Addicted to Writing

What’s an author to do when her latest revision is out with beta readers? I’ve cleaned out a filing cabinet, swept a patio, written thank-you notes, read a novel, done a Sudoku puzzle (more than one, actually), but lordy, after a week, I need to be back at my desk. Am I crazy? Why can’t I stop writing? Why does one morning producing the most mundane of sentences give me a greater sense of satisfaction than anything I’ve done all week?

They really are mundane, these sentences. First a blank page, then dribble. Starting from scratch. Again.

Used to be that I found math especially rewarding. The orderliness of it… the patterns… the equations and solutions and diagrams and 2-D illustrations of 3-D objects and later calculus and its functions and measurements of x as y approaches infinity… but I started to wonder, why am I doing this? The deeper I went into n-dimensional constructs with no interest in becoming an engineer or physicist, I got kind-of lost. Know what someone has said is the difference between philosophy and theoretical mathematics? Philosophy is a game with objectives and no rules, and pure math is a game with rules and no objectives.

I like objectives. I like thinking that my writing process might some day lead to another published novel or short story or essay. But I suppose that if I didn’t love the process, if I didn’t have to write in order to feel good about a day, if I could do something else and experience the satisfaction I get from writing, I would do something else. Problem is, I’ve tried a number of things (paralegal, teacher, administrator, community volunteer), and nothing fulfills me the way writing does.

writing down the bonesFor years now, long since abandoning math as a focus, I’ve started each day with pen and paper—old-fashioned cursive (Natalie Goldberg calls it “writing practice”)—and have seen little money come my way because of it. I don’t do it for the money. I do it because the process of stacking words (not numbers) on top of each other—letting them loose, running them across a page, sending them through a field or up a tree or into a moldy basement or down a river or around a bend—makes me feel whole.

Sometimes my writing is good and sometimes awful, but either way, it happens and the result is that a place deep inside me, a place I can’t put a name to, can’t find a word for, can’t grasp in a tight fist, seems to smile. Maybe a biologist would say that writing causes my body to release endorphins—life’s little stress-relievers. Maybe she’d say that bits of dopamine and serotonin and oxytocin are now swimming through my blood-oxygen. Yeah, well, whatever, right? To the nonscientific, the not-a-biologist here, those are just words.

But that spot deep inside me? It’s glowing. Pulsing. Breathing. I can feel it. I’m all gushy-warm inside, and the only thing I want is to keep writing. Just let me put down another word… another phrase… another sentence… another paragraph…

I’ve turned off the Internet and abandoned my cell phone somewhere in the house, its ringtone set to vibrate. I hope no one presses the doorbell, no one peeks through a window to see I’m still wearing PJs even though the sun’s been up for a while. Remind me later to eat, okay? Right now, all I want-desire-need-yearn for-salivate over-crave is more writing time. I guess I’m addicted. No apologies.

16 thoughts on “Addicted to Writing”

  1. I love this! I understand. Riffling thru some old scribbles a few days ago- hunting for gold. A writing teacher suggested highlighting for choice sentences. Sometimes I find a nugget, sometimes I shred the junk.

    The mystery of why we like writing the most? I think it’s creative process. It’s more than thinking, it’s more than feeling, it’s more than imagining. It’s all that and we’re doing it in another world. In a blog I refer to a Donna Tartt interview – she talks about getting to live in another world. . We make new worlds and we get to live in them. That may not be true for every writer. It fits for me.
    Thanks for your words.They reminded me of why I choose writing over other activities.

  2. Yes — the creative process. We’re born to create, aren’t we? And it’s so much more than thinking, more than feeling — so true, Lenore. And so hard to articulate (even when you’re a writer, ha, ha)!

    1. Yep, the knowledge often drifts around. You know when you’re there. Painting, music, writing all have this quality. My father was a painter and a poet. He used to say “I walk around in my own personal fog.” That sums it up!

  3. I totally get that fog. I’m in it a lot — especially when I’m doing a task I don’t particularly like, such as cleaning or cooking. Many of my uber-creative friends and family members happen to love to cook, but as hard as I’ve tried to feel the love, I’ve failed. Often huge chunks of time will disappear while I’m in a fictional world… cookbook open on the counter, paring knife in my hand, but I’m a thousand miles away. Then something causes me to glance at the clock, and I realize I’ll never get the dish ready by the time I’d hoped we’d eat. Oh, well. I loved the fog while I was in it.

    1. You haven’t failed on cooking. Your/our brains just aren’t that interested in cooking. For lunch I open a can of organic beans, half a can in microwave, a thrown together salad and a hunk of cheese. Repeat for dinner. Once I got so into what I was working on that I suddenly realized I was still standing in the shower. Luckily I noticed I hadn’t rinsed out the shampoo. OMG I said, this has got to stop! HA.

  4. Hahahaha. Yes, showers are fabulous places for inspiration and insight. That’s a great story.

    My husband is super creative (he doesn’t write fiction, but does other projects), and he once told me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but the best day for me would be one spent entirely alone, working on something I was designing, and occasionally, someone would slide a plate of food under my door.” He’s such an introvert! Hahaha. But I understood, and married him anyway, and still love the way he can disappear into a project for hours at a time. More than he knows, he’s helped me develop the discipline necessary to finish a novel. There is a lot to be said for “writing practice,” for showing up at the page. Creativity happens when we allow it to happen.

    1. Reynolds Price taught at Duke for over 40 years. His prose was lovely. On NPR when asked how he stayed so prolific, here was his reply – if you show up at your desk at 9 am every day your imagination will show up, too. Be consistent when possible.

      Yes, some of what we’re “talking” about applies to other “creatives.” I grew up with my parents’ art school friends, and in my family: painters, jewelry makers, musicians and writers, so that’s my frame of reference. I’m sure that description would fit your husband, too.

  5. For both objectives and rules, learn other languages! Like you, I used to love mathematics, but when I started Spanish classes in middle school, it seemed like everything I was looking for…except the memorizing vocabulary part. Anyway, I too am between projects with one out to beta readers and nothing that really grabs me to work on next. (Oh, how I wish Sexy Next Book had tempted me during the last one!) Well, there’s always blogging.

    1. What about too many Sexy Next Books? I have a first manuscript that won’t leave the drawer without a rewrite. Also an unfinished short story ms. Want to send out 4th. ms only after finishing touches. Trying to rein in impatience and finish WIP.

      In a year I’ll probably be in your spot – where is the next project hiding?

      Feast or famine.

  6. Ah, yes… other languages. I’ve enjoyed languages, too, but haven’t traveled enough to become bilingual. I love that some of your projects, Lyn, have been translations. All the best in figuring out your next project…

  7. Thank you, Kris! Yes — go run those words up a tree, or out onto a clothes line. And when the line gets too heavy and it sinks so low that it touches the grass, well… you’ll need to string up a new line. Or send the words through a fiber-optic cable under the ocean, or sauté them in garlic with a dash of salt. Just keep them coming, coming, coming…

    1. Oh, my, you might have something there. Running words up a tree or out onto a clothesline. Fun to play with those images, plus garlic and fiber-optic.

      What a juicy mix.

        1. Recently I asked for a dream when I couldn’t see what a new character would be like. I only knew I wanted another character. There he was in silhouette, dancing, similar to a puppet dancing. Boy magical genius. Once I could see him I knew who he’d be, of course he’s more developed as I write him.

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