Friday, April 22, 2011

If You Could Read My Mind

"If you could read my mind, love,
What a tale my thoughts could tell..."

Gordon Lightfoot

The inner life of a writer is fascinating. I know mine is and I've been assured by my writer friends that theirs is too. Writers, more than any other species besides secret agents, live double lives. We have the most ordinary one that friends and family and perfect strangers observe, and the extraordinary one we've created in our minds, the one we intend to put on paper.

By day, I'm a mild-mannered wife and mother. I home-school my kids, walk the beagle and look for bargains at the grocery store. By night (or whenever I sit down to write) I'm something else entirely. I'm the hero. I've killed men with my bare hands. I've jumped from airplanes. I've saved the heroine. Or I switch POVs and suddenly I'm the heroine, torn between the love of two good men.

This double life became apparent to me one morning as I sat in the dentist's chair while the dental hygienist cleaned my teeth. Not much talking to be done just then, not with my mouth wide open. So I stared at the ceiling tiles and thought about my current scene-in-progress which happened to be a love scene. After 20 minutes of plotting this amorous affair, it suddenly occurred to me that if the dental hygienist could read my mind I'd be mortified. Thankfully, she probably thought I was thinking about my shopping list.

If you're like me, your thoughts often travel to your work-in-progress. Something may trigger a thought, an idea, or a solution to something you've been working on, and off you go, deep into the world you've created. No one around you knows it, but you've suddenly left the cubicle, left the church pew, left the line at the checkout. You're worlds away, leading your double life, again.

My double life once got me into trouble on the road. Whatever it was that I was thinking had me very inspired - so inspired I forgot to watch my speedometer until I saw the flashing red lights in my rear-view mirror. Thankfully the police officer who stepped up to my car window was very nice and only issued me a warning. As I drove off - slowly and well under the speed limit - I sternly told my protagonist to shut up and get in the back seat. We were done conversing that day.

Like Kristen, not many people in my every day life know that I write fiction. It's not something I talk about to non-writers, which is pretty much everyone in my real-life world. I don't think they'd understand it - especially the double life thing. I go about my very ordinary existence, content to keep my world within me.

Next time you see an ordinary woman out walking her beagle in the park, beware. She's really plotting how best to use interrogation techniques, how to use C-4 explosive on a downed Huey, or how to escape a bunker with armed guards.

Or worse... she could be rewriting that love scene.


  1. LOL! Ah, Susan, almost booked because of your characters! I love it. (g)

    I'm like you and Kristen - only a handful of my "real life" acquaintances know I'm writing fiction. And I kinda like it that way - cuts down those uncomfortable but well meant "so, when will you be published?" questions by a long mile. (g)
    Oh, and my characters got to me at the gym the other day, sparking off with all this great dialogue and new plot twists, and I had to stop what I was doing (boring, boring Curves routine) and grab pen and paper from my locker and write it all down ... while one of the instructors followed me out to make sure I was ok and not having a heart attack of some sort. (g)

    I do so love my inner writing life. :-)

  2. Great post Susan! I love my inner writing life - it's like a world of day dreams that you can escape to, except that it's not only more real than that, it becomes doubly real when I set the words on paper. Most people in my life know that I write, but I don't know if they realise I'm walking around with all these other people in my head all the time. It's like I'm constantly bringing at least five (sometimes more) people along with me, everywhere I go [s]

  3. The inner life is *real*! I swear it! LOL! Everyone knows I write, but if they'd rather think about my devotionals instead of the fiction--love scenes, fights, abuse--well, that's their red wagon, isn't it? *wink*

  4. Ah, Susan- I remember that day (and that scene) oh-so-well. It marked another very unusual moment in my writing life- me being one half of said amorous scene, and you being the other. I distinctly remember telling my husband that I was researching 1914 underwear so that I could tell you how best to take it off. I got a *look*.

    I'm quite different to you guys when it comes to keeping the inner, in. I don't think there's anyone in my life who doesn't know I write, from friends to family to workmates to playgroup- you'll be unsurprised to hear that I find it hard to keep my trap shut about writing.

    This comes with problems- the never-ending "When exactly is this going to be finished?" springs immediately to mind. But it also comes with benefits- I feel very supported across all areas of my life, and there's lots of enthusiasm for the story and the subjects I'm covering. A couple of my friends are even coming to the ANZAC Day dawn service with me on Monday. And more than anything, having a lot of people following my progress in my personal life keeps me honest- every time I'm slacking off, I remember that I'm going to get that damn question again, and it inspires me to put my butt in the chair and write harder.

    All in all, though, I do think that no matter how much they hear about it, most people don't understand the extent of the inner life that accompanies writing- and I'm more than happy to keep that privilege to myself (g).

  5. I love the idea of us leading double lives! hehe. And it's so true. LOL I'm glad your dentist couldn't read your mind though :D

  6. LOL Rachel! That's awesome that your characters are talking to you again with such intensity that you have to run to the locker room and write it all down. I might have to try that boring Curves routine... :P

  7. Deniz, it does get a bit a crowded in my head at times, but I wouldn't trade having all those people in there... :)

  8. Zan Marie, Won't they be surprised when they see what you've been up to. :P

  9. Claire, I really should apologize, shouldn't I? You did all that research on unmentionables and then I completely glossed over it in the scene. They sorta removed themselves -- off-stage -- or something.... heheh.

    I do love the weird and wacky things I learn for the sake of my writing.

  10. Trisha - whooboy, I'm glad too! I was probably figuring out how to remove those 1914 undergarments that Claire researched for me (it being her lovely 1914-era character, Kit, who was being seduced by my hot-blooded hero, Nathan, during a Books & Writers houseparty). Odd thing, though, Kit ended up being the seductress, putting Nathan off his game. They had a mind of their own that even the dentist wouldn't have foreseen, had he read my mind.

  11. I can't tell you how many times I've hoped nobody in the grocery store could read minds ;) Or how many walls/people/displays I've almost walked into out in public.