Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Open a vein

As some of you said yesterday, sometimes we create out of happiness.

I can remember at least two prolonged times in my varied writing careers when I felt so grateful and joyful to be writing that I couldn't wait to get up every morning and get at it. One of those times was in my late twenties when I switched from writing training programs for a corporation (filmstrips for selling lawn mowers!) to freelance writing. Oh, my god, the bliss! Working at home! No more rush hours! The other time was in my mid thirties when I switched from that to writing fiction full time.

But the thing of it is, and to tell you the total truth, both of those experiences were preceded by misery. I hated working for a corporation, hated regular hours, etc., and that unhappiness finally exploded into quitting my job, wandering off to Europe for several months, and then coming home to try freelance writing, where I made half as much money, worked twice as hard, and had three times as much fun. The happiness didn't come until the first day I sat down to write in my own apartment, on my own time. But eventually, over seven years, that pleasure paled, too. For some reason, I didn't discover much meaning in writing ad copy for funeral homes and catalog copy for auto supply stores. Go figure. :) And so the misery of that, along with the unhappiness of the miscarriage I mentioned yesterday, blasted me into being a novelist, as I still am.

Intensity of emotion seems to have a role to to play in creativity, for sure. Family Man pointed that out in the comments yesterday, and there was some agreement with that, including from me. I think there's also something to be said for emotion that has been suppressed for a long time--misery with a job, for instance. Tamp that strong feeling down hard enough, for long enough, and something's gonna burst out.

As I thought about it, though, I had to admit that I certainly don't feel intensely emotional every day when I sit down to write. (As if I wrote every day, ha! But that's another topic.) Far from it, alas. Most of the time--when it's going well--what I feel is something on a scale that could be labeled with "Misery" at one end and "Joy" at the other, and usually I'm somewhere toward the middle. Either I feel an inner eagerness to get something flowing out of my fingers, or I feel a kind of gritchy edginess that will turn to something worse if I can't get to work soon.

I have a dear friend who has been a professional writer for years and she says she has never felt unhappy before she starts writing, but I'll tell you that her family would disagree with that. :) They know what happens if events/people keep her away from her computer when she wants/needs to be there.

I'm not drawing firm conclusions here, or at least I don't think I am. I think maybe. . .maybe. . .the key is feelings, but they aren't always strong ones and they aren't always unpleasant ones. It's just that strong ones do seem to catapult a person into creativity sometimes, or at least they have done for me. At fairly rare times, I feel shot out of a canon. Most of the time I either feel pulled over to my computer by an invisible cord from my solar plexus, or pushed over to it by a nervous feeling that I have to get the words down NOW.

What's the point of pondering all this? I can only speak for moi. Partly, it's curiosity. Because I spend my life creating an apparent something out of apparent nothing, I'm deeply curious about where all that comes from, and how to keep it coming when it doesn't want to. Sometimes, I have used this information when I've been stuck, frozen, paralyzed, and I've been able to get the flow going again. Not always, but often enough to make me sit up and pay attention.

Lately, it's not working so well. But this conversation is giving me clues as to why, and once again, it's coming back to feeling--my characters' and my own. Who was it who said, "writing's easy. Just open a vein."? Indeed.

And a feelingful morning to you, one and all. :)


Nancy P said...

My joy yesterday came from finding a sale at a plant nursery. Clay pots for 25 cents, 55 cents, 75 cents! Big pretty plants for 99 cents!

And then there was the joy of a soaking rain right before it was time to dig and plant.


Anonymous said...

Joy is relative, isn't it? The main thing is, be content with small things. Like clay pots and pretty plants. :-) If you need to win the lottery to be happy, you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

I think intensity of emotion would have to play some part in creativity. I can't imagine an artist being ho-hum about their art. You have to dig so deep inside of you - reveal your soul - how could you do that half-heartedly?

While I don't plan on cutting off my ear, I do believe that if I wasn't passionate about my writing, it would show. Then again, you can't be on high emotion 100% of the time, or you'd exhaust yourself.

Maybe it's depth of emotion, instead of stregth, that we're talking about. Either way, you have to care about your art, else you end up with art that resembles auto supply catalogs. Although I'm sure they were GREAT, creative catalogs! :-) I wrote wood stove service manuals...

Anyway, the main thing is to keep pursuing that passion, be it at a slow stroll or an all-out sprint. In the end, it's what makes us happy, right?

I can't wait to get back to writing again - once these boxes are full.....

Nancy P said...

You wrote wood stove service manuals? lol! I was less ecologically sound, and wrote ads for gas and electrical appliances (and lawn mowers) for Western Auto, back in the day.

