Sunday, May 31, 2009

Shiny Objects Everywhere

I’m the kind of writer who works in a state of eternal distraction, which can be good for the books but not so good for everything else.

There’s just so much going on in my head, and no one stepping up to take charge. Sure, I give myself stern lectures all the time – “Absolutely not one more Sweet-Tart until you pay that Visa bill” – but my willfulness is powerful, my resolve is weak, and my to-do list is a travesty.

If I had to find an analogy for my inner landscape, it might be a train yard early in the last century. The sensory details are all intense – iron and oil and coal and blood and shouting and cursing and danger and mysterious freight and the air practically crackling with the energy of potential, of unexplored possibilities. The tracks lead to hundreds of destinations, every freight container holds a story, and every railman means to wrest his piece of the dream from the crushing advance of Progress. Underneath it all festers the remains of last night’s boozing and whoring and nurtured resentments and shadowy longing and traitorous doubts.

Just try to remember to fill out a middle-school band permission slip when your head’s full of that.

You’re the mom who never knows what the score is after a couple of innings, the one whose children beg you to stop cussing and quit answering the door in your pajamas in the afternoon, the one who couldn’t tell you what the sermon was about but who’s pretty sure which parishioners are having affairs with which others because you’ve been inventing stories for them all through Mass.

I don’t recommend these mental working conditions. But when it works – bliss. Story bliss, at any rate. When your mind lacks the sort of filters that allow other people to stay on-topic and on-task, the most marvelous and unexpected things slip in the cracks. Everything’s possible, and nothing seems out of reach.

Publishing wisdom tells us that it’s important to maintain focus, to nurture and satisfy our readers’ expectations. And that’s great advice for those who can follow it. But for some of us, the most random discovery can lead to infatuation with a form or direction and nothing in the world will satisfy us until we drop everything and take it out for a spin.

That’s how I came to write in so many genres. Mystery and young adult…crime and horror and women’s fiction and romance. Short stories and leaden sagas. There are poems and journals and drawings and unsent letters littering the road behind me, and up ahead every new thing glitters and beckons so that half the time I’m convinced I should be writing a multimedia digi-novel.

That would be a terrible idea, of course. At some point even the most ungovernable among us need to buckle down and finish a task or two. Get the kids to school on time, the trash to the curb, the revisions turned in by deadline.

I just have to hope there aren’t too many shiny objects between point A and point B.

1 comment:

Dani in NC said...

I definitely can identify! I'm interested in so many subjects that settling on a career has been difficult.