A writer friend of mine was giving a speech the other day. I hadn't seen him in a while because he's putting the final touches on a new book. So when he stepped to the podium I was a little surprised to see he'd put on weight around the middle.
"Looks like he suffers from `book writing mode,' too," my wife whispered to me.
It's true. There comes a moment in all books where nothing else matters but sitting down in the chair and putting words on the page. It's like the final six miles of a marathon, when you can sense the finish but not hear the applause or see the actual finish line. Nothing else matters but forward progress. Bathing, sadly, becomes optional. Working out becomes a distant fantasy. Nights are filled, literally, with dreams about the topic at hand. Whole paragraphs and plot points reveal themselves in the darkness. The final hundred pages of a book are not the same level of obsession as planning the D-Day invasion, but they are a fixation of a very high level.
In the words of Winston Churchill, "Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public."
This is Book Writing Mode, as we call it in my house. And to see my friend so obviously struggle with the physical effects not only made me touch my own belly somewhat self-consciously, it somehow made me realize that I wasn't in it alone.
I've been watching a video series of David Mamet discussing the art of dramatic writing. It's been a blessing to learn so much and in such a straightforward manner. But the one thing no one talks about when discussing the writing craft is how your body reacts. I liked the process of writing a book as something akin to standing on a dock with everyone you know and love. When it comes time to start writing, its time to step from the dock onto a small rowboat and leave everyone behind. You don't paddle straight out to the middle of the lake because the first thirty pages of a book are a slow immersion into the process. Rather, the boat drifts further and further away from the dock, until you can see the people still standing there, and perhaps even wave or yell to them, but the real physical and emotional connection is severed until the book is done. That's Book Writing Mode.
When that day comes, it's time to row back to the dock for that inevitable reunion. Only thing is, while they're happy for the reunion, they're also a little wary, because that next break with reality will come all too soon when a new book is begun.
That physical immersion into the work and the distance it creates in our lives is a real physical thing (you'd think I could come up with a better word than "thing," but I think that states it just about right). I was happy to see my friend emerging from book writing mode, but just as glad for him that he went out on a limb and endured the physical and emotional commitment it takes to really do some great writing.
Can't wait to read his book.