Whirlpools

Writers are not spiritual beings, with no earthly existence.

We need to sleep, shower, brush our teeth, cook, eat, clean our houses, look after our spouses, children, pets.

All of these, to some extent compete with writing.

And yeah, I do know this makes the fans mad, when it’s been a long time since we put books out, but these things still need to be done, and there needs to be some sort of balance because we’re not mere spirits that write books. We are people with physical bodies, who have to take care of the wants and needs of the body.

But there are other things we do. Because we are not machines, with the sole purpose of writing. Also, let’s be absolutely honest, we’re not, precisely speaking “normal” human beings, in the sense that we’re not like most humans. Most humans don’t write stories; don’t come up with characters and their problems at the drop of a hat. Most humans certainly don’t feel compelled to do this. And, alas, most writers do.

And the more we feel compelled, the more we feel the need to do this, and can’t explain it, the more our subconscious tries to control it or run away from it.

Okay, this is my homemade, newly cooked diagnosis for how writers get so often pulled into whirlpools. And, yes, I’ll admit I’m often subject to whirlpools, though they’re usually more… incidental, sideways.

Sometimes though they become whirlpools like…. trying to do the perfect cover for something. Or trying to arrange my office just so. I felt a lot more relieved when I realized that Pratchett had the arrange the office whirlpool, too.

But people have more complex whirlpools.

I know writers who have stopped writing. They spend their entire time judging the markets, making sure that they have the right idea, which they then outsource, edit the book, and work the publicity game.

I spent time listening to this plan, but it seemed moot to me, because, you see, I actually enjoy the writing part of it.

It’s a valid business plan, btw. It simply isn’t one that works for any writer who wants to write. For them it becomes a whirlpool.

A whirlpool that tempts me is teaching, and I have to be very careful about it, because writing “pulls” from the same place as writing. And if I’m teaching I stop writing.

Of course teaching pays, so besides enjoying it, there’s that temptation. “I could be making more money right now.” But it is not writing. Many a writer has gone down into the teaching whirlpool, and never pulled free again.

But probably, for me, the biggest whirlpool is politics. Yes, my blog and instapundit are part of what takes my time, but I was obsessively following politics on other people’s blogs, because…. because that scar runs very deep, and I’m aware that even when I am not interested in politics, it can be interested in me.

You can usually tell how I feel by how often I’m reading politics. Weirdly right now it’s not a big whirlpool. I’ve been planting vegetables…. and that has been somewhat of a whirlpool, but it has a limit. I worked very hard to set the garden up. It’s not completely done, but what’s left I can do with weeding and such, an hour or two every other day. Nice exercise in the fresh air, and not terribly whirlpooly.

Unpacking and such is taking way more time, but that was built in, and my health is better here, and I’m thinking more clearly. I resent the time spent in unpacking, actually, but it’s needed.

However I have to stay vigilant against whirlpools.

Each of us has a different whirlpool, a different thing that calls to us.

There are things that seem to be very attractive to other people, but hold no call at all to me. But mine, strange though they are, can ensnare me.

In the river of your writing — or your life — stay aware of the whirlpools. You can be sucked down int o them, and your writing will never be heard from again.

15 comments

  1. Sometimes I think my writing is my whirlpool. There’s a lot in my life that ought to have been given more time and energy, and it’s not all hindsight. It’s a bit of an ongoing problem . . . that I don’t really want to solve.

  2. Oh, the whirlpools! Oh, the rapids! Oh, the waterfalls! Oh, the places where you have to portage the boat because there is so little water running, it’s barely a trickle. Then there are the Bascule bridges crossing that are too low, so you have to wait for them to rise so you can pass. There are places where the water goes underground, and you are not sure you want to go there. And sometimes the water is moving so slow it’s nearly stagnant. And don’t forget the sand bars and log jams! Flash floods, dams, and Tsunamis! Okay, river travel is very dangerous! And that’s not counting annoying insects and it’s hard to use the restroom.

    But yeah, whirlpools. I’ve been caught in a number of whirlpools for a few years now. Slowly pulling myself free of them one by one, but the path still isn’t clear yet. I’m wearing my life jacket, though, and bailing water like crazy from the leaking boat. And maybe, just maybe I’m close to the juncture of the Rio Grand, and I’ll be into the fast flowing current and start making some distance.

  3. Writing was definitely my whirlpool at one point in my life, when I put it above family, housekeeping and what social life I had. It’s why I try to bite my tongue when people get sneery about NaNoWriMo falling at Thanksgiving time, or just the idea of writing at that pace for a month. I know the times I finished that challenge came at the expense of other things. Anyway, it doesn’t matter any more because I’m not doing the official version this year.

