Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Exhaustive Creativity

Yesterday I worked, doggedly, on the Greenland novel, stopping only for food, Freecell, and Facebook breaks (and, yeah, obsessively checking the comments on my Escapist article), and I wrote about 7,000 words. I had hoped to get in 10,000, to get up over 80,000 words total, but I was utterly pooped by 10:00, so I just went to bed.

This morning I woke up wondering what, exactly, made me so tired. Why did 7,000 words of fiction coming out of my brain, into my fingers, and onto the page exhaust me? I can write a blog post about a third that length without batting an eye, usually just with the effect of feeling refreshed that all that information is set forth and no longer rattling about in my head. I felt a little whiny and foolish that I was so tired after sitting on the couch with my laptop all day, but really, I was. I felt hollowed out. This led me into wondering whether you can measure the work of creative endeavor, whether comparing the sleep depth of dock workers and fiction writers would yield any interesting results, whether the complaints of those who invent for a living can be taken seriously against those of, say, maids.

I, for one, didn't sleep particularly well. When I woke up, little snatches of the plot I'd written yesterday were floating in my mind like algae, nothing ordered or helpful, just flotsam. They kept re-cycling through my thoughts in an annoying way - yes, I've already thought about you, can't we just lie here and enjoy the soft bed?

For the last week, there's been a weird multi-phasic quality to my life: feeling as if I'm either living totally by rote, or standing outside and watching myself live, or feeling like the people I meet are just an extension of the dream I'm having and aren't external to me at all, or actually existing in the moment so vividly that I feel Sartrean. It's like being edited, like going from camera angle to camera angle.

I'm pretty sure this freakiness is because I'm daily immersing myself into a thoroughly fictional world. I think the overwhelming opera I went to on Monday night, the surreal fact of being in The Escapist and having people I don't know actually read and remark upon what I have to say, and the fact that at the moment I'm not going to work and coming home every day as I have been accustomed to do for such a long spate of years, contribute to the effect.

But I wanted this post to be about the work of creative endeavor, and whether squeezing too much fiction out of your brain means that you wind up with an empty tube, without two wits to knock together. Is it fair to call it exhausting? Is it on the same level as manual labor, just entailing a different kind of tired at the end of the day? Do different kinds of creative work have different effects? I often feel not exactly tired, but satisfied, after I work on nonfiction; I'm ready to quit putting words on the page for a while, but I don't feel - as I felt last night - that even composing a sentence to say aloud to Matt is just too damn hard.

I'd love to know what people who do other creative work all day think. Advertising writers, art directors, etc. Doing activity of any kind for a day's work can be tiring, I don't care what you do, but feeling as empty as I did last night - is that normal?


Tiffany said...

Yep. Absolutely, positively normal. I spend all day performing, writing about, and thinking about photography, and at the end of the day I'm sacked out by 8:30. (Congrats on your article!)

Anonymous said...

You had me at 7,000 words. Are you serious?!?! That is amazing.

Anonymous said...

Nice work on the word count!

I agree especially about the "multi-phasic" quality, that sense of disconnect or at least of a more distant perspective, third-thoughts, treating everything as an arms-length object to be considered for aesthetic value and thematic resonance...

Katharine Coldiron said...

Thanks, Tiff! I'm so glad to hear you have the same thing.

Will, yes, I'm serious. It was...a lot. But I could still never do what you do.

Kathleen, do you find that works differently with your art than it does with your writing? I imagine as an artist you're always looking at life as a series of subjects. Do you ever manage to get out of that? Or is NaNoWriMo affecting your perspective right now?