?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

100 Things Challenge (#1): A Chrysalis Is a Solitary Place (or How a Writer Is Born)

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

bread and puppet




"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

100 Things Challenge (#1): A Chrysalis Is a Solitary Place (or How a Writer Is Born)

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
sally
I've decided to take the 100 Things challenge. (Just what I need! Something else to add to my to-do list! Luckily I have forever to finish it, which those of you waiting for me to finish things can all attest is about how long it usually takes.)




(Here is more about the 100 Things Blogging Challenge, for those of you who are interested.)

The topic I've chosen is writing. Posts will likely take the shape of personal musings on what it means to be a writer, what I've learned about how to be an effective one, what I've learned about being an ineffective one, and what it means to teach others about writing.

Since this is the first post, it's good to start at the beginning. I've often thought about how or why I became a writer. For the longest time, I thought that everyone was like me and made up stories and people in their heads. It wasn't until I was a young adult and honestly asked a few people, "Do you do this too?" that I realized that, no, most people do not.

So why me? A lot of my flist come from brilliant families; their parents are highly educated, creative, or artistic people. It makes sense that they would be the same. I didn't come from a family like this. Both of my parents went to vocational school; my mom had some community college. Neither have much interest in intellectual or artistic pursuits, yet my sister and I both turned out artsy-geeky types. So there goes Nature--it must be Nurture then, right?

I think it is. When I think about it, I've been "training" as a writer my whole life. I had very few friends or playmates when I was young. I spent most of my time in my imagination, playing with people I made up. My sister and I used to construct fairly elaborate shared imaginative worlds. Some of them were based on TV shows, but most of them we made up straight out of our heads. (Confession: I still have imaginary friends. Only--now that Sharon and I are an ocean apart--it's Bobby who talks to them with me.)

The thing is that this wasn't a choice. Elfling!Dawn didn't make the decision one day to sequester herself in the name of her Art; I was ostracized by my peers and none of the adults in my life really gave a shit to do anything about it (even to reassure me that it wasn't a measure of my actual worth, lest someone misunderstand this post as advocacy of helicopter parenting). That's something I've wrangled with for years now: That one of the most painful points in my life forged what I consider to be not only a key part of my identity but also one of my favorite parts of my identity. I do sometimes wonder: What if someone had cared? What if I'd had normal social relationships growing up? Where would I be now? Am I better off now because I was allowed to suffer when I was younger?

And it's not just me: Over the years, in talking to other writers, many of them report similar experiences as children. That doesn't mean it's universal, but it does seem to be a dominant experience, at least among the writers I've talked to.

Because I like [over]thinking about these things, I think that social isolation works in a couple of ways to the writer make. One is that solitude affords more opportunity for observation of everything, and just-right details in a story can make the difference between something that feels real and something that doesn't. As a child, I immersed myself in nature. Not surprisingly, natural descriptions fill my writing. Solitude also allows for exploration, both in terms of actual and literary/intellectual experiences. While exploring nature, I learned a lot about it. Not surprisingly, my stories also contain these kinds of tidbits, things that my peers never had the chance to learn.

I remain almost pathologically hypersensitive to nonverbal cues people give in social situations. I believe this comes from having to be on the defensive against cruelty from peers. Enough people tell me that my strength as a writer is my characters that I've come to believe them, and I think that comes from having watched people all of my life, more often as an outsider trying to assess whether it is safe to ease into a friendship. (I believe I studied psychology for the same reason: It provided a language to describe and a way to attach meaning to behavior.) Even now, as a relatively functional adult, I have to stop myself from overthinking or overanalyzing people's behavior as it relates to me. (This is less true online; in the almost complete absence of nonverbal behavior online, I am not surprisingly very comfortable.)

There's also the empathy factor: I'm inclined to look for reasons for behavior rather than pass judgment upon it. So when I started thinking about Fëanor, for example, I didn't think about what his misdeeds represented in a literary sense; I didn't think about the morality or immorality of his actions. I thought about why he might have committed them. From that, stories like Another Man's Cage were born.

Then there is the obvious fact that making up stories is something to do with one's time in the absence of anything better to do. I also wonder if kids like I was don't make up imaginary friends as a way of practicing social behavior in the absence of ... well, actual opportunities to practice in social situations.

