Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Solitary (Sometimes) Writer

The popular notion is that writing is a solitary endeavor. And in most senses it is. Even when it involves co-authors, and I’m personally acquainted with a pair of sisters and a mother-son duo, the writers work alone except when discussing the story. I’m a little different.

I occasionally work on a book in my above-the-garage bonus room office. That’s where my mystery novel collection resides, plus reference books, PC, printers and scanner. You’d think this hideaway would be a more friendly location for the creative muse. However, it also harbors more distractions, more opportunities to find something besides writing to occupy my time.

For one thing, there’s email. As I’m working on this piece, that enticing female voice keeps breaking in to announce “Mail truck.” It only takes a quick click of the mouse to switch to the email program.

Okay, I’m back now. I just checked into the latest flurry of posts on Murder Must Advertise about whether to ignore the pain of knocking your head against a brick wall by querying agents or go the small press route. Unfortunately, that’s not the subject of this article, so back to the current program.

When I’m writing a book, I do most of it on my laptop. I don’t use the email program there unless I’m out of town. So no mail trucks running around. I also don’t keep it up in my office but down in the living room. I sit in my recliner beside my wife’s identical chair. I used to fight that accursed finger-flicking cursor control but finally bought a USB mouse. I use the chair arm as a mouse pad. Works great.

Sitting there I face the TV hardly a dozen feet away, and most of the time my wife or grandson has it on. Does it bother me? Nah. I started my writing career as a newspaper reporter back in the days of manual typewriters. There was no librarian around shushing people. With the clatter of typewriters and people talking on telephones and city editors yelling for somebody to hurry up, you either learned to block it out or got another job.

I can concentrate on what I’m writing and have no idea what’s being said on the TV or by my wife beside me, which sometimes irritates her. The only thing that really bugged me as a newspaper reporter was writing an important story on deadline. The city editor would stand behind me, grabbing pages out of the typewriter as fast as I wrote them. I wanted to say “get the hell out from behind me if you want this thing finished.” But I was young back then with no feeling of importance so suffered through it.

It follows then that my writing is solitary from the standpoint that I’m the only one punching the keys on the computer. But I’m in the midst of things as far as the household goes. My friend Tim Hallinan does his writing in a coffee shop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It’s probably a lot like my situation, though maybe not as noisy.

If you can stand the heat, get in the kitchen…uh, living room.

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