Thursday, April 18, 2013

It's Noisy Inside A Writer's Head

My biggest complaint about the job of writing is that you can’t walk away from it.  I can’t, anyway.  Most jobs aren’t like that.  You go to the office, or the factory, or the strip club, wherever you work, and you do your job for the allotted amount of time, and then you go home.  You leave the job and go do something else.  I’ve never been able to do that.  I’m probably better at it than I used to be — I should be, I’ve been at this for about thirty years — but I still haven’t mastered the ability to stop writing, walk away from the desk, and go do something else.  I mean, I do that, but I’m unable to completely leave the work behind.  It’s still going on in my head.

Right now, I’m working on an extremely difficult project that’s driving me crazy.  I’m behind, the deadline’s approaching, and I can’t help feeling that I’d be able to handle it a lot better if, for just a little while, I could STOP THINKING ABOUT IT!  But that’s not how writing works.

Once I get a project going, it’s stuck in my head.  I may walk away from the desk, but the characters are still right where they always are, in my head, doing the things I’ve made them do.  They’re solving problems, or creating problems, or they’re stuck in a problematic loop that, for whatever reason, I can’t solve.

Right now, I’ve got about a dozen characters running around in my head trying to survive a hurricane, a deadly virus, and each other, and they don’t take breaks.  They can’t!  They’re dealing with the horrible situations I’ve put them into, some of which I’m not sure how to get them out of, and wherever I go, whatever I’m trying to do, they’re in my head trying to survive, or kill somebody, or kill each other, and THEY WON’T SHUT UP!  How the hell am I supposed to sleep with all of that crap going on?

The result is that I’m often distracted, preoccupied, unaware of my surroundings.  I might be sitting in the living room staring at the TV, but that doesn’t mean I’m watching or listening to it.  I might wander through the house slowly late at night as if I don’t know where I am.  I do, but it might not seem that way.  I might be in the middle of a conversation with someone when the people in my head have a breakthrough and solve a problem, or discover a new layer to the story, which means I'm not longer in the conversation.

If you live with a working writer, you know what I mean.  You’ve seen it first hand.  You’re probably nodding your head as you read this.

This is one of the reasons people think writers are weird.  It’s not that we are necessarily weird — yeah, okay, I admit, most of us are in one way or another — but what we do is weird.  I suppose that in order to want to do what we do, you have to be a little weird in the first place, because so much of it is sitting in a room alone and writing.  But even when we leave that room, we’re still writing, whether we want to or not, which is a part of this job that makes us weirder than we were before we started doing it.

Are you a writer who has this problem?  If so, how do you handle it?  Do you live with a writer who has this problem?  If so, does it make you crazy or are you used to it by now?  Share your solutions and funny stories in the comments below.


  1. I'd love to tell you how I handle it, Ray, but that'd mean I'd figured it out. I haven't. I go to sleep writing, I wake up writing, and the 12 to 15 hours a day I spend on my day job I spend avoiding writing (because they're not paying me to write.) To be honest, it's a curse. And I love it.

  2. Yes, I guess it's a curse we embrace.