A friend was telling me a story the other day. It was a funny, sad, dramatic story, and I was listening. But I was listening as a writer, which meant I was listening from a distance. I cared, and made appropriate facial expressions and sounds. But there was a part that held back, and took mental notes. I could use part of her real life story in one of my written ones. And I will.
As I become more entrenched in my writing life, my distance grows. I hesitate to call it emotional distance, because I am present. But I do find that the writer is with me, taking notes on my day to day life. Once I was in a meeting that got very heated. Afterwards a colleague followed me to my office, still ranting. I nodded and “tsk”ed a few times. She finally asked me why I never lost my cool.
“I write murder mysteries.” I explained.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“Rather than get riled up, I step back and think about how I would kill you all. It is how I relax.”
Now, of course I was kidding. Sort of. The truth is that the writer was in the room and she was observing everyone. And taking mental notes. Crafting a new character, or giving an old character more dimension. Plotting. Or doing the important daydreaming part of beginning a new piece–the collecting part where thoughts, ideas and observations are churned around and around until an idea starts to form.
I don’t think this emotional distance is the purview of writers alone. I suspect it is also the curse/blessing of actors and musicians. Anyone who channels humanity in order to recreate it for art and/or entertainment.
How about you? Do you find yourself stepping back and observing more than you did before you started writing? Do you listen to stories and decide what parts to use in your writing? Do you mind the distance?
J.A. Hennrikus is the Executive Director of StageSource. She is a mystery writer who has her story “Her Wish” published in DEAD CALM, an anthology by Level Best Books. She is a huge social media fan, and tweets under @JulieHennrikus. She wrestles with allusions of athleticism, is an avid theater goer and a proud member of Red Sox nation. Her website is jahennrikus.com