My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing

Over the past few years I’ve learned what it would take to climb a mountain in the Himalayas. I’ve studied supply lists for crossing the Pacific as a single sailor. I’ve wrapped my arms around high-frequency trading, come to understand the damage caused by oil exploration in the Niger Delta, and learned the history of U.S. immigration laws. It has been one hell of an adult education program.

My degree, if you will, is the six novels I’ve authored. I’ve discovered that the information living in my brain because of them is one of the seven reasons I write books.

Couldn’t you go research all these things and more, and not bother with the writing part, you might ask? It would be a fine question. Of course I could, but I probably wouldn’t. I’m curious about so many things, but my ability to get myself to sit down and learn about them instead of goofing off is pretty limited. Unless I’m doing it for one of my books. Then I will spend hours on it.

I’ve recently returned to participating in writers’ group, and that has started this reflecting on why I write. At a recent meeting, one writer was trying to describe the subject matter of Philip Roth’s books. “Anything he got a wild hair up his ass about,” she said.  I had to laugh, not only because it was apt, but because she had described one of the chief joys of writing.

You get to pick something you care about, anything that interests you, and then go learn enough to begin to weave a story. You don’t know where your imagination or your research will take you, but between the two of them you can bet it will be somewhere fascinating.

I haven’t only learned from research. The very act of producing books has forced me to to become more acquainted with software, graphics, and photo licensing. I’ve had to brush up my grammar. Do you know when to use “a while” and when to use “awhile”?  I do, now.

Writing has also forced me to stay more current with idioms and kept me more politically correct. No one says “on the QT” anymore, but “on the DL” is still used. Really? It is better to call a mentally challenged child cognitively impaired? Okay. Glad I know.

My ad hoc education program hasn’t been restricted to me, either. Others have been kind enough to seek out information for me in their own fields, leaving friends and relatives familiar with Mayan numbers and civil war battles. (Yes, my husband really did attend a re-enactment to help me with a book.)

Much of my education has come from the intriguing people I’ve been exposed to because of my writing. There is a lady in Denmark who shared her vacation photos from Iceland with me, to make d4 more realistic. Four wonderful women from India helped me with information and cultural sensitivity as I wrote c3. One went a step further, working with me to create a Sanskrit word needed for the story. I had taken a stab at it, using internet translation, and she laughed at my result. She took the problem to her father, a scholar who speaks Sanskrit, and “Jvalalaya, the Abode of Light” was born.

As I work to overcome the inertia and start a new series of books, the thrill of learning draws me forward. I have a giant “to read” pile already, much of it on artificial intelligence, which will play a large role in the world I am building. Anticipation of creating this world has me headed off in two very different directions this summer, attending two fabulous yet odd events I would have passed on without the added impetus of “this will really help me with the next novel.”

Yes, sometimes writing gets me up out of my chair to take in the world.

Of course, this still doesn’t explain what drives me to keep on with all the other time-consuming pieces of putting together a book. For that, I’m going to need to take a hard look at the other five reasons I spend most of my free time creating novels.

(Read more about why I write at The Number One Reason I Write Books, Nothing cool about modest ambitions  and I write because it’s cheaper than therapy.)

This year October 10th lasted almost all month

I’ve taken a lot of classes in creative writing, but only one in writing poetry. The class gave me two things. (1) It firmly established that I am not a poet.  (2) It gave me Oct. 10.

Rather, it gave me a poem called “Oct. 10” about the bright blue sky of autumn and the importance of wrapping the memory of that sky close around you to bring comfort on a white winter day.  For whatever reason, that phrase stuck with me and from it I created my own personal holiday.  Every year, on or around Oct 10, wherever I have lived and whatever I have been doing, there has always been one of those gorgeous cool clear autumn days. I’d call in sick. I’d ignore household chores. It was my own personal day off, a celebration of all things beautiful, and every year I found a way to take at least part of the day and make it mine.

autumn crop for blogUntil this year. I’ve moved to a location with colder weather and far more trees. October started out cool and rainy and I was worried that my special holiday might not even happen here. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Once the rain passed, the daytime sky settled in to bright blue while the leaves around me danced from golden to orange to burgundy, and I went into holiday mode. And couldn’t come out of it.  I mean, I knew it had been over two weeks since I started celebrating, but it still felt like Oct 10 and so I spent day after day on my front porch staring at a deep blue sky. I intended to be writing, I really did. I had plenty else that needed to be done. But damn, it was Oct 10 and I needed to enjoy every bit of it.

The rain and cold finally came back of course, and today I made a nice detailed list of everything I have got to get done.  It felt good to get organized again; I’m one of those people who likes that feeling. It’s November, and time to move on. But what a great Oct. 10! I hope it lasts as long next year.

(If you like the idea of declaring a personal holiday, check out my post for 2012, when Oct 10 didn’t come until Oct. 28.)