Yesterday, INTERN was half-intrigued and half-horrified to learn about exhaustion hunting (also known as persistence hunting)—a style of hunting in which the hunter runs after her prey until it literally drops dead (or near-dead) of exhaustion, at which point, a festive barbecue ensues.
It turns out humans are the only creatures on earth who are capable of exhaustion hunting another animal. We can't run the fastest or gnash our fangs the fearsomest, but damn—can we ever hang in there.
Exhaustion hunters rely on their tracking skills to chase an animal over long distances without losing it. Whenever the animal stops in the shade to rest, the exhaustion hunter startles it into running again, until the animal is so weak and delusional it cuddles up to a thornbush and goes to sleep. From there, it's only a matter of carrying the animal's carcass back to your village in a victorious parade.
Writers are exhaustion hunters. INTERN can't think of that many other professions that cause people to ceaselessly pursue the faint or even invisible tracks of something as elusive as a story. And not just pursue it, but pursue it to the point of utter physical, emotional, and spiritual collapse.
Sometimes it feels like every writer INTERN has met over the course of writing this blog has an exhaustion-hunting story. The friend who waited months and months before finally hearing back from That Agent. The one who re-wrote his entire book three times. The one who has three jobs and a baby and still finished her novel. There are so many people out there with Serious Jobs and Serious Families and Serious Health Conditions and all sorts of other stuff going on and they still get it done. And not just get it done, but get it done in the hottest part of the day, in the middle of the desert, with nothing but thornbushes for miles around.
INTERN's big question today is: How the #%@$ do you do it? No really—how do you, personally, do it? What's your trick? INTERN has heard that long-distance runners (and presumably, exhaustion hunters) get something called "runner's high," a trancelike state of euphoria that occurs after one has been running for long enough. Is there such a thing as "writer's high"? Has it happened to you? Did you bag that spotted WIPalump in the end?
I cooked really shitty dinners, taught my kid how to use the remote to watch endless amounts of Wonder Pets on Netflix, didn't sleep, and gave my husband shameless amounts of quick love in a barter for hours of uninterrupted typing time. After a long day watching kids from home (my job...for now) writing on my own time was like excruciating, mind numbing heaven! And then I got addicted. And then I wrote more. I tell myself I'll slow down once I get published. But is that the talk of an addict in denial? I have no clue.ReplyDelete
I imagine the exhaustion hunter is such a good tracker that she doesn't worry about her prey getting a little bit of a head start; she is possessed by the notion that, in the end, she will be the only one who remains. The same is true for me. I write what I can, when I can, with the knowledge that, in the end, my novel will see the light of the bookstore shelf. That's not arrogance; it's dogged persistence in the face of the fatigue of raising four children with a husband in medical school. As long as I keep writing, I will, eventually, win. If the deer knew how to rest when the hunter did, she wouldn't get caught. But the hunter paces herself and keeps a clear head. That same perspective is the only way I manage to finish anything I write.ReplyDelete
Somebody (Picasso?) when asked if he loved to paint said no. Then, why do it?ReplyDelete
Because I must.
That's pretty much it, with writing. There's a story (many stories) in me, and I must write (and rewrite, and rewrite) until I'm satisfied I've told that story as well as I can. Then, on to bagging the next one.
As Shaunna said, above, if I keep writing, I will, eventually, win. Publication? I'm sure of it. Being able to make a living at it? I hope so. But, in any event, just the writing itself is a victory.
I was the kid who narrated everything that happened...Julie hurried through the door, desperate to beat her pesky little sister to the freezer. No way would she allow the last serving of ice cream to fall into the clutches of a mere six-year old.ReplyDelete
I wrote before I could write. I constructed elaborate stories with impossible plots and cut-out characters. Somewhere along the line, someone pointed out that perfect heroines weren't particularly sympathetic and I learned to builld characters.
I love that writing is a learning process. I can't stop.
I have two novels on sub - one of which is probably good enough to find a buyer. If it doesn't, it won't matter. I'll keep writing. Forever.
