Suffering and the Lonely Artist

I have this persistent day dream: I get to rent a small cabin in the woods.  Nothing but me, my wordprocessor, Dan with some computerthingy to keep him busy during the day, and a couple of books.  During the day I’d just write.  In the evenings Dan and I would walk to a small restaurant nearby and have dinner.

In my dream the cabin is somewhere like Oregon, so it drizzles, and there’s a fireplace.  (Hey, I grew up with drizzle.  Drizzle is comfort weather.)

Would I want the dream to go on forever?  Well, no.  Two weeks would be enough to get a ton of work done.  And by that time I’d be missing the boys and the cats and ready to come home.

Right now the chances of my dream coming true – EVER – seem less than one in a million.  Also, right now my life couldn’t be further away from that dream.

It seems like most of the time by the time I get up in the morning I’m already late for three or for things, and when I go to bed I have unfinished tasks still to complete.

Part of this is because I was already more or less fully booked and then I added editing stories and getting my back list ready to go up.  Now that has nowhere to go.  Plus the house has been falling apart a piece at a time, which, of course, also causes other issues.  (Money!)  To complete the circle, the stress is making my eczema go feral, which means I’m one LONG itch.  (Fine time I picked, to stop sniffing glue.)

Almost every writer I know has this sort of dream and most of us have a “for life” type of dream too, called “when I make it.”  “When I make it, I’ll have someone fetch me coffee, so I don’t have to get up.”  “When I make it, I won’t have to clean the house, so I can write all day.”  “When I make it–”

The problem is, face it, if we got our wish we’d probably go stone-cold-blocked.  Oh, maybe not right away. Or maybe we’d get over it, eventually.  I mean, when Rebecca Lickiss and I attended the Oregon workshop – twelve? – years ago, we had little kids.  We couldn’t understand why it was so hard to work in the workshop room, in the nice, quiet atmosphere.

And then we realized both of us were so used to being interrupted and to hearing the kids in the background at all times that after five minutes we got antsy in the “it’s too silent, what are they up to?” sense.

That didn’t exactly solve the problem, but at least it told us where it was coming from.  And these days I can too work without being interrupted by a childish howl every five minutes.

On the other hand, some part of my brain seems to only loosen up and get creative when I’m engaged in activities I hate.  My first saleable short story was written in my head while ironing.  A Few Good Men hit me between the eyes, voice and all, while cleaning the bathroom.  Walking isn’t too bad for ideas, particularly long walks in areas I know, particularly in bad weather.  Why in bad weather?  Fewer people out and nobody I need to make eye contact with.

Activities I find interesting, like, say, cooking, talking to my husband; drawing; visiting museums make me completely unable to write.

So… if this writer got her wish – would she be hyper productive? Or completely unable to write?

I look at Heinlein’s life where he lurched from health issue to personal issue to financial crisis for much of it, and I look at the stuff he wrote.  Would he have written better had he been healthy and stable?  (Assuming he hadn’t stayed in the Navy.)  Or wouldn’t he have written at all?  Did we lose great books by him?  Or did we gain them because he was tortured.

I don’t know.  All I can say is that right now I’d like to give it a try for two weeks and I promise I wouldn’t let it spoil me.

But since it doesn’t seem likely, I think I’ll go to bed early instead, and tomorrow I’ll see if I can change my writing place and I hope that will help.

Goodnight sun, goodnight moon.  Goodnight blog comenters.

29 responses to “Suffering and the Lonely Artist

  1. ppaulshoward

    I hope Dan stops you if you “cut off your ear” for the sake of your art. [Evil Grin]

  2. I sometimes think of the brain like a pot of water on the stove. You need some heat under it to get it bubbling; but too much heat, and it boils over.

  3. I have yet to find a fuel for my creativity that doesn’t involve some sort of (w)angst or unhappiness. In a sense, chronic writer’s block is a good problem for me to have but it does frequently leave me casting about for a decent hobby.

  4. I wonder how many writers create in response to annoyance? As in: [Politician] said WHAT!!!!??? I will write the world that leads to.

    • IIRC, that’s how M.Z. Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress anthologies got started. Something about “If I read one more story about a whimpering princess saved by a dashing knight, a wussy pink witch, or a female warrior who just needs a real man in her life I’m going to scream!”

      I suspect M. Lackey’s smart-Alec unicorns in the Obsidian Trilogy had similar roots, but I could be wrong.

  5. I noticed that if too much stuff (pain, agony, health issues) happen that it can also affect the output. Personal opinion only. I don’t say that I am the best writer (I am okay), but I don’t think I am bad enough that someone would say that it “needs an editor’s hand.” I went back to look and the reviewer (no real name fufi) said it was a diamond in the rough. Okay I can live with that one. I would love to afford an editor, but at this time I just don’t have the money. So I do the editing myself (fool maybe?).

