Why Writers Are Like Old People, Especially During a First Draft

A while back, a friend shared a popular meme on Facebook that went something like this. You know you’re old when you’re constantly asking the following three questions:

  1. Person holding eyeglasses in the rain by Colby Schenck from stocksnap.ioWhere are my glasses?
  2. Why does my back hurt?
  3. Why am I so tired?

I was reflecting on this recently, perhaps when <ahem> helping my husband find his glasses, and I had a realization. Writers are like old people.

Let’s take the questions in reverse order.

Why am I so tired? I wake up tired every day. I had contented myself with blaming our pack of dogs (or the cat–it’s always the cat) but I was listening to a writer’s podcast recently (Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn) where she shared her experience monitoring her sleeping habits. She speculated that she’d been sleeping so much because she’s in the midst of a rough draft. Yes! We’re so tired because the voices in our head are wearing us out, day and night. (Not that the dogs and cat and new moon roach migrations through the house help.)

Why does my back hurt? This is one of those asked and answered questions for writers. Because I’m a writer. You’ve probably heard about recent studies saying that sitting is killing us, that chair-bound workers need to get up and move once in a while lest co-workers find their cold, dead claws clutching their mice. (The electronic variety, not the eat-you-after-you’re-dead variety.) Well, writers didn’t need any research to tell us that our vocation is killing our backs. Listen to a random assortment of podcasts or check out a writers’ forum, and you’re sure to hear about yoga ball chairs and standing desks and treadmill desks and dictation while walking. So far, I’ve only done the former. Standing makes my feet hurt (and Dingbat Dog pace), I don’t own a treadmill (or Dingbat Dog would be on it), and if I tried to write while walking on our pitted, gravel street, I’d probably fall down a lava tube or, the way it’s been raining for the past few weeks, fritz my recording device and possibly drown. (Note to Self: pick up thicker socks so you stop twisting your ankles in slightly too large shoes while dog-walking.)

Where are my glasses? Okay, I have to admit I don’t wear glasses (can you hear me knocking on the wooden desk that’s apparently killing me?) but if I did I’m sure I’d be searching for them every time I sat down to write. And I am (despite the East Hawaii rain) perpetually searching for my sunglasses. Does that count? I also find myself searching for scads of other things, some tangible, some not so much. There’s a lot to keep up with while you’re writing a novel, and not just ensuring you have a sufficient supply of coffee and toilet paper should you lose track of what month it is.

Sewing machine by Jakub Rostkowski from stocksnap.ioI’m in the final third of the fifth Sydney Brennan book now, which seems to be when I get particularly scatter-brained. That’s in large part because I’m a pantser, not an outliner. When I get to the end, I have to make sure all the threads of my mystery come together like a fine garment instead of a once-lovely rag rug shredded by the household pets. That involves a lot of … I don’t know. What do you call it when you’re sewing and you pick out a gnarly chunk, find something nesting inside it and shriek? Yeah, like that. Here are a few things I’ve noticed that I’d lost track of in Syd’s story this week.

  • What car Sydney is driving. Not surprisingly, she spends a lot of time on the road in this book. Most of the time, it’s in a rental car, but sometimes she’s driving her own car, Cecil. Or she’s just come back from the road, is returning the rental, and I have to figure out if she left Cecil at her home or office. It’s a little like coming out of Target, still dazed by the fluorescent lights and shopping carts full of diapers, having no idea where you’ve parked, then remembering your neighbor dropped you off in his helicopter and you don’t have a ride home. (Incidentally, how cool would it be to see one of those red baskets hanging from a helicopter with a shopper tossing pints of Ben & Jerry’s from inside? Best Mardi Gras throw ever.)
  • A Character’s Race. I’ve been trying to keep Character Sketches in Scrivener (there’s a built-in template) just to keep track of of all the names, but unless it’s someone important I rarely get around to filling in the details. This week, I was checking a piece of information a character shares (shhh… it was a clue) and found that the character had apparently switched race halfway through the book. Whoops!
  • A Character’s Name. I always do a quick search to make sure I haven’t use a specific name before, in the current book or any previous ones. However, sometimes in the course of writing, I’ll notice I’ve been too fond of one section of the alphabet, or two names sound too similar. (Not an issue if you’re writing Twin Bad Guys.) I’ve had to change characters’ names several times (one important character is on his third name; Scrivener’s Name Generator is my friend) and sometimes it’s hard to keep up. The character formerly known as…
  • Damned dates! For the first half of the book, there were events that happened and I’d put [INSERT YEAR] in a comment, figuring it was better to keep up the momentum of writing rather than getting lost in the details. That’s fine until things are winding up and you need to make sure all of the timelines are consistent and events would have logically occurred in the sequence you’ve set forth. (Must have played for the NBA before freak combine accident.) I’ve spent hours this week working on timelines and consequently making characters older or younger and otherwise changing their life stories so everything fits.

Old Typewriter by Sergey Zolkin from stocksnap.ioMaybe someone should start a Writer’s Home, a place where there’s no danger of catching the house on fire with your toaster while finishing your first draft. (I say toaster because what self-respecting writer owns an iron?) So long as it doesn’t look like that place in The Shining. I hear Johnny did not end up on the bestseller list.

[Person holding eyeglasses by Colby Schenck, Sewing machine by Jakub Rostkowski, Old Typewriter by Sergey Zolkin, all from stocksnap.io]