Hi, my name is Bethany, and I’m a high-maintenance writer.
In Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals, a charming peek into the habits of creative geniuses over the centuries, I read about Frances Trollope, an English novelist who started writing in her fifties to provide for her family. She would get up in the middle of the night so she could finish the day’s writing in time to make breakfast for her six kids and infirm husband, and in this way, she produced over 100 books. Forget the ability to deflect bullets or to use one’s tiara as a boomerang of destruction; this lady was Wonder Woman.
I, however, identify much more closely with Frances’s son, also a novelist, who paid an old servant to wake him up early each morning with hot coffee and “no mercy.” In his autobiography, Anthony Trollope attributed his success to that arrangement. Now, I don’t have a servant, but I do have a husband with mad cappuccino skills and a kind heart whom I can directly credit for my state of not-in-bedness this morning (…aaaand just about every other morning of the past year). This isn’t really a matter of my being lazy; in fact, I spend my weekends looking forward to Monday’s arrival and that first blank document of the day. I love writing. It keeps me whole and sane and humanoid. However, my ability to write comes with an impressive list of conditions.
When I write, I venture into a different realm of consciousness. My focus intensifies on the elements of story behind the patterns of daily life, coaxing them forward like holograms in a Magic Eye image. Just as with those Magic Eye images, writing requires a delicate balance between concentration and relaxation; some muscles need to go slack in order to see the picture while others must tremble taut to hold it in place.
This is why I have trouble writing when someone else is in the room… or when I’m up against time constraints, or when some other matter has just been brought to my attention, or when I’m tired, or when our family routine is off, or when I’m frustrated about something, or when a head cold’s coming on, or when a favorite TV character has died, or when I haven’t started my day with that sandy-eyed sip of caffeine, or, or, or. I know. My muse wins for most ridiculous diva of the creative universe.
In her defense, however, she doesn’t require me to chain smoke or slip Jack Daniels into my tea or sell my soul to Chernabog in order to write. She lets me broadcast on my own brainwaves and heartbeats, and for that, I am grateful. Not all artists are granted that luxury. In context of all the mental illnesses and addictions that have traditionally plagued creative types, my reliance on quiet, unhurried hours hardly counts as a quirk, much less a neurosis. Still, though, I dream of one day being able to plop down on the bed where my chickenpoxy six-year-old is practicing her reading (to use a totally hypothetical example that has no grounding whatsoever in the realities of our home right now*) and crank out a work of art in between phonics tutorials and applications of calamine. If Mrs. Trollope could write novels before breakfast, surely I can learn to be a little more flexible in my writing habits. Not needing all nearby life forms to cease and desist while I’m working, for instance.
* on Opposite Day
I just have to get my muse on board first. She’s currently locked in her dressing room pouting about the fact that she and I can’t run off together to 1920s Paris and wear feathers in our hair and never have to think about anything other than being fabulous. The coffee is clearly wearing off. I don’t know; maybe it’s my lot in life to be a high-maintenance writer, ever at the mercy of loud footsteps and motherly concerns. I can’t tell you how much I’d like to move past that though—to be able to tap into my creative center no matter my circumstances. Even convincing my muse to pause her pity party for the next hour would be a step in the right direction. Maybe threatening to have four more children would do the trick…?