Writing in my head

When you announce to the world that you’re going to be an artist, the world responds with, “That’s nice, dear. What will you do for money?” The received wisdom is that every artist needs a fallback job, something that will pay the bills when art doesn’t. The same is said to writers.

This week I’ve been working at my fallback job. It’s pottery. Yup, that’s right – the writer’s fallback job is art, at which I earned a living for over ten years. I’m officially weird now. But the fact is that I know I can sell pottery. I have a show coming in September; the weather being what it’s been lately – damp – I need all the time I can get to let the work dry.

What I’m making is stuff I’ve already taught my hands to do. When I start making something new, my brain is fully engaged with it. After I’ve done it a few dozen times, I can safely leave most of the work to my hands. That leaves my brain free for writing. This week I’ve worked out some things about The Swan Harp in my head, and when I get back to full-time writing on Monday, I’ll have a few thousand words lined up and ready to go.

I know I gripe about people who only want to talk about what they want to write, and never get down to it. Butt in the chair, pointy end of the pen on the paper, get on wi’ t’job, right? Writing in the head is different from writing with the mouth. I’m not telling everyone, “Yeah, I have this great idea for a story where this guy…” I’m puzzling over difficulties in the text, character development, timeline, all things that I’ve been talking about with my readers. I’m preparing.

When I first started writing for radio, I found it extremely frustrating, not to say infuriating, that David figured if I wasn’t typing, I wasn’t writing, and he could talk to me. To be fair, both of us were still working out how to live with this whole writing thing, and to top it off, he had to figure out how to live with me while I learned to live with writing. But there were a few – um – discussions while we sorted out that even when I wasn’t actually typing I was still working.

I also have a hard time doing nothing – that is, sitting still and thinking. I need to have something to do with my hands. Knitting, embroidery and pottery are all good because a certain amount of it is on autopilot. The brain looks in now and then, but the hands and eyes take care of most of it.

By the time I get back to being able to write full-time, which looks form here like Monday, I’ll be rarin’ to go on the novel again, and glad to feel that way. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the different gear, and the pleasure of having my hands back in the clay.

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