Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Method in my madness

Wow! I’m a little stunned by all the messages of support we’ve received for our little old blog - you guys are awesome! It truly means the world to us all (you should see how nervous we are behind the scenes here! LOL)

I’m Rachel, Thursday’s child – the one “with far to go”, if you remember the old rhyme (quite apt, really, since I’m the only one of us four gals yet to finish a first draft) – and I’m here to round off our “getting acquainted” week with my answer to the question, “why do you write?”

Deep breath ...

Because if I did not, I would be insane.

I know it sounds flip; but it's completely true. Let me explain ...

A few – ok, many - years ago, I worked as a lawyer for a government board that basically functions as Internal Affairs for lawyers. My job was to investigate and prosecute other lawyers for “unprofessional conduct” - things like running a brothel out of the spare offices in your law firm, or billing clients for your time when you’re actually out test-driving a Porche (I kid you not, these things happen!)

To do my job, I’d listen to people’s stories of how their lawyer was screwing up their case and ripping them off; I’d listen to lawyers bemoan their impossible-to-please clients. Then, after having every side of the story, and once I’d hunted down and dissected every objective fact I could, it was up to me to work out what the dickens had actually happened, and pull together a coherent story from a morass of facts, suspicions, rumours and downright lies.

I really loved that job.

Then life marched on, and along came the three best things in my life – my children. I tried the juggle of kids and career, but in the end it became clear that for me, I could work, or I could be sane, but I could not be both. So I became a stay at home mum. The daily juggle disappeared, I loved spending more time with my kids and for a while, I thought I had my problems licked. But soon, a different kind of madness began to descend. Not the manic, out of control crazy I’d left behind; this was the slow, cell-by-cell, turning-of-the-unused-brain-into-sludge, type of madness. I felt incredibly guilty for feeling this way; shouldn’t staying home with the kids, using my brain for nothing more challenging than compiling the weekly grocery list, be enough?

For me - no.

So, what to do?

I’d always read, voraciously. I wrote (bad) poems and (even worse) short stories through my childhood and teens … why not try to stop my brain from rotting by using it to write a book? After slogging through two degrees and a career in law, I knew I could pump out the words; and really, exactly how hard could this novel-writing caper be?

I hear you all laughing.

Yes - it is HARD.

But back in 2006, my naivete is what started me off on my book - tapping away at the computer when the kids were napping or at school, not telling a single soul what I was up to - not even my husband - for the longest time. It felt damn good. I was using many of the skills I'd needed in my job, I had something to do that was just for me; and slowly, the tide of madness retreated. And from that inauspicious start – writing to stay sane - I’ve discovered I have many reasons that keep me writing:-

~ I get to indulge my passions for history, research, and all things French. I studied and fell in love with nineteenth century French History at university, and that’s where I first plonked my characters –on the platform of Paris’ Gare du Nord, disembarking from a train in a swirl of steam and cinders. Writing lets me spend part of each day in a city and an era that I love; where I can watch the sun rise above slate-grey, mansard rooftops, or inhale the exquisite scents of the roses blooming in the glass houses of the Bois de Boulonge, or listen to the clatter of hooves and coach wheels over cobblestones … ah, it’s magic.

~ I adore working with words, and I’m endlessly fascinated by the process of transferring the story in my head to the page. I’ve climbed one HUGE learning curve in terms of craft these past years, and I’m still learning. I hope I always will be.

~ Creating characters with lives so much more interesting than mine, yet making them believable … that’s a thrill like no other. And I will freely admit that messing with my characters’ lives very much satisfies the control freak in me!

~ I’ve always loved stories; writing my own is a serious blast. I thrive on the challenge of telling the kind of story I love to read – suspense, mysteries, thrillers - and it’s a little intoxicating to dream that some day, my words may keep someone perched on the very edge of their seat – the exact spot I love to be when I read.

