Monday, February 25, 2013

Secret Garden of Words

By Deborah Sharp

It took me a long time to get used to questions about technique, so common at book-signings and conferences. Someone always raises a hand. In an earnest voice, they ask about one or more of these things: 
Where do you write? 
How many hours a day do you write?
How, physically, do you write?
I don't mind answering the questions, to the best of my ability. But it still strikes me as strange, this fascination with something I consider so mundane. How is that different, I wonder, from admiring a piece of furniture made by a woodworker, and then asking him or her to break down the steps taken to cobble it together?
"Well, first I buy the wood. Then I assemble my tools. I always use this saw, and nails just like these . . . "
At this point in my example, my imaginary woodworker holds up his saw and nails for my inspection, and my head drops to the table and I begin to snore.
I'm grateful when I take my car into the shop and the mechanic manages to diagnose the problem, and then fix it. But never once have I asked him how, physically, he does that.
"First I lift it up onto the rack, then I get on that little slid-ey thing, face-up, so I can see under the vehicle ...."
Same with the plumber, the  accountant, and even my doctor. Just get it unstopped, figured out, or cured, and spare me the details.
Not so with writers, though. People must think we enter some kind of secret garden through a magical gate to come up with the words we end up stringing together.
Note to fellow authors: Have y'all been holding out on me? Is there a Secret Garden of Words? If so, please give me the key.
The picture included here is the entrance to a beautiful garden in Palm Beach, Fla., secret in the sense it's tucked away on a side street, far from better known locales such as posh Worth Avenue or the church the vacationing Kennedy family attended. 
But though I found a few mosquitoes, and koi in a fish pond  . . .
I did not find in the garden the secret answer to why my work in progress is such a weed-strewn field of wrong.
So, if you're curious, the answers to the above questions are:
1. I write just about anywhere but at my desk. Right now, for example I'm at the library. This week, I've also written in the front seat of my parked car, sipping a senior coffee at McDonald's, and sitting at the bar at a pub in Naples, Fla. (Come to think of it, the pub may have something to do with those nasty weeds marring the garden that is my work in progress.)
2. How many hours a day? Way too few.
3. Specifically, how? With an often-aching back and cramps in my hand from an apparently un-ergonomic way of hitting the Enter bar. (Fewer paragraphs, maybe?)
How about you? Why do you think some readers  seem as interested in the process as the finished product? Do  you have any weird mechanics quirks (or know writers who do?)


Maegan Beaumont said...

I think people are interested in the mechanics of writing because they see it as an artistic process. All they get to experience is the end result--like seeing a painting in a museum or hearing a song on the radio. They rarely get to see the hard work and tedious detail that goes into writing a book, so they're fascinated by "the process"... which for me includes copious amounts of caffeine, headphones blaring music (I don't even actually hear it most of the time, it's my version of white noise) and my dog sleeping on my feet.
Kinda boring, actually...

Deborah Sharp said...

Interesting take, Maegan. I guess it is a little like the museum painting or song on the radio. I don't mind the drone of background noises in a coffee shop, but could never have music piping in through headphones. Weird how we're all different!

Kathleen Ernst said...

I think one reason people are so curious is that many, many people dream of writing...I'm guessing more than dream of carpentry. We all have stories to tell, after all! But if there is a secret garden, I haven't found it yet!