The answer to that is simple: of course not.
Writers are the same as everyone else, with the same joys and sorrows, dreams and fears. We have jobs, friends, family, stresses and pressures, bills to pay, decisions to make, homes to keep in (some) order, free time and holidays, maybe cars and gardens to maintain. We experience inclement weather, train delays, industrial action or political change just as everyone else. Being a writer doesn’t mean the river Thames won’t flood into your back garden.
We’re not celebrities (well, most of us aren’t). We live our lives in obscurity and rarely get recognised in the street because of the job we do.
But there’s one small area where we do differ from others: we’re always working.
A writer friend told me once that she was lying on her bed staring at the ceiling when her husband walked in and asked her a mundane household question.
Enraged, she snapped, “Oh, go away, I’m working!”
“But… but you’re just lying there,” he replied, nonplussed.
“Yes, I’m working. In my head.”
I nod with recognition at this scenario. I never switch off either, not even at night. That’s why I have pen and paper at the ready on my bedside table for when I wake up in the early hours with an important plot point which I must write down immediately because it’s guaranteed that I won’t remember it in the morning.
This note-taking isn’t limited to night time. Throughout the day I’m constantly thinking about my characters and their situation, and I’ll be people-watching if I’m out somewhere, eaves-dropping on conversations and writing things down on whatever I can find: till receipts, napkins, leaflets etc. Once I took notes of an entire conversation between two people who sat behind me on the bus (as much as I could capture as I don’t do 100wpm shorthand…).
Some might regard this as borderline spying – I don’t see it that way. I’ll probably never meet these people again, and if I do, it’s unlikely that I would connect them with my note-taking, nor would they recognise themselves if they read my book. For me it’s about the human condition in all its triviality, getting an insight into people’s personalities, and then sharing this insight on the page. It’s not about judging or feeling superior, but simply about learning.
So if you see me sitting on a park bench staring at nothing in particular and looking pensive, it’s not because I’m sad or lonely; I’m actually working!
It’s nice to meet a kindred spirit! Everything you describe is so familiar. And you’re quite right. Writers never stop working. Even when we’re sleeping.
Beverley – The worst thing for me is that sometimes when I wake up at night with an idea, I’m too tired to write it down and say to myself, “Oh, you’ll remember it in the morning”, but I never do. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way, to write it down when it comes to me! An infuriating thing, really, being unable to switch off.
It’s when I can’t sleep because my characters are trampling all over my mind that I know I’ve really gotten to ‘know’ them. Very tiring, yet strangely productive!
Kirsty – I love that image of your characters “trampling all over your mind”. Has shades of “these boots are made for walking”, but it’s true, and you’re right, it’s exhausting in a good way.
LOL – I just wrote a blog post for Wednesday about how I get into my characters’ minds and how someone looking on while I write might think I’m a lunatic by the way I mimic my characters’ actions!
Susana – I tend to talk to myself when I’m in the house, even when I’m alone. I’ve even been known to mutter to myself when walking down the street – think I need to watch out for that, otherwise people will definitely think I’m a lunatic!
I know exactly what you mean, Henri. I was walking on the dunes the other week with my OH. I suddenly said, ‘You know, this would be a great place to bury a body.’ He didn’t even think it was an odd thing to say. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing!
Mandy – This is perfectly normal writerly behaviour, I think 😉 Your husband was right not bat an eyelid!
Are writers different?? Well, I’m not a (fiction) writer (yet), but I’ve known a few over the years, and rather a lot recently.
They ARE different – but only as we all are. Some of the ones I’ve met are filled with a passion, or burning need to write, while others are drawn to writing in all its forms as a profession.
When I first met – on-line – several writers, all members of RoNA, my initial thoughts was – “a large number of women, all in a competitive field – WHAT an opportunity for a complete Bitchfest. Well, boy I was I wrong – one of the most enduring characteristics seems to be how totally “nice” they are. Not to mention supportive of each other.
The trials and tribulations of writers have been well catalogued recently – especially when it comes to making a living from writing. There must be times when it seems like a totally uphill struggle.
Romantic fiction is by no means the only thing I read, but I seem to have been very fortunate in that I’ve tended to read books written by authors I’ve met – and I’ve enjoyed almost all of them. Maybe its just starting at the top. They have all been different, as well, and in a good way. Each author has a noticeably different style.
I’m planning on keeping on meeting them and reading their books.
Oh, and it would be remiss of me NOT to point out that they seem to be rarely seen without a glass in their hand.
John – You’re right, the writing fraternity can be incredibly supportive of each other. Probably because we all face the same problems in our profession. And being a member of the RNA is definitely a plus (there’s a glass with my name on it, I think…)
My characters rarely leave my thoughts. I might even say ‘never’ because I’m sure they’re there all the time, jostling for attention and suggesting new scenarios.
Liv – I live and breathe my characters too which is why it’s both a relief and a wrench when I finish a book because now I have to say goodbye to them and welcome the next set of characters. But I often “revisit” if I’m talking or blogging about a particular book.
I kept nodding as I read your post, Henri. My characters live in my head, too, and the ones whose stories I haven’t yet told nag me to give them a book. I’ve just finished writing the final book in a five-part series and oh dear, I feel so sad that I won’t be following the lives of this group of characters any more.
Anna – I could really relate to that; it’s very hard to say goodbye to one’s characters. They’re almost like our children, and we’re now letting them go so they can live their own lives! And I think it’s particularly hard if you’re writing a series because you’re with those characters for so much longer.
Henri, how very true. My characters are often the last thought in my mind when I go to bed, and the first when I wake up. It’s strangely warm and comforting to lie there in silence in another world.
Margaret – Love the phrase “lying in silence in another world”. Beautiful.
I could have written this myself, Henri! Our work includes observing, thinking, mentally constructing, and there’s never an end to that.
You are so right in your comments about the community of those who write romantic fiction, John – they are the friendliest, most supportive group of people you could ever hope to meet.
Liz – I suppose being a writer is a double-edged sword. We get to create worlds of our own, but on the other hand we can never take a break from it. Although I’m not complaining – I love my job!
Great post Henri and some lovely comments too!
Thank you, Rachael, and great to see you here!
I enjoyed your article very much, Henriette, but I have one criticism. You say you are not celebrities and there I must disagree. Every author whose book I have enjoyed reading, whether it is a best seller or has just sold a few copies, is a celebrity to me. You (authors) transport us (readers) into another world and time where we can leave our own lives behind for a short while and dream. So to me, as a reader not a writer, authors are very special 🙂
Sarah – Many thanks, that is such a lovely thing of you to say! Whilst I could never regard myself as any kind of celebrity (not even if I was a bestselling author – I should be so lucky 🙂 ), to hear from readers that I transport them to another world, if only a while, is just wonderful. I myself love reading and the experiences every book gives me, and I truly hope I can give others the same enjoyment.
Why is there no “Like” button on WordPress. Loads of great comments, most of which I agree with.
John – There’s one at the top of my screen. Strange that you don’t seem to have one.
Sorry I’m so late with my comment – I’ve been working, too 🙂 I couldn’t leave without telling you how much I enjoyed this post – I kept nodding and smiling when I read it!
Kathryn – Thanks for dropping by. It’s nice to know we’re not alone in these little quirks, isn’t it? 🙂