Even now, as an adult with a husband and friends--real ones!--I need solitude in order to write properly. Times like now when I am constantly on the go and constantly interacting with people in various ways mean a dearth of creativity. When I walk in the woods or stand on the edge of the sea; when I allow my thoughts to turn inside out--only then do the muses come, as though they were frightened away long ago from humankind.



This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

http://dawn-felagund.dreamwidth.org/293736.html
  • Did you really, absolutely have to give me an idea for the 100 things challenge??? Hmpf.
  • Most people do not?

    The strangest thing is I don't think I looked properly at that little reality before. No, of course they don't. My husband doesn't. My eldest daughter doesn't - my closest friends don't, I'm pretty sure. The other kids got tired of making up and acting out stories (role play?), but I never did. But - I never gave it conscious thought before.

    There's a thoughtful note to end the night on. Thank you :)
    • Nor did I until a few years ago. I don't even know how the realization hit me, but I remember asking my mom if she made up stories in her head and being surprised when she said no (especially since, if there was any Nature in my becoming a writer/artist, I'm sure it came from her).

      It's just a default part of who I am ... or that's how it seems. And it is almost sad to imagine life without other worlds shimmering beyond our own, visible in the smallest and most mundane of objects and incidents. It's like seeing the world in color and then learning that, for everyone else, it's black-and-white.
  • I recognize a lot of this stuff. My two younger sisters and I had a rich fantasy life which included shared worlds. We drew enormous complicated story pictures together on sheets of butcher paper. (I cannot frigging believe that my parents saved none of those--neither can my sisters. They were epic!) Mainly, but not entirely, I was the inventor of our worlds. I was also the quietest one of the three of us. (I can hear all of our shared online friends laughing at me as I type this.) I was not the talker I am now. I really was shy outside of my family circle until well into my mid-teens. I was Hermione in school, but one who did not talk outside of the classroom.

    I found privacy in abundance in a family as big and boisterous as I write the Feanorians. (That is why your AMC resonated for me. That was my family in a lot of ways.) There were always quiet isolated corners in the big old house where I grew up and mountains of great books--all the classics and more.

    When I overcame my social awkwardness in my late teens and early 20s people used to tease me and tell me I talked liked I was writing.

    My family was working class, but read like maniacs and discussed what they read as a matter of course--at the dinner table, sitting around in the evening, in the back yard or on the front porch in the summer. I think you and I were not all that dissimilar as children, but the causes might have been different.
    • I was not the talker I am now. I really was shy outside of my family circle until well into my mid-teens.

      That was me too. I was very shy as a kid; I assumed no one was interested in what I had to say, so I didn't say much to those I didn't know very well. The first time I met Bobby's family (I was 14), his mother later commented to mine how quiet I was. My mom howled at that! Anyone who knew me well knew that I wasn't quiet at all. My future inlaws eventually learned this too. ;)

      As you know, I'm not very shy now. I was talking to one of my classes today about being shy, and one of my students couldn't believe I used to be shy, as (he pointed out) I'm nothing of the sort anymore. It's very hard to be a shy teacher, though. :)

      But, still, when in big groups--particularly big groups where I don't know most people--I still prefer to sit back and listen and observe. I have trouble in groups getting a word in edgewise. I'm very self-conscious about interrupting, so I always wait just a beat too long before speaking up, and someone else jumps in.

      The first step for me in becoming more outgoing was my first job, at the ice cream restaurant. I had to speak to people--to strangers!--all the time there. When I was a trainer, I had to have enough chatter to put my sometimes shy trainees at ease and dispel those awkward silences. The rest followed from there.

      My family was working class, but read like maniacs and discussed what they read as a matter of course

      My family didn't read at all. Okay ... my dad read PC World on the toilet (still does!). Only he doesn't read the articles; he only looks at the ads. My mom wanted to start reading so I loaned her some books that I thought were a nice balance between being highly entertaining and having some literary quality (e.g., Memoirs of a Geisha), but she hasn't--to the best of my knowledge--picked them up. She doesn't even read stuff written by my sister and me, when we've been published.

