Thursday, May 06, 2010

How in the Hell Do You 'Stay Present' When You're A Writer?

by Laura Caldwell

You can't get away from it these days. Everyone from Oprah to Bret Michaels talks about staying present and being in the moment. I get it. I agree that generally life is better lived not in your mind, but in the world that's right in front of you. And I appreciate that if you practice accepting the moment and going from there (rather than running around in your head with panic alarms going off) things go a lot smoother.

But how are you supposed to do these things--how are you supposed to be present and in the moment--when you're a writer? When your livelihood (or just one of your hobbies) requires that you completely remove yourself from the moment and get into someone else's, someone who actually doesn't exist?

My friend, the author, Elizabeth Flock, recently told me about something that happened to her. While she was making lunch, a family member kept trying to talk to her. When Liz wasn't very responsive, the family member continued to attempt to get her attention. Finally, Liz had to explain to the person that since her job was being a writer, even though it looked as if she was simply preparing a tofu salad, what she was actually doing was walking around in the body of a young girl who happened to live in North Carolina. She was, in her head, writing. She was absolutely not in the present, and she was irritated when someone tried to bring her back to it.

That's how it is when you're really into writing something--there's a constant push/pull between the moment you're in and the moment you're character is in. Maybe the trick is to just be fully present in either? To not worry about the other things when you're writing (or making your lunch and writing in your head), to not think about the law students you have to call back and the press release that you have to greenlight--but rather just fully sink into the character who's body you're living in for the moment. And then when you are, later, reading that press release, being totally there? Any other suggestions? I'd love to hear 'em.


David Terrenoire said...

I don't have a clue.

I've been meditating and that's supposed to train you to concentrate. I'm skeptical.

But when I'm working, I can sink into it eyebrow deep. It's not every day, but it's enough. Although I've noticed that the older I get, the harder it is to stay in that concentrated state.

That's not a good sign.

Jamie Freveletti said...

I'm under deadline, so I always have to ask "Wait, what did you say?" It's getting pretty bad, actually. Best way to stop it is to write every day-I don't normally, but once it's on paper I can forget it. Second best: wear dark glasses so no one can see that you're thinking about something else entirely. This latest bit of advice works well at sporting events when everyone is absorbed in the game. :)

Kathy Holmes said...

It seems like a constant tug of war - thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

I do the same thing. My wife and our child often complain that I don't respond when the talk to me. And my wife, a poet, often does the same thing. But as writers, we MUST make an effort to be present -- for our loved ones, certainly, but not just for them. For the writing to. Because living in the moment, paying attention to the people world around us, is where the best ideas for characters and story come from.

Laura Caldwell said...

David, I know what you mean about focusing getting tougher. I think it's less to do with age and more to do with the fast pace of the world today. Everyone seems to have attention deficit disorder. I once heard someone say that anything could be meditation if you're fully putting yourself in it....