This quote from Anais Nin feels to me particularly apt in describing the life of a writer. From a very young age, I was aware of constantly gathering impressions. Conversations, smells, sights, emotions—all of those were fodder for my fevered imagination. My mother once said that she had always felt I was in training to be a writer, no doubt she sensed that I was always watching, always collecting. Writing was, if nothing else, a way to make sense of the world, a way to both experience it and analyze it, a way to test different lenses through which to view it. As Nin says: the second tasting, the delayed reaction.
I was reminded of this again quite recently, when a friend of mine (a writer) described her own reaction to a moment with her husband. She said, “He was in pain, and all I could think about was how perfect it was for my character. There I was, trying both to sympathize and to surreptitiously take notes…”
I understood completely. How often have you been in this same situation? I have left arguments only to write down exactly what was said to use at some other time, in some other circumstance, with other characters and plots that had nothing to do with the real-life conflict. This is what writers do. We mine emotional outpourings, personal quirks, conversations. I used to commute daily on the ferry, and for me that was a goldmine—so many people to listen to, to watch! When I was younger, I was rather constantly getting into minor car accidents because I was busy trying to write down something I heard on the radio or something I saw at the same time I was trying to drive. I play with words constantly in my head, spinning them about, recasting them: how best to describe that strange red sky I’m looking at? How do I feel about it? What can I use it for?
A writer’s life is one of constant observation; that is true. What people who aren’t writers don’t understand is how writing what you’ve seen or experienced or felt—reaching for a way to fully express that emotional truth—is not just a form of therapy, though it is that too. Writers are always living twice. Our task and our calling requires that we understand not just what it means to be ourselves, but what it means to be human. When you are constantly playing God; when your life consists of creating people who must feel and think and breathe and not be you, that second tasting, that delayed reaction, is crucial. To be able to analyze and, more importantly, to understand, allows you to find the paths that connect us all—which is what story is all about.
Megan Chance is the critically acclaimed, award-winning author of several novels. The Best Reviews has said she writes “Fascinating historical fiction.” Her books have been chosen for the Borders Original Voices program and IndiBound’s Booksense. A former television news photographer with a BA from Western Washington University, Megan Chance lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two daughters. Find her at: http://www.MeganChance.com.