I am an author. In my skewed semantical universe, this means someone has thought highly enough of my words to pay for them and/or to request me to write for them. I differentiate myself from a writer in that I am held accountable for what I do. This is not just a hobby for me; it’s a means of income.
Am I stuck on myself? Oh, probably. A certain amount of imperishable ego goes along with being a novelist, in my experience.
There is a considerable quantity of invisible baggage that trails a novelist. First, there is a mystique that I confess I don’t entirely understand. Maybe it is because when a novelist writes, their words go before perfect strangers to be analyzed and dissected and that takes a certain kind of bravery. (I am not lauding myself, honest. This is just a characteristic that I believe is shared by writers.) Perhaps it is the idea that we create realities alternate to our own that folks find fascinating. Or maybe that our minds are almost always at least partly somewhere else, if this is what we do with our lives.
Now, my friends and family know that I am always observing. For me, this is something I do consciously and purposefully, in full view of others. At a recent wedding, I went around writing hysterical quotes I heard around me. I am sure my friends got a little irritated/weirded out/confused as I slid my pen once again out of my purse and jotted (in execrable script) something I just heard, or sketched out an arrangement of a room to jog my memory. I try always to carry a journal with me, but I hadn’t had one on me at this wedding, so I was using a scratch pad to do all this. I was amused.
And I still have the notes.
But back to my tendency to consciously observe… May I confess to you that Sherlock Holmes is a hero of mine? His fictional mind is legendary – as is his detecting acumen – but he maintains to his closest friend Watson that really, what he (Holmes) does is observe. He sees and evaluates everything before making any conclusions. Minutiae are his friend.
When writing fiction, minutiae are also the writer’s friend. Tiny bits of realism that reach out from the page and catch the senses of a reader are highly valuable. Holmes is my example in this regard. He studies things with a steady, knowledgeable gaze. Going in pursuit of a fact or circumstance is commonplace for him – and this taking place in an age where the “going” had to be done with one’s own personal body, often on foot!
I study things. I take notes with a paper and pen. I have a huge collection of journals filled with observations as well as possible story ideas. Processing things through writing them is a highly recommended memory tool. (You didn’t think your teachers had you make notecards for their benefit, did you?) Sometimes, when I am feeling as if I am stuck in a chapter, I take time to go consciously observe, free from other obligations. Walking down the street, cataloguing details. Making wonton soup from scratch. Kneading bread. People watching in a store.
And copying down really good one-liners on twitter. Seriously. I just did that while writing this article.
Because, see, I write all the time. This is my life. When I hear something, see something, smell something, touch something unique and distinctive… I take note. With my own personal body, like Holmes did. I take what I experience, what I feel, and process it through my mind and put it into words.
That is what it’s all about. That is, I believe, the real mystique surrounding a novelist. We take the intangibles and put them into words. And that is a magic all its own.
Originally posted here, in December, 2010.