    I found too that I just don’t care. I have two readers who really like my stuff. And they contact me if I haven’t written enough … 😉 So I guess that is a start.

    • I’ve found that if I’m hurting TOO much, my writing skills seriously deteriorate. I’m still cleaning up the mess from this past weekend… 8^)

      • Mike – I didn’t write while I was doing the tooth extraction thing. Plus for some reason I have a headache today. I’ll start back again tomorrow. I make a little money on the side editing. (snort). Basic spelling and grammar for a site. Nothing to big… but I do that when my creativity is hurting.

    • Too much, comes in as various forms as there are people. Like too much that must be attended to, like flooded basements, to even sit and write. Maybe it is too much ill-health, so that either the symptoms, the pain or the meds eliminate the ability to think, no less see, straight. It might be the result of unending distractions, be it demands of children or the shrieking of neighbors. Sometimes it is a task that, for you, occupies all of your creative mind elsewhere, such as cooking. Contrariwise, too little happening in your life (whatever constitutes your too little) results in torpidity of the brain.

      Isn’t there a space somewhere between too much and too little? Is it wrong to dream of the bowl of porridge, the chair and bed that are our just right?

  6. My cabin is in a Pennsylvania State Forest – and the memory (there was no writing done, but we were homeschooling our 6 kids together) is from a magical time (ok, it rained 3.5 out of the 4 days) many years ago when a friend and I got those days.
    The kids played together (mostly – 3 of the boys ganged up on the 4th), they all did chores (no dishwasher!) without whining too much, and it was just plain fun and being together.
    I keep pining to go back.
    Now I’m finding that even an hour or two at the library in a quiet table in the stacks has the same effect: quiet the soul and reset the nonsense counter. I HAVE the peace at home (except that H, a teacher, is now home for the summer, and the poor man is entitled to watch TV in the middle of the house if he wants to), but it is still hard to write – because writing is hard. Thank God for yoga and breathing – wish I didn’t have to use it so often.
    Keep at it – really, what else would you do? Get the backlist up – that should eventually help with the money problems. It is a very stressful time for getting your boys out into their own lives – and it will be that way for years, but it does get easier as they take over their own reins. Then it gets lonely – with great periods when they’re with you.
    I store it all up – and it goes somewhere in the writing. I wonder what people who don’t write do with theirs.

  7. Having been involuntarily a full-time writer, I observe that all the time in the world to write may translate to all the time in the world to put it off.

  8. Non-fiction writing comes semi-easily, once I get my rear into the chair and start working. All I’m doing is transcribing events, in a sense. It is a day-to-day sort of creativity, and I’m not having to solve problems because the “characters” already did that.

    Fiction? Hard as nailing Jello ™ to a wall. Ideas bubble up while I’m walking, especially if I’m at the gym on the treadmill or stair machine, or while doing any physical but not mental labor. Although . . . a major plot solution appeared fully-grown while I was reading a history book (thank you, subconscious) and I had a humor story appear while watching the Tour de France. But then I have to get back into the chair and write out the things.

    • I had one of those moments when a huge problem I was having with one of my characters was suddenly solved — in the midst of an MRI. I’m mildly claustrophobic, and I don’t like loud sounds. I guess this was my subconscious letting me know I was ok… 8^)

  9. Excellent insight by Mary. I no longer have all the time in the world. I’d better get to work.

  10. The best inspiration for writing comes when you can use it to put off doing something else.

  11. For the record: “Looks like I picked the wrong to quit [smoking|drinking|amphetamines|sniffing glue].” [Steve McCroskey, _Airplane!_]

    Note To Self: Schoolteachers do not appreciate me using that quote whenever they decide to hang an additional assignment on the students….

  12. I’ve found that I’m most productive when I’m deployed. Once I’m off of patrol or no longer in the ops center, my choices are:
    1. Write.
    2. Sleep.

    If I’m not yet tired, that pretty much takes care of my choices.

  13. There are actually sound psychological reasons why some people would be more inspired when they are experiencing some difficulty that does not take all their energy to deal with, and that is Escape. For people like that woman who wrote the article you linked the other day, their escape is to go out and hell around. For others, it is merely to daydream. For writers, it seems to be to daydream and then write it down. There are plenty of other methods, too, but here, of course, we’re talking about writers.

  14. Robin Roberts

    Sometimes I get the same urge to some isolation. My wife and I have found that you get rental condos in ski resort areas in the summertime pretty cheap.

    Or see if a friend has a timeshare, which they will be unable to use that year, and do the same – book a ski resort room in the summer. That has the advantage of not needing the high end expensive time share credits to obtain. There is a ski resort on the Grand Mesa near Grand Junction that is fairly isolated and near some nice outdoor recreation in the mesa that we like for that.