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Posts tagged ‘writers’

The writer as double—will the real writer please stand up?

Reading Margaret Atwood’s book Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, I’m contemplating the writer as double. We all have doubles, in a way, whether we’re writers or artists or scientists. We have our public persona and our private self or what I sometimes call my inside voice and my outside voice. (And, it’s that inside voice, when she gets loose, that often gets me into trouble).

Atwood says that this concept of the double started early in her life with superhero worship. Superwoman, Superman, Spiderman, etc. are all strong and kick-ass when in their saving-the-world-mode but their “real” personas are weak and fallible, i.e. Clark Kent.

Writers can be seen this way, too. We have our normal everyday self who walks the dog and washes the dishes, then we have our writing self who causes an innocent young paraplegic to die a horrible death at the hands of a time-shifting serial killer.

Atwood writes: “All writers are double, for the simple reason that you can never actually meet the author of the book you have just read. Too much time has elapsed between composition and publication, and the person who wrote the book is now a different person…”

She goes on to write, “When writers have spoken consciously of their own double natures, they’re likely to say that one half does the living, the other half the writing and…that each is parasitic upon the other.”

Throughout time, writers have written much about this double—probably most famous is the Jekyll/Hyde duo but writers have also written about their own writing doubles. Jorge Luis Borges did so in his work “Borges and I” where the first-person narrator of the person of Borges separates himself from the writer Borges.

Atwood asks, “Can an “author” exist, apart from the work and the name attached to it? The authorial part—the part that is out there in the world, the only part that may survive death—is not flesh and blood, not a real human being. And who is the writing “I”? A hand must hold the pen or hit the keys, but who is in control of that hand at the moment of writing? Which half of the equation, if either, may be said to be authentic?”

I believe both aspects of my double are authentic. My public persona—the one who runs a business—is fed by connecting with and helping others. My inner persona is fed by time spent alone putting words on the page (and all the attendant thoughts and ideas that fuel those words on the page). When these two aspects of myself get out of balance is when I fall into trouble.

And, really, it’s not like I’m two separate people–unless I’ve had one too many glasses of wine or a shot of Mama Juana I brought back from the Dominican Republic (shh…don’t tell). But parts of me rise up as needed or as the project demands. When I’m deeply involved in my writing, all my energy is directed onto the page. If someone were to interrupt me and ask a question, they likely might walk away wondering how a blathering dunderhead could write anything.

I think Atwood’s Alice Through the Looking Glass analogy sums up the double dilemma best:

“The act of writing takes place at the moment when Alice passes through the mirror. At this one instant, the glass barrier between the doubles dissolves, and Alice is neither here nor there, neither art nor life, neither the one thing nor the other, though at the same time she is all of these at once. At that moment time itself stops, and also stretches out, and both writer and reader have all the time not in the world.”

Are you intoxicated with every word you write?

If you’re a writer, you no doubt love to play with words. Words are the basic building blocks we work with to make our prose fly. And, one wild word may turn a pedestrian sentence or paragraph into one that dances the tango all over your reader’s imagination.

Screenwriter and producer Joss Whedon recently spoke at the event “Make Equality Reality” about his hate-on for the word “feminist.” He says that part of being a writer is living inside the smallest part of every word…the sounds, the syllables, the meaning…as if you’re intoxicated with the word.

Watch his hilarious take-down of the word “feminist.” Whether you agree with him or not, it’s the word that counts in the end. Always the word.

One way to exercise your writer’s mind and have fun

In Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers, she recommends exercising our writer minds long before we actually put words to paper. Then when we do begin to write, the ideas and words flow. I like her advice and think of it in terms of being playful and having fun.

As I read, sometimes a sentence or phrase stops me in my tracks. When this happens, I like to examine the sentence, learn from it or just play around with it.

This happened to me recently when I read this line: “Men do not often boil a woman’s rabbit.” I was reading best-selling author Bob Mayer’s description of different archetypes of men and women. At first, this sentence stopped me because I didn’t understand it. I had to take a few minutes to wrap my brain around it. Finally, I got the meaning—we often see women “boiling a man’s rabbit,” but not vice versa. Read more

Five traits of successful authors

When I first started my own business, I had an opportunity to earn a luxury car from the company I worked for. Problem was, I’d never owned a luxury car. I was raised middle class, worked my may through college, and struggled for years to pay the bills. Driving a luxury car was not part of my reality.

But I really, really wanted that car. I knew I had to change my belief system. So I created a little song about that car and the belief that I could earn it. Fortunately, I don’t remember the song now, but for weeks, as I went on my daily three-mile walk, I sang that little song to myself. I put all of my intention in that song. Gradually, my belief system began to change and, within six months, I earned that car.

I’ve always studied successful people. Over the years, I’ve listened to self-improvement tapes, read self-help books, gone to seminars and even hired a personal coach. I was motivated to change.

Becoming a successful author or artist is no different. Of the authors I’ve studied, I’ve found several common denominators:

  • Successful authors have a system. Author Dean Koontz gets up every morning, goes to his home office and writes. Eight hours or more a day. Consistently, day in and day out. Read more

Three outstanding posts by writers for writers

The internet can be distracting. I often feel like Alice slip-sliding through the rainbow-colored world of the internet when I should be writing. But, sometimes, it’s good to drink from others’ Kool-aid. Especially, if it gives you some great ideas like these posts below written by writers for writers.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Enough,” by Kathie at This post is about taking time to rest and honor ourselves. With all the recent stressors in my life, I needed to read this.

Assess your novel as a screenplay,” by R.P. Kraul at A great idea. Even if I don’t go through the entire process of turning my book into a screenplay, I can think about the differences it might create in my manuscript if I did.

Prayer–or Plan?” by Denise Shekerjian at Do you plan your story before writing? This post gave me some good reasons why I’m going to spend more time planning my next book.

Writers and their cat muses

“I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat.”  ~Edgar Allan Poe

I own three cats–two orange brothers (Teddy Bear and Simba) and an older gray and white female cat (Precious Chase aka P.C.) who acts as their surrogate mother. Not only do my cats provide love, affection, and constant entertainment (I believe they were stand-up comics in a previous life) but they have, on occasion, acted as muses.

A few years ago, as I was finishing my thesis for my MFA program, I’d been having trouble with a particular chapter near the end of my book. I walked into our sunroom one day to find Teddy Bear, our 15-lb orange boy, literally eating my chapter–tearing it into little pieces and swallowing them. He made me see that the chapter had to go and instead of rewriting it, he was going to help me shred it. Read more

What do famous writers snack on?

Writers have all kinds of little habits and quirks. Some won’t allow themselves to read or check email until they’ve completed their word quota. Some write in their pajamas, straight out of bed. Some dress as if they were going to an office. Some do go to an office. But have you ever wondered about the eating habits of famous scribblers?

Take a look at Wendy MacNaughton’s post for the NY Times to see what famous writers like to snack on. I can relate to Marcel Proust’s need for espresso but I’m not sure I could stomach Walt Whitman’s oysters for breakfast. My own preferences depend on the time of year and the time of day but some of my staples include: coffee, tea, water, green drink, almonds, apples, peapods, carrots, a bowl of cherries, or a small plate of gourmet cheese and healthy crackers. And, if I need a sugar buzz, a bit of dark chocolate on the side.

Are you a snacking writer or do prefer to eat away from your desk? What do you like to snack on while you write? Please share!