      For some reason, though, my mom read to my sister and me from infancy onward, until we could read for ourselves. Reading became a survival strategy for us when dragged into boring adult outings. Even now, it's a comfort almost. If I'm bored, I'll read anything, even the nutrition information on the side of a cereal box. At school sometimes, I'll take a book off the shelf in my classroom library and take it to lunch, even if I know I won't be able to read more than a few pages. Reading is one of the most relaxing things I can imagine doing. (Reading on the beach is probably the most relaxing thing!)
    • (no subject) - dawn_felagund - Expand
  • Now this is interesting. I must admit that I never really thought about writing, I've been a reader and writer all of my life, but I've never considered myself a good storyteller. My best friend was/is a writer. She carries a notebook everywhere with her and writes every spare minute that she has.

    But I was an only child and, as the child of Holocaust survivors, a bit of an outcast and not really good in social situations. My imagination worked overtime, my self-conversations were and are always ongoing, and I plunged myself into my music as deeply as I could.

    When I went to college I got a degree in archaeology because it was dealing with dead people and their cultural remains - again, I didn't have to interact with real people, thus avoiding uncomfortable social situations. And when I entered the working world (because archaeology actually ended up to have more personal interactions than I felt comfortable with), I worked with computers, word processors and teletype machines - again avoiding uncomfortable social situations.

    Opening my own store forced me out into the world. I began to create jewelry, began to establish myself within my chosen community, and finally began to branch out. And...discovered that I liked writing. It wasn't fiction - it was freelance work and technical writing, but I enjoyed it and even if I never got rich, the little bit of extra money was welcome.

    A few short years ago I began putting my toe into the large waters of fiction writing and started dog paddling in the deeper water. I've sometimes been swamped by a wave, and other times had water wings sent my way, but I'm sticking with it. For better or worse, now I can honestly say that I want to be a writer.

    I'm a slow learner. It took most of forty years to come to this conclusion and I figure I have about twenty years, maximum, to achieve my goal :-) At least it will be a fun ride.

    - Erulisse (one L)
    • I've never considered myself a good storyteller.

      Nor do I. I suck at plot (and this is in no way an invitation to argue with me otherwise! :) For me, writing arises from the people in the story; the plot will follow. It's the "throw two people into a room together and see what happens" theory, as I like to call it. If I succeed as a writer, I think it's more to do with being able to perceive and communicate something that feels real about the people in the story; after that, I believe the most mundane of plots will capture many readers' attentions.

      I didn't have to interact with real people, thus avoiding uncomfortable social situations.

      It's funny because I started as a biology major in uni and then switched to psychology, in part because I missed the human element. (Besides that I think the main reason I excelled in science had more to do with my verbal skills than having a scientific brain; I was good at memorizing the reams of vocabulary required in biology because I naturally grasped root words, something that I didn't realize when I was young and bound and determined to become a biologist.) My year as a freelance writer is best described as lonely. At the same time, I need time away from people (except for my husband, who is by now enough an extension of myself that being with him is the same as being by myself ... and strange as that sounds, it is a compliment! Which he knows. :) If I'm around people too much, I become quite crazy: anxious and slightly manic and wild.

      Like you, I learned to be near people by working in retail, at an ice cream restaurant. In addition to interacting with customers and coworkers, I was a trainer, so I had to sustain chatter with new employees who were likely nervous and even quieter than me!

      For better or worse, now I can honestly say that I want to be a writer.

      I never had a choice. :) I tried to give up writing for about a year-and-a-half. Insomnia was the result of that little experiment!
  • I've been thinking about doing that challenge; I have an idea for it, but not quite sure I want to because it's personal. I love yours! (Beyond that, I can't say. I'm too braindead right now. Sorry. :( )
    • Now that I'm no longer braindead…

      I, too, think being ostrasized has a part in creativity and imagination. If no one will play with you (my sister and I didn't always get along, and we've both been happy to do our own things), you have to make things up to entertain yourself.

      I remain almost pathologically hypersensitive to nonverbal cues people give in social situations. […] Even now, as a relatively functional adult, I have to stop myself from overthinking or overanalyzing people's behavior as it relates to me.

