Writers – Scavengers and Eavesdroppers All!

Imagine laying beside a pool in Maui, enduring a conversation between an aggressively lazy boyfriend telling his partner that if he had booked their holiday, there would have been no confusion over their zip-line adventure tickets.

“There would be one point of contact, if I’d organised it,” he says, stretched out on his pool chair, while his girlfriend’s phone trills and she attempts to explain the mix up again to perhaps her tenth point of contact.

“You’ve got a big ass,” he decides, when she sits down again.  At this point my partner goes to the bar for a drink because I don’t think he can bear it anymore.  I stay on.

“Don’t talk to me like that,” she says and he responds with, “I’ll talk to you any way I like,” adding, “One point of contact, that’s what there should be.”  I’m not sure, but I think she might have told him to shut up.  It makes sense that she would.  “Don’t YOU talk to me like that,” he says loudly, as if him shutting up would be truly shocking and I imagine this might be true.  The pool chair scrapes and I just know she had gotten up and walked away.

For the next half hour, I really do read my book and am almost absorbed by it when the woman returns and resettles herself on her pool chair.  “Hey babe,” the boyfriend says.  I don’t hear her reply, but I assume she acknowledges him in some way because he says loudly enough so all us pool loungers can hear, “We have a strange kind of love, don’t we babe?”  I hear his girlfriend giggle and say, “Yeah, we do, babe.”    This is when I leave.  I don’t want to be mistaken for a supportive listener and for me the scene is over.  I am a writer.

Writing is one of those professions where nothing is wasted.  We are life’s natural scroungers and recyclers.  Those awfully embarrassing or awkward conversations others would prefer to forget will, at some point, in some form, march across the page and even we are shocked.  The worse the experience is, the more likely it will make itself into our fiction, even when we don’t mean it too.  There are occasions, like the one above, where we are aware the material is being fed to us.  We just know, this is good stuff, but even then we don’t need to push it.  Just let it stew slowly with everything else we’ve ever seen or heard consciously or unconsciously and know sometime it will bubble to the surface again in some new form.  It’s true.  We collect from anyone, anywhere.  If the tax department was at all understanding, I would openly contend that all of life should be tax deductible for writers.

But just before you lose heart and think us impossibly cruel, I must say I sip from my own soup just as often.  I have learnt that there is something in those moments when I am most uncomfortable.   I can push this down and stride on after some days in recovery or, if I have courage enough, I can pick at the scab and see what’s under there.  It’s not a journey of self-discovery, where we are revealed to ourselves and then healed.  Writers are some of the most deluded people I know, myself included.  It’s more about looking into the feeling of awkwardness and recognising a lack of congruence in myself and the knowing that it will occur again and again.  There’s not a lot I can do about it because I’m human.  All I can do is use it to try to make my characters more or less as deluded, and human, as I am and hopefully more believable.

Still, I add a warning.  There was a T-shirt I meant to buy online which said something like, “Don’t piss off a writer.  They’ll put you in their novel and kill you.”  It’s writer’s revenge and yes, sometimes I wish I had that power.  Mostly though, you’ll find a writer too busy suffering over a scene to be that openly pathological.  However do be aware that something you’ve said or done could make it into their fiction, but don’t worry.  By the time it rises to the surface, its likely neither you nor they nor anyone else will recognise it.