Sunday, November 28, 2010

Doctorow and Schizophrenia of Writing

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. ~E.L. Doctorow

This is an obvious quote for me to be drawn to -- or should I say "us." I'm Baggott, Asher, and Bode. We're different but all housed under one roof -- my skull. I've been envious of writers who have a writerly voice -- one writerly voice, one well-honed, sturdy, dependable voice. I have no such thing. I have voices and those voices suit themselves to different genres and so I have a buckshot career.

So what happens in my skull? People ask me if I know what material is suited for what audience, if I know before I write whether I'm writing a poem, novel, or essay; if I know who I am as a writer when writing a work or if it shifts.

Here's the thing: I go around as best I can, trying to see things as a writer does -- beyond what they represent in the world to what they actually are -- and I ask questions and come up with implausible but interesting answers -- I imagine as much as possible -- and I tag memories when my brain is kind enough to cough them up.

I then think of how to use this stuff. Is this the last line of a poem or an internal monologue in a novel or a premise for a short story or the back-story of a novel or is it completely visual...?

I jot notes. I keep metal bins in my office with names of different projects -- some abandoned (or nearly so -- I never really abandon anything), some on the horizon, some hip-deep. I slip in the pieces of paper that might one day belong to those worlds.

And I use stuff in the work I'm churning on in the moment -- often I do that.

So when it comes time to write -- yes, I know who I am; I usually know who you are -- you as the person I'm writing to -- but I don't know what will come up when least bidden, least expected.

I know a thimbleful and rely on it -- and that thimble is necessary for me. It's a thimble full of maps and characters and dialogue and images. But the rest of the air of the world presses in around that thimble until it looks quite small sometimes.