Thursday, October 18, 2007

Guest Blogger: A. J. Mayhew


Welcome the muse, ignore the critic

I’ve always imagined that REAL writers live in garrets, ie, book-lined aeries overlooking the ocean or the Paris skyline. A real writer works to the pounding of the surf or to muted sounds of traffic far below. Her phones are turned off and a “Do Not Disturb” sign hangs on the door. A real writer communes with his muse often…pondering, dreamy-faced and sleepy-eyed, the deeper questions of life. A real writer is not distracted by her children or Fedex or grocery lists.
My husband and I live in Hillsborough, NC, a small southern town linked to the American Revolution and more liberal than conservative. An ideal place for a writer to live (many have made it home). I moved here in 1990, upon hearing a rumor that in Hillsborough you can throw a rock and hit a writer. My office offers a second-floor view into an expansive backyard, beyond which is a forested wetland. I look out at deer, squirrels, groundhogs, neighborhood cats, and birds, birds, birds. While I don’t gaze at the ocean or Paris, I have an idyllic place in which to write. I can close my office door, turn off the phone and the email. Thus, when I don’t have solitude, that’s a choice.

But a fallow period descended on me last year when I completed a novel I’d worked on for 18 years and found a good agent who loves my book. Now I wait for a call from an eager editor and keep myself busy in too many ways…not writing. So I’ve begun to blog about this nasty block. Yesterday I started a new string, “Writing from the Dark,” and in just a few paragraphs I began to feel as if, in some way, I was writing myself out of the wordless doldrums I’ve been in since the muse abandoned me.

What I’ve learned in the two decades since my first publication—a short story—is that whenever I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing; wisps of sentences or full-blown stories pre-occupy me. But then, when I face the blank white screen, an irritating voice tells me that whatever I write, it’ll not amount to much; I go into agonies of doubt. My mentor says to talk back, to knock the critic off my shoulder, to say, “I’m busy. Go away. Come back tonight and we’ll have at it.” Sometimes I remember to do that.
I visited Cathedral Amiens in 2003; in a souvenir shop I found reproductions of gargoyles and grotesques—three-inch-tall figures in a composite material—and bought five of them for the members of my writing group as talismans or guardians of hard drives. I became quite attached to mine, even taking him with me on a month’s writing retreat where I finished my novel. (I know he’s male, though I have no proof—he’s not anatomically correct.)
One morning during my retreat I knocked him from his perch on my computer and his feet broke off…I was distraught when I couldn’t find them. Then, the day I left to come home, I found the tiny pieces behind a cabinet, perfect except for a chipped toe. Super glue to the rescue. Over the years, I’ve wondered…is he covering his ears so as not to listen to my stories when I read aloud? Is he sticking his tongue out to razz me? How come he has both horns and wings? I’ve concluded that he sits in rapt attention, hands on face, savoring my every syllable, and that his extended tongue indicates his deep concentration (this from watching my grandchild working on a Lego tower). He has horns from his brief life as a grotesque, and angel wings acquired after his transformation from the dark side to the light.

A room of one’s own? That’s certainly what I have now, after many years of full-time jobs and writing nooks squeezed into leftover spaces. And a couple of days of blogging have at least gotten me active at the keyboard again….I’d love to hear of any techniques others use to jumpstart themselves back into writing, or thoughts about muses and internal critics.


Keetha said...

The only thing that works for me is remembering A. Lammott's entreaty to write shitty first drafts. I try to write something every day and tell myself it can be as stinky as I please. In fact, I can TRY to make it stinky on purpose.
Since the pressure is off, what comes out is often not half bad. And the process is fun.

ajmayhew said...

Thanks, Keetha...I'd forgotten those wise words!

Kristy said...

Oh, A.J., your place sounds wonderful!

And yep, that shoulder critic is a bitch, isn't s/he? I keep a 2x4 around to whack it when necessary. Actually, I pretend that nobody will ever see what I'm writing. It's all for me. Let it fly If it makes you nervous, it's the good stuff.

Congratulations on finishing that 18 year novel, and my very best wishes for a swift and major sale. Keep us posted!

G. West said...

Are you the A. J. Mayhew who used to live in Charlotte NC and hung around with that good-fer-nothin' JR of Space Grits infamy?

If so, this greeting comes to you from your old pal Greg West, former Aardvaark and paint-slinger. How ya doin'?

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lizthoughts said...

AJ. You look so wonderful in your picture that it makes my heart hurt. I would like to reconnect somehow if you are willing. Are you in FaceBook? Or have email? I can be reached at Liz Cline.
BTW. There are worse problems than having a lull to contemplate a completed and sold novel. Courtney and I walk Derby in the racetrack park on the Eno all the time. I was imagining that your office view is similar.

viagra online said...

Well I'm a part time writer if that exists, and yes it is better when one is isolated, with no one to distract you, no phones, no TV, well for me music helps a lot.

Dennis Smirl said...

I was just buzzin' around the web and bumped into this blog. Good stuff. Enjoyed reading every word.



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