I’m often asked by people, “As a writer, how do you turn it off? Are you always in writing mode?”
The answer is: I don’t. And yes.
Being a fiction writer has consumed me in ways that journalism never has. As a general-assignment freelancer, my work is kind of like cramming for a series of school exams — you study up on a field of knowledge, spit out answers in the form of an article, and then move onto the next assignment. In between are usually large periods of sleeping, eating or catching up on my DVRed shows.
Novels, on the other hand, hover over me. For months. For years. Forever.
I guess it’s the nature of long-term projects — I had a similar experience while working on Good Girls Don’t Get Fat and other nonfiction titles. But novels, in particular, haunt me, because the stories themselves aren’t external, but internal — they originate in me and become a part of me, extensions of my world. And you know the saying: Wherever you go, there you are. In other words, there’s no escape.
Even when, like today, I manage to write 1,000 words of my work-in-progress in the morning, leaving the rest of the day presumably carefree, I am still thinking about those characters, that scene. I don’t mean to. I just do. My characters just pop right in during dinner or while watching Dancing with the Stars. I’ve said this before, but it’s kind of like that last scene in A Beautiful Mind where Nash and his wife, Alicia, leave the auditorium in Stockholm where Nash has just won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, and he sees Charles, Marcee, and Parcher — figments of his imagination — standing to one side and watching him.
They are always watching.
Like Nash, I kind of learned not to fight it, to just accept it as part of my life as a fiction writer. Plus, the truth is I kind of like having these people around. I never feel alone.