      Yep. And full-fledged social anxiety just makes that worse, even online.

      Solitude. Always solitude. :D
  • Wow, I've thought about it before and been amazed that not everyone has stories in their heads, but to actually see it written down here makes it more depressing somehow.

    It's depressing in my world at any rate, probably because I've been starting to realize that my creative urge and my depression are negatively correlated. I started writing again two years ago, after going two years without writing anything in a prolonged fit of angst. Not bothering to write then was a mistake which I hope not to repeat.

    And, I had to reply to a snippet from your comment to Oshun:
    But, still, when in big groups--particularly big groups where I don't know most people--I still prefer to sit back and listen and observe. I have trouble in groups getting a word in edgewise. I'm very self-conscious about interrupting, so I always wait just a beat too long before speaking up, and someone else jumps in.

    Yes, this! My sense of timing is different than most people's evidently, my sense of a polite pause more ample, and I'm forever getting beat to the punch just before I open my mouth.
    • I've also noticed a correlation between creativity and mood. I write best when hypomanic; I find it easier to descend into that "crazy place" in my mind where I can let go of enough inhibitions to write honestly and, therefore, really tap into something meaningful (or hopefully meaningful :). When depressed, the best I can usually manage is angsty poetry, if provoked.

      What I think would be interesting to see is if I can generate a positive mood by writing: Can replicating the creative state generated by a positive mood itself produce a positive mood? Or is it one-way only? (The psychology of inspiration fascinates me. :)

      My sense of timing is different than most people's evidently, my sense of a polite pause more ample, and I'm forever getting beat to the punch just before I open my mouth.

      Isn't that so frustrating? I'm not a very competitive person to start. I prefer to collaborate rather than fight others to be heard. I'm just not comfortable feeling as though I'm shutting others down, with the result that I am often myself shut down, and my ideas aren't heard. Grr.
  • This sounds a chord with me. I had a very solitary childhood and immersed myself in books and the characters became very real to me and I used to tell myself stories about them. I still need solitude and like being with my characters, though nowadays it is Aragorn and Faramir, rather than the Famous Five !
    • I did the same--tell myself stories about characters I liked. It was sort of a primitive and unwritten version of fan fiction. :) Or I'd invent OCs, often inspired by other characters in TV and books. I wonder how many young writers really get their start this way: imagining stories in the worlds created by other writers? That'd be an interesting question to research, imo. :)
  • One is that solitude affords more opportunity for observation of everything, and just-right details in a story can make the difference between something that feels real and something that doesn't. As a child, I immersed myself in nature. Not surprisingly, natural descriptions fill my writing. Solitude also allows for exploration, both in terms of actual and literary/intellectual experiences. While exploring nature, I learned a lot about it. Not surprisingly, my stories also contain these kinds of tidbits, things that my peers never had the chance to learn.

    I remain almost pathologically hypersensitive to nonverbal cues people give in social situations. I believe this comes from having to be on the defensive against cruelty from peers. Enough people tell me that my strength as a writer is my characters that I've come to believe them, and I think that comes from having watched people all of my life, more often as an outsider trying to assess whether it is safe to ease into a friendship


    Dawn, you could be writing of me. This is me to the life.
    Although I had 'nurture' I wonder now, if being surrounded by a clan of intelligent and well-read teachers both helped me and made me shy of sharing anything I did with them writing-wise, since I was forever comparing myself to them.

    But, on the other hand, I absorbed so much. I would go for long walks with a grandfather or uncle or aunt, and they would tell me about plants, animals, birds, the weather, the land, and how it was formed. I can't avoid writing about nature, the land, plants, the weather etc, as I observed so much as a child, and still do.

    I am also very aware of non-verbal clues to the point that I get paranoid if I think I am unwelcome, or boring some-one.

    I made up stories in my head long before I wrote them. I used to go for walks a lot on my own before I was ten. In the summer I would be off over the fields by 4.30 in the morning. Usually they were nature-based stories about animals, and later with people.

    Edit:

    (except for my husband, who is by now enough an extension of myself that being with him is the same as being by myself ... and strange as that sounds, it is a compliment! Which he knows. :)

    This too. Before Kev, my b/f's took me away from writing, and part of me resented it. Living with a nerd was the way to go for me; although Kev does not write, he plays games, so he liked the fact that I didn't demand his attention, and vice versa.

