Writing Full Time: Marie Brennan
When I announced that I’d be quitting the day job and devoting more time to writing, I also chatted a bit with some writer friends about their own experiences and advice. I ended up inviting some folks to share their stories. First up is author Marie Brennan. I’ve been a fan of Brennan’s work for a while, as you can see from some of the reviews I’ve posted.
Her latest book is Voyage of the Basilisk, with In the Labyrinth of Drakes coming up next in 2016.
Brennan’s experience below reminds me a bit of something my mother used to say when she was raising me and my brother, about the desperate need to get out of the house from time to time and talk to someone who wasn’t a) a little kid or b) a character on a children’s TV show…
Like many writers, I’m an introvert.
When I started writing full time, I found out the hard way that even introverts need a certain dose of social interaction to remain sane.
It happened while I was writing A Star Shall Fall — the first novel I drafted in its entirety after leaving graduate school to be a full-time author. Due to some changes in the plot, I fell behind, and was worried about making my deadline. Ordinarily I write a thousand words a night (which is a pace I know I can generally maintain for an extended period of time, without outpacing my ability to figure out the next bit), but for a while there my goal was to write 1500-2000 and revise 5000 every day.
Fortunately, I had some spare time in which to do that. The dojo where my husband and I study karate closes down for two weeks every summer while the man who owns it goes on vacation, and this happened to coincide with me going into overdrive on the book. I thought, This is great! Karate eats a couple of hours a couple of nights a week, plus it just kind of disrupts my evening in general. With the dojo closed, I can just buckle down and get through this hard patch.
A bit over a week into that, my husband more or less dragged me out of the house by force, because I was going out of my skull.
It turns out that although social interaction is indeed draining for me, I need a certain dose of it or I go off in the deep end. My husband doesn’t count: I told him and my sister once that they aren’t “people,” in the sense that I don’t mind having them around when I’m not in a mood to deal with people. Having only him to talk to for a week or so gave me cabin fever like whoa. I needed to get out of the house; I needed to deal with somebody other than the imaginary people in my head.
You don’t think about this kind of thing when you’re planning your life as a full-time author. Setting up a work space, sure. Arranging your schedule, definitely. But making sure you have a life outside work? Not so much. (Not unless somebody warns you that you need to plan for that.) And yet it’s a vital part of the care and feeding of a writer, and if you neglect it, you’ll pay the price.
Which is why I go to karate, and I run a role-playing game every Tuesday, and I invite friends over to watch TV or to meet me at a museum exhibit. If I’m under the gun for a deadline, I think very carefully before I let those things slip. As much as I need to devote my time to getting the book done, I’ll work a lot better if I keep my mind in balance.
July 23, 2015 @ 8:58 am
I discovered this, or something like it, many years ago when I was a stay-at-home mom. The kids would get cranky and whiny and I’d think, “I cannot even imagine taking them out of the house in this state.” But if we went anyway, we’d all have a good time and they’d be in a lot better moods when we came back, and for the next few days. Lesson learned: Even toddlers need to get out of the house now and then!
The lesson was reinforced more recently when I lost my eyesight. I can’t drive, and it’s far more difficult to get out and interact with people. I can alleviate it somewhat by talking with people on the phone or going online, but ultimately I’m going to go stir-crazy if I can’t get out of the house and interact with people for a while. (And you’re right–family aren’t people; they’re family!)
Thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking post.
July 23, 2015 @ 10:23 am
I recently had some medical issues that kept me house- (and wheelchair-) bound for three months. I was tearing down the walls by the time I got ‘free,’ and probably spent six or seven hours sitting in the local Starbucks, just to get people time.
July 23, 2015 @ 3:18 pm
I’m the same way. I need to see people who aren’t hubby once in a while. Even if I don’t talk to them, even if I don’t understand their language.
Protip for total introverts: go to somewhere that you’re the minority and everyone else is talking a language you don’t understand. No conversations, but plenty of other humans. Dig the different music piped into the store. Plus, they probably have tasty food. Buy and eat it. New experience! Alien world! Different types of candy!
Food/culture festivals. Lots of people with whom you can interact or not, again depending on your preference and language. But there will be little kids running around giggling, and battalions of grandmas deploying huge trays of homemade food and interesting arts and crafts. One year, between early April and late October, the BFFs and we went to a different church/synagogue/mosque/temple at least every other weekend. We learned a lot. We ate a LOT. We got cool t-shirts and church cookbooks.
Go to a movie, even if you’re alone. There will be other people there having the same emotional reactions as you.
Go to the park or the mall or whatever and walk around. If you have a dog, go to dog park!
July 23, 2015 @ 5:04 pm
This past year has been tough for me for precisely this reason. We’ve ended up moving and with those moves my social life has been upset to the point that it’s a rare moment that I get to spend in the company of friends for any reason. Added to this has been the constant requirements of taking care of a four year old and I’m not surprised how little I’ve turned out of late. Great ideas have just been shelved for a while.
The good news, if and when you find yourself beset by setbacks like this, is that all it really takes to resolve these problems is time and patience. Today I got the grocery shopping done, picked up a metric shit ton of tree debris from my yard and gardens, played hot wheels with my boy, and, while he’s napping, I’m going to get some much needed edits taken care of on this manuscript. Two months ago all of this would have been impossible.
If I’m very, very lucky tonight I’ll get to spend some time at the cafe plotting. Maybe even plotting with a friend.
News & Notes – 7/25/15 | The Bookwyrm's Hoard
July 25, 2015 @ 12:20 pm
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