Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Faking Human Interactions

I promised to blog more about the Paul Haggis talk and while this post isn't about a light bulb storytelling secret, it was one of the things I liked about his talk.

Turns out Mr. Haggis likes to work in public--just like me. (Oh, I have something in common with a really successful writer!) Sounds like he has several coffee shop haunts and hotel lobbies he uses as his "offices", setting up for the day with a laptop and madly writing. (Aside: Hotel lobbies! What a great idea. I'll bet I could find some great ones to work at in downtown Toronto...)

Anyway, he said that he likes to work in public so he can pretend he's part of humanity, fake that he actually interacts with other people while he's writing, feel as if he's part of the real world. And that actually did set off a little moment of self-realization for me. I think that's exactly why I like it, too.

Writing is such an isolating profession and when I'm in full-on writing-cave mode, even if I'm out in public during the day, I start to forget how to talk to other people--that is, how to use my mouth instead of my keyboard to communicate. I forget how to form sentences without editing them.

That's one of many reasons I'm really starting to love the little routine Molly and I have started of meeting once a week for a few hours and sitting across from each other in a coffee shop. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes we don't. But I feel like I've actually interacted with another human being on those days.

Maybe this isolation thing is a bigger problem for someone like me who lives alone, but I think I'd feel this way even if I didn't. I find it hard to write around people I know who don't "get" what I'm doing. For me, anyway, I get self conscious or annoyed if they want to know how it's going, or even if they're trying too hard to be quiet (clearly I'm easily annoyed)... But writing in the midst of strangers? Or with a trusted writer-friend? Magic.

And even if I spend six hours in a Starbucks (like I did today) without saying a word to another living soul (which I also did)... I can still pretend I'm a member of society. And really, as fiction writers, isn't what we do largely about faking it?

8 comments:

Molly O'Keefe said...

I was just having this conversation with a friend who is an illustrator and also a stay at home mom, and we were saying that both of the major aspects of our lives are like a cave and getting out of the cave is hard hard work. Remembering how to chat, how to answer a question without ramblng on tangents for twenty minutes, and WORSE - how to shake off a bad day. BAd days with kids and writing, makes me want to curl into a ball and watch bad television, or drink my face off - what I don't want to do, is make small talk.

So, I totally understand this and I too love our wednesdays - speaking of which - see you there around noon.

Karen Whiddon said...

I have to say while I can definitely relate to all of this, the part that had me snorting coffee out my nose in recognition was the part about how annoying it is when people ask you how it's going. Just yesterday, I was writing at the day job, and the receptionist kept popping in with questions like "How's it going?" and - this one had me gritting my teeth "So, is this books easier to write than your other books or harder?"

Palm to forehead.

Stephanie Doyle said...

I love my "cave". I need my cave. After two crappy back to back days I decided today was most definitely a cave day!

What's so great about technology these days is I can have my cave day but still do all my work too.

I'll be ready to face humanity... tomorrow.

Maureen McGowan said...

Karen, I'm glad I'm not alone on that one. I always feel too sensitive, or rude, and I know people are asking to be nice... but if I'm not in the mood to answer that question...

But when another writer asks, I love talking about it. But they get it...

Steph, I sometimes envy you your day job. Not enough to actually go out and find a job, LOL. (I've sacrificed a lot to keep myself gainfully unemployed these past couple of years.) But it's that human interaction I miss.

See you at the office, Molly. I'm on my way in, now. :)

Eileen said...

Oh, the cave. I think I've mentioned taking writing weekends with my friend Spring Warren. We check into a hotel and write like maniacs for a weekend. It's fabulous.

I've had a few weekends where everyone leaves, too, and I have the house to myself. I emerge from those unable to form words.

I'm not so good with the coffee shop routine. I find those other people too distracting.

Sinead M said...

I'm on two sides of the fence. If it were possible to have a quiet home, then I'd sort of like to hole up and drink boatloads of tea, but when I set up at a coffee shop where I have no distractions, I get a ton done..

Alicia J. Frey said...

That does make writing in public make more sense. What I've always enjoyed about it is the continuous buzz of conversation and background noise. Total silence kills my creative spirit. I prefer cafes. Conversations and clanging dishes have a way of blending together to make a perfect backdrop of sound to put my muse at ease. Great post.

Maureen McGowan said...

Thanks Alicia! I'm glad I'm not alone in this. Well, alone with Paul Haggis. ;)

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