pretty outgoing person. I see myself as an entertainer, albeit not one who jumps around singing and dancing. I tell tales and I do it on the page and though I’m glad when I amuse myself – which is pretty often – I’m thrilled when I amuse others. I believe that my literary heroes: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Somerset Maugham, George Orwell, E.M. Forster, Elizabeth Von Arnim, Dodie Smith, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Boyd, Ian McEwan, Nick Hornby, Raymond Carver, Toni Morrison. Truman Capote, Grace Paley, and so many others (okay, I realize that the majority of these are English) all wrote to be read. Many of them wrote for money and they weren't ashamed of it. Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol because of a pressing need for cash. He loved to perform in public, but when you look at how many hefty tomes he produced, you have to acknowledge that the guy spent plenty of time alone at his desk – and he was writing with a quill. Dickens balanced his extroverted and introverted sides and it worked for him. I would not compare myself with Dickens, but what I would say is that I, too, have been able to exercise both sides of my personality during my time here. This particular residency encourages community interaction; and, for me, that was a bonus.
One of my favorite moments came last weekend when a nineteen year old woman (we'll call her Zoe) came to the guest house with her parents during my office hours expressly to meet “the writer in residence.” We talked for about forty-five minutes while her parents toured the house. We covered why, in the story Zoe was currently working on, her character runs into the Devil in a dark alley and then we segued into whether Zoe had ever written with a pen instead of a computer.
“A pen?” She looked at me as if I had just asked her to write with a dinosaur bone dipped in blood.
“Well,” I explained, “sometimes the action of using a pen and moving your arm can quiet the mind or just give you a different perspective.”
On the first day of the residency, I bought myself a neon green pen holder and a dozen matching pens. I took one out and handed it to her. “Keep that,” I said. “Try it.”
After a while, Zoe’s mother, a lawyer, dropped in and since I secretly believe that all lawyers are closeted writers (since I was one myself), I asked her if she was interested in writing.
“Oh, no not me,” she said and she went away so Zoe and I could finish our conversation.
It was then that I explained how writing was like the Vulcan Mind Meld, guessing that everyone, even nineteen-year-olds knew about Star Trek. Zoe gave me an odd look. I pointed to her forehead and then to mine. “Writing is like communicating brain to brain. Anything that enhances that communication is probably good writing and anything that makes you wonder if you should go get that piece of chocolate cake in the kitchen probably doesn't work so well. Sure, there are rules and there are tricks, but they are all to send you in the direction of the Vulcan Mind Meld.”
Zoe nodded, thanked me heartily and walked off with her pen. A few minutes went by and her mother popped her head in.
“Could I have one of those pens?” she asked, as if this particular bunch of neon green pens had something special about them.
“Of course,” I said, handing her one.
Maybe that was my favorite moment in the whole residency, the one in which I seemed to have been able to convince this mother and daughter that there was power in these pens, even something magical about them.
And by convincing them, I convinced myself. After all, one of these pens can create a whole world.
I am extremely grateful to everyone who made this residency possible. If anyone would like to contact me in the future, please do so at email@example.com.