I found it a little challenging to figure out what to write about today. Not because I didn’t have ideas. (I have a whole page of blog ideas – it’s a mess. Three colors of pen, things scratched out or written at angles or circled, or, yeah…) But because my mind is distracted. And when my mind is distracted the thoughts don’t want to stick together enough for a blog post. They skitter away before I can nail them down.
I think part of the issue is that I finally submitted a short story to one of those quick turnaround markets. You know the type. They can get back to you within a day and generally do so within four days. So, now I have this little obsessive-compulsive weirdo rocking itself in a corner in the back of my mind wondering when the rejection’s going to come through. And wondering how I’m going to feel when a story I love gets rejected. (At the same time it’s also obsessing about what I’ll do if the story gets accepted. As in, “Holy %$@! Someone liked what I wrote and it wasn’t my mother?”) That little weirdo wants me to check my e-mail constantly.
Fortunately, I have all e-mails for my writing sent to a specific folder, so, at least when I’m not tethered to the computer, I can’t see what’s come through to that folder, which means that I can go for a hike or a drive or to the store and not feel compelled to check for messages.
But this does bring me back to the title of this post – mental space. When I was working in a full-time corporate office I worked ten-hour days on a regular basis, typing up reports and summaries and analyses. I was writing things all the time. (When I wasn’t stuck in meetings listening to someone use five minutes to say what they could have said in thirty seconds.) And that writing was fairly easy to do, because it was “surface work.” There’s no depth to a report on the status of the latest project. You say, “We set out to do x, we ended up doing y, because a, b, and c. We now expect to do z, but the challenges to that are d, e, and f.” It’s mostly factual. Sure, there are different ways to say things (and people do care about it and do spend time on it – I once had an hour long meeting on whether we should refer to the department using its or their), but as long as you convey the information you’re generally fine (and it’s not rocket science to take a template report and plug in your information).
Fiction on the other hand is nuanced and multi-layered. It has depth and meaning. Word choice matters. In corporate writing you introduce a term once and then you try to use it fifty more times throughout the report so that the audience knows that you’re still talking about the same issue. With fiction you introduce something once, but if it comes up fifty more times you try to present different angles or aspects that shed more light on the subject.
For me, this requires mental space. I need room to sink into the story I’m trying to tell. I have to be able to move the story around in my mind, to turn it over and manipulate its form. And I can’t do that if my mind is crowded with other things.
At some level, my mind is always processing stories. Just like it’s always playing music. (Even in my sleep. I once woke up in the middle of the night because the music had stopped and it freaked me out to not hear anything in my head. But I digress. As usual.) In order to work on my stories, to write them down and turn them into something that can be shared with others, though, I need that mental space. I need a certain distance from all those other little mental tracks that we carry around each day (work, family, friends, bills, outside world…).
Hopefully, as I learn to be a writer and put more time and effort into pursuing this, my mind will naturally carve out a greater space for my stories. But, right now, when I’m still learning how to walk (so to speak), I have to consciously create that space for myself. And sometimes that means getting away from the computer and anyone I know and just letting my brain get some air.
Which is a really long-winded way of saying that I’m going to be off-line for the next two days. I’m running away to try my hand at trout fishing. (It occurs to me that someone reading this blog might think I’m big into fishing. I’m not. I just like a convenient excuse to get out on the water. And kayaking on the sea – my last fishing adventure – takes some effort, so it’s nice to have an excuse for taking a break. “Oh, I’m not exhausted. No. I just thought this might be a good spot to get a fish. Yeah, I know I haven’t dropped a line yet. I was just admiring the view first. Yeah, I realize I stopped moving five minutes ago. Um. Ok. Dropping a line now. Here fishy, fishy…”)
(Another digression here. It’s the end of the blog so stop reading if you don’t care about random things I have to say about me personally. My mom has this habit of buying things for people based upon their interests. So, I drink Coke. I’m addicted. It’s a caffeine and sugar thing. I don’t drink it for the polar bear or the color of the can or anything like that. I drink it because I love that feeling at the back of my throat. And I’d probably fall asleep without it. Anyway. Over the years I have received Coca-cola themed pajamas, a lava lamp, an entire bathroom ensemble, dish towels, salt and pepper shakers, socks, pens, and who knows what else. Another relative has received elephant themed everything. Statues, t-shirts, book bags, bookmarks, etc.
So, on my travels I developed this odd habit of buying myself a tiny carved elephant from every country. I don’t know why I started it, I just did. And now I have ten or twelve of the little guys. And then my mom saw them and said, “I didn’t know you collect elephants,” and I had to immediately inform her that I do NOT collect them and that the only elephants I ever want to own are the ones I buy for myself on my travels. I love my mother and I love that she tries to personalize gifts for people like that, but not all elephants are cute. As a matter of fact, most realistic pictures of elephants are downright ugly.
Which reminds me. I think it’s time to remind my mom that I do not need anything fishing-themed for my birthday…yikes!)