Do you know that most people use too much laundry soap and it leaves a soapy film on their clothes and bedding? Gospel, from the Large Appliance Manager. :)

Anonymous said...

(Beth runs to the laundry room and makes a new mark on her measuring cup.)

Wood stoves, gas stoves, pellet stoves - Quadra-Fire, one of the larger (and more environmentally friendly) stove lines in the country - but it was a job. If they made gas-guzzlin' SUVs, at that point I'd have written those manuals and taken the paycheck - ruefully, but taken it all the same.

Nancy P said...

Beware the Soap Film, lol.

"Passion" is a damn hard thing to sustain, ain't it? At the moment I'm "in like" with my work, instead of in love with it. But that'll come and go.

Jan Brogan said...

Hi Nancy,
I have a different take on the emotion/creativity thing. As a journalist, I'm trained to not even notice my mood when I have to sit down and write. But what I notice about fiction writing is that writing affects mood. In other words: good writing day, good mood. Bad writing day -- when I can't find my way out of scene or a paragraph - and I'm in a stuck mood all day. Sometimes I'll find myself in an especially good mood in the evening and I'll realize its because I had fun with a character that day.

Nancy P said...

Hi, Jan, welcome!

Oh, man, do I ever know whereof you speak. My college degree is in journalism, and I made my living for a long time doing strictly commercial stuff. There were a few assignments I just couldn't chug out, but mostly there's no time or luxury for moods or blocks, right? I had a hard time even believing in writer's block.

Things do change with fiction, they sure do. I, too, know that at the end of a day if I'm really happy, it's because of the writing. Period. Nothing else--NOTHING, I am nearly ashamed to say--makes me feel as good as a good day of writing.

Family Man said...

Hi Nancy, beth and jan.

My internet connection went out, and I've been working all day on it. I guess it's obvious I got it back. :)

Nancy when you said I couldn't wait to get up every morning and get at it reminded me of my job in the military. It was a cross between OSHA & EPA. I remember periods during my 20 years of doing this job that I couldn't wait to get into work. A lot of that motivation had to do with the people I worked with though. I had other offices I worked in that I dreaded going in everyday.

I've always dreamed of "working for myself", but I fear the closest I'll ever get to that, is to strive for perfection in slacking. :~)

Nancy P said...

family man, you could say you "don't work" for yourself, in a manner of speaking. You're smarter than any of us.

Glad you're back on line.:)

Nancy P said...

family man, don't read any further. Snake alert.

Geez louise, I have gone my whole life and had maybe seen one snake in the "wild"--not very wild, considering it was crossing a street and being assisted by helpful motorists. But I just now spied my second snake since Sunday, in me very own garden. The first was a garter snake. This is a big ol' rat snake coiled around the garden hose, with his head stuck in a vent where I suspect he is digesting dinner. Totally non-harmful to humans, but goodness gwacious, gave me another start, it did.

FARfetched said...

Wow, what a lot of reading to catch up on!

I have days like that with my technical writing job: sometimes, things just click and the instructions just flow. Those are the times I have to force myself to stop for what some places call a “health break.” Other days, it's like pushing a rope.

Nancy P said...

farfetched! We really missed you 'round here and other parts. I'm guessing you had a nice time, but I haven't had a chance to catch up with the news at your blog yet. Anyway, welcome back to the virtual world and to your home world. :)

"pushing rope" is a great description of some days. Other days, it's pulling a rope with a 2-ton truck at the other end of it.

boran2 said...

Hello all. An interesting discussion. Sorry to hear that things aren't flowing these days, Nancy.

Anonymous said...

Boran2, just read your blog - sorry about the poison ivy! I had my first case last summer - I ended up in the ER with a rash caused by drugs I was taking for a staph infection from a bug/snake/? bite, AND poison ivy blisters - all the result of trying to beautify a rental house in Charlottesville, VA. The doctors and nurses kept peeking behind the curtain at me and saying calming things like "Ick!" and "Oh my goodness!" and "What the heck happened to YOU?"

I feel your pain. Once I had the right drugs/creams, it took days for the swelling to go down, weeks for the rash/blisters to go away, and months for the scars to disappear. I'm sure yours will be much better...

But in the meantime, STOP SCRATCHING!

Nancy P said...

I itch just reading about boran2 and Beth!

Anybody besides me watch the new teevee series starring Glenn Close as a litagator? I thought it was good! At first, I wasn't sure, but by the end it got verrry interesting.

boran2 said...

Thanks, beth, sounds like good advice.