I’m a writer with a busy life. I don’t think I’m alone in that, either. I read other writers’ blogs, and discover that they have a plethora of occupations and hobbies besides writing, as well. Robin McKinley, for example, whose blog I religiously follow, is married, knits, rings bells, cooks, gardens, looks after more than one house, takes care of two dogs, blogs, reads, sings, plays the piano – and I’ve probably left plenty of things out. And all this besides writing her beautiful, lyrical fantasy novels.
My life is not quite so full, but even so, I do have a fair list of interests. The result of this is my inevitable writer’s guilt, which I’ve mentioned before. ‘Why,’ I ask myself, ‘can’t you just focus on writing, and not bother about how to achieve perfect tiramisu (among other things)?’
However, apparently I can’t stop bothering and just focus, no matter how much I harangue myself, so I’ve had to invent an approach to writing which allows me to do interesting things and simultaneously avoid the niggling accusation in the back of my mind. My solution is method writing.
|Yay for acting! Though maybe not behind these masks...|
I’ve always admired those actors who don their costumes when filming starts and then live in them until it ends, learn the language of the country where the movie is set, infiltrate the mafia so as to study its workings from within…Just kidding about the last one – I’m not sure anyone would be so foolish as to do that! Anyway, in short I find these actors’ dedication to verisimilitude refreshing and inspiring. I can’t help but think such a thorough commitment must really perfect their characterization of a role.
I also think they set a good example to writers. Acting and writing are not entirely different. In order to create characters on paper, the author's thought and imagination must shift between different personalities. She must identify herself with a huge cast inside her head, assuming their mannerisms and ideas. Similarly, an actor studies those imagined persons and identifies with them as well, though obviously for a different purpose.
Since such a parallel exists, a writer should be able to do something analogous
to method acting. If I want to write a story about a blind sculptor (which I did), then I
should be prepared to live without sight for a while, so that I can understand at
least a little of how the blind feel. In
fact, several years ago, I did blindfold myself for three days during a college
vacation, while my friends kept a wary eye on me. The experiment was quite a success, since I
learned that many of the things we do with eyes can be done perfectly well (even
if rather differently) with touch alone.
More importantly, I discovered that with blindness comes a change in the
perception of time, and a curious, exhausting intensity, since I was forced to
concentrate so fiercely on my other four senses for information.
|Proof of my experiment|
Now that is rather an extreme example, but hopefully you see my point. Basically I think that if you want to write about something, you should try to experience it first. Granted we could all just decide to write about our daily lives, rather than plunging into experiments for the sake of writing, but that seems rather small-minded. Besides, no inspiration has yet come to me for stories about my day-to-day occupation – teaching adolescent girls – so instead I’ve chosen to broaden my horizons.
I have the outline of a story planned, in which three teenage boys set out from New York, hoping to reunite one of them with his girlfriend in Idaho. They decide to drive, not realizing the inadequacy of their funds until they run out of gas and the car breaks down. For the rest of their epic journey, they scrape together money from this odd job or that, travel by train, meet random people in cities where the train stops, and generally grow into themselves thanks to their arduous labors. (I realize that this is a highly improbable plot, but it’s meant to be a foray into magical realism, so I’m okay with that.)
However, when I settled on this idea I’d never traveled by train in my life – nor had I extensively visited the states which lie between New York and my home. What was my obvious solution? Take a trip to NYC and then return via train (I skipped the working to pay my way part, though). I set off with Vasnefy for company and we had an amazing time, plus I gathered loads of personal research about train travel, the chain of cities and town connecting the two coasts of the USA, the landscape of North America, and the many interesting personalities who can be encountered when cooped up for hours in a narrow, moving compartment. The experience was invaluable, and when I start my novel, I’ll be able to pour into it memories which will make it more real and tangible, rather than a glib fantasy.
So what is my conclusion? Simple: the most effective way I’ve found to balance writing with the rest of my life and many interests is to integrate them. Instead of sectioning off writing into a small corner which nothing else can invade, I let it flow out to permeate my whole life. If I have a story set in an exotic location, I save up money so that eventually I can take a trip there. If I have a character who is a chef, I take up cooking extravagantly (much to my family and friends’ delight). If I have a character who is writing a memoir, I buy a journal and write his story in memoir format.
By committing yourself to ‘method writing,’ I find that you can enjoy an almost unlimited number of hobbies and vacations and jobs and events and people, etc., etc. The secret is to remember that any plot can be a doorway toward exploring a new avenue of experience, both as a writer and as a person.