    Edited at 2012-04-17 10:07 am (UTC)
    • made me shy of sharing anything I did with them writing-wise, since I was forever comparing myself to them

      Although it is my pet theory that insecurity tends to lead to better writers than confidence. At least, the really good writers I know tend to be insecure and constantly comparing themselves to others; the really awful writers I've known are the ones who are sure they're destined to be bestsellers. ;)

      I get paranoid if I think I am unwelcome, or boring some-one.

      That's me too. My husband is the exact opposite; he is very gregarious and has always had a lot of friends. I don't assume that anyone wants to be friends or is interested in me. (This is offline; online is a different ball of cheese. :) As a result, I tend not to make friends easily, although I have a lot of people with whom I am cordial or friendly. I also become hyper-cognizant when people interrupt or talk over me or don't listen; I assume that means they're not interested when I'm probably reading too much into it. I avoid those people.

      he liked the fact that I didn't demand his attention, and vice versa.

      That's Bobby too. We have dinner together, then go our separate ways for about two hours, then reconvene for the last hour before bed to watch a movie or read together.
  • I remember we talked about this several years ago (oh my, time flies!). I also remember one of your great comments: "It is no wonder that the adults [those who do not imagine/dream] are boring/bored".

    I've always made little stories in my head, long before I started writing. I always loved imagining. But when I was rebuked for that a few times, I simply stopped mentioning it - until I met Alen. I could talk about everything with him and share my dream-worlds with him, and you know well from your own experience how much this means to me.

    From what I can see, it seems to me that those "serious, responsible adults" think that all those who fantasize are childish persons incapable of taking real-life responsibilities. Why? Why would that be true? Why would making stories/imaginary worlds stop you from being a great teacher, or someone else being good in his/her work? *sigh*
    • I'd actually go so far as to argue that it's dangerous to hamper creativity or imagination. That we live in a world where maturity is equated with never interacting with anything beyond the reality right in front of one's nose--and doing that only as superficially as possible--is scary to me. You control so much of a person when you limit their thoughts in that way.

      It's an immensely powerful thing, I think, to be able to imagine yourself as someone else, which you often must do when writing a story. It requires seeing other perspectives, considering other views of reality, and developing empathy. Of course, this is inconvenient for some interests, but I think the world would be a better place if more people bothered to do this.
  • It wasn't until I was a young adult and honestly asked a few people, "Do you do this too?" that I realized that, no, most people do not.

    This is such a truth! It's difficult for me to remember that not everyone does this since I have spent most of my life surrounded by people who are artistic/creative. Even my husband has trouble understanding my need to sit and write sometimes. He thinks it's something I can just pull out when I get the urge. While sometimes that is the case, I personally need to write as a way of self-care.

    I really relate with the last paragraph of your post. Yet, I know that without the constant interaction I have at work and with family, I am likely to retreat into solitude. While it can infringe upon my creative time, I need to remove myself from my muses to be human.
    • He thinks it's something I can just pull out when I get the urge. While sometimes that is the case, I personally need to write as a way of self-care.

      I've gotten pretty good at being able to write when I need to. I'm not very good at suppressing the need when it comes suddenly upon me. ;) Your note about writing as self-care is relevant to me as well. As a young person, I had terrible insomnia. As I got older, I eventually came to realize that the insomnia came about because I was telling myself stories all night. Writing them down effectively cleared my head, and I became a more functional person.

      I need to remove myself from my muses to be human.

      That's so true. I could see myself becoming a hermit quite easily. But I do enjoy people and working with people, I think I'm pretty good as a teacher, and ultimately, it is that human interaction that I think makes my stories effective, because I am able to write realistic characters. Also, interacting with people reminds me of the greater purpose that art can serve in making the world a better place for humankind, which is something I believe in strongly. So it is ultimately more healthy for me creatively, too, I think.
  • Thank you for sharing this!
    One hundred posts about writing?
    It will be very interesting to see where you go with this project.
  • *nods* I recognize a lot of me in your post, if not all of it.