~ And these days, I write because the end of my first draft is nigh. My youngest child is now at school, and with the extra time and the confidence boost of winning a short story competition a little while back (my kids love me for that – they couldn’t care less about the story, but the prize money did buy them a crazy-big trampoline!), I’m getting down to the business of finishing the first draft of my book. Maybe – just maybe – I’ll have it done by Christmas. Stick around and see how I go!

Bottom line … I write because it gives me the intellectual and creative stimulation I crave; I write because I am now completely addicted to it and cannot stop; and I write because if I didn’t, I just KNOW I’d be typing this post from inside a padded cell ...

So – what do you do to stay sane? Do you write? And if you do, what is it - beyond keeping you sane - that keeps your butt in the chair?

(And when you comment, you'll be in the running to win a copy of this week's book giveaway - Fire in Fiction, by uber-agent Don Maass. How cool is that?)


  1. WOW! Great post, Rachel!

    Is it just me...or do you find it ironic that we all run around with voices inside our heads, yet you regard that as a sign of _sanity_?? (g) I'm just sayin'.

    For me -- one of the greatest things about writing is the moment you put your pages into someone's hands and watch them as they read (GREAT, but vewwwwy, vewwwwy scarrrrry!). If they laugh when I wanted them to...*SIGH OF HAPPINESS* That's what it's all about! That's why I get my butt-in-the-chair.


  2. I get my butt in chair because of all that I do, juggling multiple jobs, family, chores, etc.--writing is the thing that I do for myself. It is (usually) the fun part of my day. And from a Freudian standpoint, it's the highest form of defense mechanism because I absolutely sublimate my daily conflicts into writing. :D

  3. -Because if I did not, I would be insane.- Not flip; just too true! Love that line. :) I also loved the part about creating characters with lives that are more interesting than yours (ours!) Ain't it the truth? Sing it, sista! LOL. Very inspiring post, Rach.

  4. Great post!
    "Bottom line … I write because it gives me the intellectual and creative stimulation I crave; I write because I am now completely addicted to it and cannot stop; and I write because if I didn’t, I just KNOW I’d be typing this post from inside a padded cell..."
    Sooo darn true! And yet, about that other line, "Writing lets me spend part of each day in a city and an era that I love" - that never seems to happen to me! I ought to be writing about England in the 1920s/30s, not Spain in 1492 or Ephesus in 43! But I can't refuse a story when it comes, either... Someday I'll go "home" :-)

  5. Kait -- LOL!! Best place to get it all out, imho! (g)

  6. Hey Jen,

    Voices in the head = sanity ... hmm, yes, I do see the irony in that equation. Meh. I'll live with it. (g)

    Ah yes! Having someone else read your work and not barf is hugely rewarding. :-)

    I'm not a great sharer of my WIP (being firmly of the Stephen King school of "write with the door shut" with my first draft and all its warts), but whenever I've had good feedback, it's been a real buzz. Especially from my husband, who usually says "I can't believe my lovely wife writes this creepy stuff!" (g) Music to my ears ...

  7. Hi Kait (and thanks for stopping by!)

    Doing something exclusively for you is sooo necessary, IMO. Whatever it might be - writing, painting, running marathons, baking up a storm in the kitchen - we all need it.

    And I totally agree - nothing better than dealing the carp life throws at you than having another go round with it in your writing. Especially when it means you have total control over the outcome. :-)

  8. Kristen,

    Thanks! :-)

    So much to love about this writing gig, isn't there? Erm, when we're not pulling out our hair, that is. (g)

  9. Deniz,

    Good to see you here!

    Ah, you MUST get yourself to 1920s/30s England! Next WIP, hey?

    In the meantime, have you read The Shifting Fog (I think it may be published as The House at Riverton in Canada/US). It's by Aussie author Kate Morton, but set in England; a big, fat family saga cum mystery, and spans from Edwardian times to the 1920s/30s. Check it out - reckon you'd enjoy it.

  10. Great blog, ladies! I've added you to my Google Reader, and look forward to keeping up with your four-way take on writing and the writing life.