Wheatfield Near Fort Pierre, South Dakota. Photograph by Robert Clements

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Process of Writing

Brief update. We are living in a one-level ranch-style house in beautiful Spearfish, South Dakota. As one friend said, it sounds like a place where a writer would live. Well, this writer lives here, and I know for a fact that others do, too. Love this house, love the location. Love the bird drama from my windows - the robin and blue jay fledglings, the starling committee meetings, the occasional deer and rabbit appearances - quite a show outside. The weather here tends toward the alpine, because Spearfish is located in the Black Hills, instead of on the prairie and plains, like Belle Fourche. Spearfish, in fact, holds the record for fastest rise in temperature change in the world. Seriously, look it up. Certain things I miss about Belle Fourche include the rides Bob and I used to take through the gravel roads and the Dairy Queen. Belle's DQ is superior to Spearfish's DQ.  Also, I'm keeping my hairdresser, James.

I lived in Maine for four remarkable months. Bob and I drove back to Mountain Time at the end of April, after a brief stop in paradise (Madison, Wisconsin), which I am beginning to believe is the last outpost in a barren world. Again, back here, it has taken a while for this quiet woman to adjust. Western South Dakota is truly a charmer in so many ways, but if I haven't mentioned it before, and I know that I have, it's a different culture. People here don't whine, which I have honed to a fine art and truly miss. A sign in the Aladdin General Store reads, "No Sniveling". That says it all. This is a snivel-free zone. Noted.

I go for days without talking to anyone except Bob and the animals. Bob is a pretty good conversationalist, and sometimes, the animals answer me. I'm nursing my beloved cat, Jessie, as he travels a dark road toward the great hunting ground in the ether. He suffers from kidney disease and will not recover. We have kept him alive for six months by doing the opposite of what we were told to do. He refused to eat food geared to keeping his kidneys functional, so we're feeding him what he will eat - anything from shrimp to chicken to certain cat foods that we rotate to keep his stomach filled. He's a good guy with a good attitude and I'm happy to have had him for as long as I have. The Wonder Dog is sleeping down in the cellar as I type this. She needs a haircut, but is maintaining, otherwise.

We have had several visitors in the form of human companionship for the month of June. The eldest son of a dear Maine friend dropped in on his own quest across country with his non-girlfriend (they don't like the boyfriend girlfriend terminology - it's too loaded). It was nice to see them, and to see that they are committed to their own life-style. Oh, to be young and idealistic! I hope that they do not lose the glow they demonstrated while they were here. I felt particularly useful guiding them to Wall Drug Store in Wall, South Dakota, for the donuts. Really. These are spectacular donuts. I don't like donuts, but I like these donuts.

After the 'kids' left, we had visits from my adopted brother and dear friend, Michael, who is the most optimistic, enthusiastic, talkative, curious person I know. I loved seeing this world through his eyes. Devil's Tower really grabbed him, as did his tour through the Black Hills. Michael left, two friends arrived from Wall via Washington State. They will return tonight on their way back to the left-handed coast (if you're facing the United States). Bob's siblings and cousins dropped in, as well. I got to flex my vacuum cleaner and meager hostess skills, physical and social muscles I haven't used in a long time.

Well, that's not such a brief update.

What I want to talk about is the process of writing. It occurs to me, particularly after last night, which was pretty sleepless except for the chapter arrangements for the new book that marched through my brain for a few hours, that most of my writing takes place before I sit down to type. I can only speak for myself, but it appears that a lot of essays and advice is available on the act of writing itself: What one needs to do before sitting down before that blank computer screen or picking up the pencil to produce prose longhand, for instance. How one avoids writer's block. What to do when the words don't come.

But no one really talks about the huge amount of time one spends walking around seemingly sane while holding strategy meetings with imaginary people in one's head. For instance, last night I walked the Wonder Dog along Spearfish Creek, smiling and saying hello to occasional passersby, and all the while, I was conversing, arguing, pointing out, and pushing around plots, scenarios, chapter links, character actions, and possible conclusions to the book I am working on. I can only be grateful that those polite walkers didn't want to talk, because I'm not sure I could have escaped the mishmash of my fictional world without spewing gibberish. I am not on the planet very much.

My point to all of this is that although I type for four hours a day, I am working about twelve hours a day on several things having to do with another world or worlds. When I'm really into the work, it's more hours than that. It's a funny - as in odd, unusual, weird - world that is hard to understand unless you're a writer. I could add artist, musician, actor, and so on. But it IS work. Johnny Mercer closed his eyes and reclined on a sofa while composing lyrics. Ann Patchett has written that she stares out of windows a lot (I'm paraphrasing). I know it seems as if I'm here, but I'm not. And it IS productive - just as productive as something more concrete and visible.

I guess I wanted to explain this to all of those who are lucky enough to 'be in life'. That's my phrase for people who take advantage of the present to actually do visually and conscious functional and fun things. If I do not let my imagination take over my life, I cannot happily perform functional and fun things when I AM on the planet. But I digress. Now, lunch, preparation for company, and a dog walk with the Wonder Dog, who is looking at me as if she is bored stupid by whatever I'm doing that doesn't include her. I understand, more than you know. Thanks for understanding back.