    I was really into digital art (Daz Studio, related programs) at one time, but the main appeal was learning new stuff. Now that I more or less know what I’m doing in there, I only fire it up occasionally. Might do more of it when I move into the editing phase of the WIP.

    World-building and brainstorming can be a whirlpool. I lost probably a couple months this year to setting up a fantasy world I may or may not use (but hey, learned how to make fantasy maps using filter forge and paint.net, so not a complete waste.)

    Also a couple of days lost earlier this year to trying to turn a romantic duo from an unwritten gaslamp fantasy idea into a romantic triangle in case I lost interest in the male lead two books in. And then, earlier this week I thought the gaslamp fantasy idea might need a Ruritanian setting so most of my free time yesterday was spent zeroing in on a tiny corner of RL Slovenia, in the northeast squiggle where Slovenia reaches out to pat Croatia on the head. It was a place so rural that either the Habsburgs didn’t give the towns German names when they ruled the area, or the internet was not aware of said German names. (I made up my own, based on the identifying town characteristics that I found online.) We’ll see if that comes to anything.

    I don’t consider domestic stuff a whirlpool. I tend to let it slide until it becomes urgent, and when it’s urgent I pretty much can’t psychologically deal with anything else at home but domestic stuff. Day job, ditto: it pays the bills, so it has to take priority.

    I do more mobile gaming than I maybe should: Space Arena and Sensil. But Space Arena helped force me to think about the battles in my space opera, and Sensil, which is currently running a gacha in the style of the Sound of Music wedding scene, is probably responsible for the Ruritanian interlude mentioned above.

  4. Thank you soooo much–not! Now my little ripples in the nice lake of my rather crazed brain have turned into full-blown whirlpools and I need to WRITE! No, I don’t need to go in, move all the furniture out of my office so I can rip out the carpet and lay laminate. No, I don’t need to deep dive into market trends today or spend time looking at the newest, “greatest” writing programs I can buy. No, I don’t need to start a new critique group just because herding cats is sooooo much fun. Bad Sarah! Bad! VBEG

  5. In Donald Westlake’s The Getaway Car he has an essay where he opines the only people who remain authors their entire lives are those with no alternative (like himself). Most writers seem to strike it big for a few years then demand for their work goes cold. If they have options other than writing they take that and make a career for themselves. Then, when demand for their stuff comes back (it always eventually does), they are too invested in their new career to return to the uncertainty of being a writer. Unless – like Westlake – they have no choice. (Or alternatively are near retirement / have independent income / etc – and don’t have to worry about bringing in enough to live on.)

  6. Mrs. Hoyt, you give me hope that we can do as you are doing, and land safely on the other side of house selling and buying “rocks and treacherous shoals” with the bounded deeps waiting to swallow us up. And get back to making stories again.

    “They spend their entire time judging the markets, making sure that they have the right idea, which they then outsource, edit the book, and work the publicity game.

    I found her MS while packing and re-read it with as much enjoyment and page-turning hooked by the characters and their world as the first go. Which was 9 years ago. I wish she’d publish it.

  7. Well, there’s always the whirpool of reading other’s works on Kindle. I’ve decided to check my Agatha Christie Kindle list every Wednesday, and Sarah will be happy to hear that a new book is on sale for $1.99, Cards on the Table (and yes, I’ve already bought it):

    To help suck you into the whirlpool, Amazon has various KU subscriptions on sale, 20% (6 months) to 40% (24 months) off for anyone, and some special sales that vary (my account shows 2 months for $0.99, my son’s account shows $30 for 6 months).

    1. Also, not a special, but HarpersCollins does have set specials; I’ve found two, one worth considering (all 5 Tommy and Tupence for $20, so $4/book), and one sort of (all 13 Miss Marple for $70, so ~$5.40/book). I prefer to wait and get them over time for less; for one, I’m trying to avoid getting sucked into re-reading too many books at once.

  8. Guetenberg has nine Agatha Christie novels, free. They are in the public domain.

    1. Yes, Christie’s early works are coming into the public domain (along with early Mickey Mouse, finally), and are available on Kindle in many editions, but most of her work is not, e.g. Cards on the Table won’t be public domain for over a decade.

      I’m also willing to pay a reasonable amount for convenience (e.g. Kindle) and quality, even for a public domain work. $1.99 for a non-PD is quite reasonable; $9.99 is not.

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