Being preoccupied – one hazard of being a writer

If somebody wrote a blues song about living with a writer, it might start out something like this:

My baby’s lyin’ next to me, but I ain’t here,
My baby’s lyin’ next to me, but I ain’t here,
I’m just a haint who ain’t dead, cause she’s off yonder inside her head.

My wife told me many years ago that she can always tell when I’m working on a novel or a short story because I’m not in the room even when I’m in the room. She says I’m preoccupied, but we both know it’s more than that. I haven’t gone off into a trance, but I’m getting close.

I can pull myself back from this preoccupation if I have to, if the cops bust into the room or the world ends, but otherwise the story in progress is so addictive that it has more power than “real life.”

dadreamWhen a writer’s in a writing trance, the sights and sounds of his/her story display in the mind’s eyes with greater clarity than memories and dreams. It’s almost like s/he is there with the hero being chased down the street by muggers, the people escaping from a burning building, the troubled woman on a swing, the lovers walking on a beach in the moonlight , or a room full of employees getting chewed out by the boss.

It you’re a writer, you know what I mean. If you live with a writer, you have my sympathies.

Once the story’s complete, the daydream quality of my non-writing hours disappears and I’m back to normal. Thankfully, I don’t work on multiple stories/novels at a time, so when I write the words “the end” on one story, I don’t immediately become preoccupied with the next. I say “thankfully” because being not fully present with others when you’re supposed to be watching a TV movie together, shooting the breeze on a car trip, or sharing a carafe of wine at a fine restaurant always comes off as disinterested uncaring.

One of my pet peeves is people who text or talk on their cell phones when having dinner with my wife and I or who have have come over to play cards or shoot the breeze over drinks. Few things are more rude than that even though most cell phone users think the world will stop if they don’t answer every call. While writers don’t mean to be rude and caught not listening or not responding to others in the room, they can’t always help it. And we come across as worse because we don’t have a cell phone plastered against our ear while everyone else around the dinner table sits in limbo while we yak about something inconsequential. Cell phone interruptions are an accepted kind of rudeness; daydreaming in front of others is not.

Maybe I need a sign around my neck that says: Sorry to be rude, but my short story’s calling I’ve got to take this.

Most people will either think that’s a joke or that the writer is crazy, that is, unless they’ve lived with a writer and his/her trance-like moments and understand what’s going on.

Seriously, it’s not that really want to ignore you. It’s just that I haven’t yet found a twelve-step program to cure my writing addiction.


Still addicted after all these years, Malcolm R. Campbell is currently preoccupied with the sequel to “Conjure Woman’s Cat.” 



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