In his poem, “Sunday Night,” Raymond Carver advises writers to “Make use of the things around you…put it all in, make use.”
Carver himself told about working on a short story when he looked up and saw a man walking down the street. The next thing he knew, he said, “the damned guy was in the story.”
Actors are told the same thing. If something unexpected happens on stage, “Use it!”
I mention this because life has a way of upsetting whatever plans we might have and those plans include working on our writing.
We carefully lay out a schedule for our writing – every day, every other day, mornings from 8:00 a.m. to noon, evenings from 7:00 p.m. to midnight, all day Sunday – a schedule that works for us and seems just right.
Then life knocks on the door. Much as we try to protect our time and our privacy, something happens, somebody interrupts, an emergency that can’t wait pins us to the wall. Even writers who live alone and feel well-insulated are not immune to these happenings.
You know exactly what your characters are going to do next and why and how and then – bingo! The knock on the door.
I’m here to suggest that you think about Carver’s advice. And the advice to actors. Use it. Use it all. Live your life like a writer and make use of the world around you.
What was it that caused the interruption, that blasted through your schedule? Who was it who ignored your “Writer at Work, Please Don’t Disturb” sign and wrecked your afternoon or evening? What was said? Who did what and why?
Yes, it’s annoying, who would disagree? But you just might have been handed the key to a difficult scene or a narrative problem you’ve been trying to solve.
I speak from experience. Recent experience. I was hearing too much about a particular person and being compared to the person (yes, you guessed right if you guessed this was some kind of romantic involvement and the person I was hearing about was an ex). I hated it.
Then I thought about giving a character in the novel exactly the qualities I was hearing about – and exaggerating them (writers get to do this). From that moment, I didn’t want to hear less about her – I wanted to hear more. I wanted to hear everything. For now, I’m even using her name in the novel. I’ll change that later to protect the guilty, but two things have happened.
1. I like what’s happening with the story now that this slightly altered nuisance is in it.
2. It’s terrifically cathartic.
So, don’t let the world impinge on your writing and drive you to distraction. Use it. Make use.
Put the damn guy in the story.