    And yes, it's quite likely that social solitude contributed a great deal to my own interest in reading, writing and stories...

    Really great food for thought!

    I'm glad you did this. It gave me the momentum to do it too.
  • When I walk in the woods or stand on the edge of the sea; when I allow my thoughts to turn inside out--only then do the muses come, as though they were frightened away long ago from humankind.

    Heh. My muse is right there yammering in my head when I drive by the Stata Center on the MIT campus or gaze at the Boston skyline while inching along in traffic on the Mass Ave bridge. Mine is right there in the hustle and bustle of humankind.

    On solitude and imagination. Yes, there's something to that. I was the youngest kid of three, and my two older siblings were much older than me (by 10 and 15 years), so in some senses, I was functionally an only child. I also grew up on a farm where I experienced more solitude than many of my peers. Hence, I entertained myself by reading voraciously and with a lot of imaginative play, including making up stories in my head that I would then act out with me as the main character - often a coyote or a fox! I was obsessed with wild canids. I had little stories circulating in my neural networks long before I could write. My first fan fiction was based on Thorton Burgess' Old Mother West Wind series. I scrawled and illustrated little stories when I was about 6 or 7.

    I could attribute my keen interest in the natural world and my ability to observe on growing up on the farm in relative solitude, but I think this is also how my brain is wired, i.e., to look deeply into things. My brain is also wired to be gregarious, to seek out others' company and their thoughts. So there's a dichotomy at work here: I have characteristics of an extrovert, but I also need to recharge in solitude. I don't mind being alone at all, but I also like being around people.

    As an aside, I'd also like to (emphatically) point out that many of us who pursue scientific disciplines like biology, chemistry, physics, and the like (as opposed to "people" oriented psychology) are not retiring introverts. This is something of a stereotype. On the contrary, I count myself among a number of science-oriented folks who are rather outgoing (Club V was chock full of ENTJs), and I was like that as a kid, too.

    As for solitude and writing, it depends. Sometimes solitude is an absolute requirement for me when I write. Other times, there's plenty of activity swirling around me. Again, the dichotomy.

    We've talked about the sideways brain thing, and I know I have that in spades. ;^) It definitely plays into storytelling.

    Edited at 2012-04-20 03:07 pm (UTC)
  • I also used to assume everyone had stories (and worlds, and characters) in their heads. Then one day very recently, when talking to my mother about my last bout of insomnia, she sat down with me and said that if I ever needed to relax myself to sleep, I could immerse myself in a meditation exercise. That exercise turned out to be exactly what I do every time I want to write a story scene - or just think of one, which I do all the time. What is, for her, a whole exercise in centering oneself, is for me a reflex.

    It was kind of shocking to me that she didn't do it all the time in the course of just thinking. I've asked her about writing, also, and she seems very interested in writing something about her experiences, but it doesn't seem to occur to her to make things or people up for it.

    My approach to story seems to be world-based. I never had imaginary friends - but I did have entire worlds in my head. Like you, I was not welcome in my social settings and didn't have many friends, so I had plenty of time to develop these worlds. This was compounded by being alone at home most of the time too (my mother was always at work, and I wasn't allowed to leave the house), so if I wasn't making up my own worlds and characters, I was reading about them, or playing an RPG. I'm thinking a ten year old with friends wouldn't bother to sit down and write her own Fear Street novel. There'd be better things to do.
    • Fear Street! That's a blast from the past! I think I read every one of them up to a certain point. I loved those.

      It's interesting that your approach to fiction is world-based. I ramble on in another of these 100 Things posts about plot- versus character-based approaches. Now there's a third that I hadn't even considered! (It shows how much I know beyond what goes on in my own headspace. :^P)

      I had insomnia for many years because of making up stories in my head. I eventually realized that if I wrote them down, then the insomnia went away. I think that was probably when I realized that being a writer was a significant part of my identity.

      she seems very interested in writing something about her experiences, but it doesn't seem to occur to her to make things or people up for it.

      Whereas I don't really prefer to write about myself at all, except in this journal, of course. Even when I'm wrangling with stuff in life, it sometimes helps to assign the same or similar problem to someone fictional and let them figure it out!
Powered by LiveJournal.com