Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Why Write, when you can Worry?

I've mentioned several times in this blog my sincere belief that Writers are all at least a half bubble off plumb (HBOP, for the uninitiated).

Perhaps nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the rituals, procedures, sacrifices and offerings necessary to placate the Muse before we can begin to write. These are the sorts of things that cause relatives and friends to shake their collective heads and make revolving motions with their index fingers near their collective temples.

Sometimes the Muse requires us to don (or doff...) particular articles of clothing. James Joyce wrote in a milkman's uniform, apparently because he thought the light reflected onto the page was brighter thereby. Charles Ludlum, the founder of The Ridiculous Theatrical Company, sometimes wore a wig and an evening gown to write, apparently because he made light of everything. Others dress as if they were going to work in an office, and a few inscribe totally sans habilement.

Some write in the early morning; some, like myself, are night owls (I wrote most of my first novel between 11pm and 3am, when my pc didn't have children or spouse attached to it), and the rest write whenever they can steal a moment or two from Real Life.

Seclusion and quiet is the only setting that will mollify sensitive Muses, as opposed to the more demanding variety that require their writers (e.g. J.K. Rowling) to work in the white noise of a busy cafe.

One of the most important considerations, however, concerns the writer's implements. What one writes with can be a major Muse-seducing tool, as are revision procedures. Hemingway's pencil-sharpening ritual is well-known. Jacqueline Susann typed only on pink paper, in all caps, on a pink IBM Selectric, and revised with an eyebrow pencil; Capote wrote everything out longhand, revised likewise, and required a particular kind of yellow paper for the third draft.

The rituals, procedures, or sacrifices each writer adopts become collectively known as The Process, and tampering with it can lead to Writer's Block (paralysis of the literary glands), Irritable Vowel Syndrome (usually noticed first by friends, relatives, or Pubbers), or worse yet, the production of a stream of unvarnished sentimental unprintable drivel, unfit for human consumption. Whatever this Process is, it is absolutely necessary, be it complex or simple, and if mitigating circumstances interrupt (phones ringing, a nap, or an exceptionally sunny day), writing may even become impossible, unthinkable, or, horror of horrors, too much like Work.

Betsy Lerner, in her excellent The Forest for the Trees, says that writers write for either of two reasons; out of compulsion, or out of a desire to be loved. While this is true as far as it goes (and yes, she does also mention money), neither of these seem to explain the need for Process.

The need for Process, I believe, stems from Worry.

Because no one thinks that writers have a Real Job. At least, it's not the same as working in Real Life, say, as a doctor, lawyer, or industrial thief. People with Real Jobs, like Pubbers, claim to envy writers because writers supposedly don't have to get of their pj's to work or even get out of bed for that matter. Never mind that writers don't make as much as most of the people they know. And isn't it true that a writer has to suffer to be good? When a writer is successful (i.e. makes more money than small countries) the public looks askance, as if they have caught the writer with his hand in the Welfare Fund. Conversely, a writer who fails to be published, or cannot make a living at it, is looked on as a failure cum laude.

And so we Worry. We Worry because our nearest and dearest don't understand our 'hobby'. We Worry that we are complete and utter frauds and that our readers will see through us. Even often-published authors have this Worry. We Worry about getting reviews, we Worry about not getting reviews; we obsess about writers that receive obscene advances and garner Award after Award while we can't get an Agent to look at the outpouring of our souls.

The Process is necessary because it provides structure and rhythm to Worried writers. It announces to the Muse that it is Writing Time, and stimulates the literary gland to flow. Many times the Process is a closely guarded secret, because writers Worry that if readers or Pubbers of family knew what was necessary to get us going, their tongues would cluck sadly in time with their shaking heads and revolving digits.

And we also know the melancholy truth: if we never become famous or rich, our Process will be regarded as merely the expression of a neurosis common to writers; but Dan Brown's Process, if discovered, will be the subject of many creative writing lectures, discussions between budding MFA's, maybe even a dissertation or two.

It won't make any difference, though.

They'll still have to placate their own Muses.