I am one of the ones who just keeps writing a thousand different one-page starts until one sticks. Once it does it's hard to stop writing it. I'm also a college student with two majors and a chronic illness so sometimes it's a matter of being patient with myself.ReplyDelete
Nothing published. That's a whole other can of fish to boil (or something) once I graduate and have four seconds to breathe (because the real world doesn't take up any time right?)
Simply put, I love my WIP. If I love it I'll want to spend every moment with it and giving up is NOT an option. Also, I may be addicted to writing. It helps.ReplyDelete
elizabeth: "I tell myself I'll slow down when I get published" BWA-HA-HA yeah right :)ReplyDelete
Julie and the Writing Goddess: very inspiring comments!ReplyDelete
My personal theory on the preponderance of writers with "issues" is this:ReplyDelete
A certain percentage of the population copes with alcohol. Another batch turns to yoga. Some of us run away to places that never were and eventually they become so real we have to delineate them with words, rules, and world building.
I do think some people are born to write and they can't NOT write. But I think that a lot of us are born with a propensity for it and find that once a critical mass builds in our "real" life, something erupts through the pressure valve of writing. Just my theory based on a marketing research group of precisely one.
Ah, dear INTERN, I write, and I KEEP writing, because it's just what I do. I write because the stories are all there, and I want to let them out. I write because I love all my characters, and to let "them" die for lack of writing would be tragic and make me less of ME, and more of someone who isn't, well, a writer.ReplyDelete
I'm a single mother and full time writer. There are days that go by where sleep is a distant memory, not because the baby keeps me up at night, but because the writing does. I don't have any say on the mater. I have to write regardless. How do I do it? Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.ReplyDelete
What got my attention is your analogy with hunting. I hunt ;D And what I've found as I find with my writing is having a goal in mind helps. Doing your homework helps. Being familiar with the path it takes to get you to the "thing" itself, helps. And then there is opportunity. When the time is right, go after it! When the idea as the hunted thing appears, take aim. Becoming exhausted on a hunt is NOT fun. Tracking, though interesting, becomes less so the more exhausted you get! Just some thoughts... ;DReplyDelete
I was ran over by a semi truck, so I use writing as therapy. Being impaired due to the accident, I found that writing allows me to have a creative outlet and purpose again. To answer your question of how I do it, I finish a novel just like an ant eats an elephant, one little bite at a time.ReplyDelete
the economy collapsed and my wonderful wife, a fine jeweler by trade, couldn't afford gold or silver any longer. people stopped buying jewelry at craft shows to the point where we couldn't afford to pay for craft shows. suddenly, i had a whole year where i didn't need to spend weekends making wire bangles and/or driving hours away, setting up the booth and trying to sell them.ReplyDelete
back when i was a kid i was in a book discussion group. this put me in a library on a weekly basis. after meeting lloyd alexander and roaming the bookshelves of the children's section of the library i decided that being a published author must be one of the best things life had to offer.
life events converged with the thought "if i'm gonna do this, i ought to do it now while i still can" and i started writing.
90% of the time I write and write and write because I love it, and I have stories to tell, and if I don't write, I get cranky. But when I'm exhausted and my unread books are calling to me and I dread sitting down to a blinking cursor, the 10% that pushes me through is my competitiveness and my absolute ridiculous determination to succeed despite the odds. In those times, that refusal to fail is what keeps me writing.ReplyDelete
wow. just—wow. INTERN is so very inspired by the responses to this post. off to stock up on coffee :)ReplyDelete
Because, even if it never gets published, that feeling when you write something good, and you know it's good is just so wonderfully satisfying.ReplyDelete
I write because it's raining outside and that keeps me from wanting to do much of anything but write about people who live in sunshine.ReplyDelete
and i'm writing right now to avoid a mountain of dirty dishes...ReplyDelete
Last night, I had a long conversation with my roommates on persistence hunting (one who is less exercise-averse has actually read BORN TO RUN!). And I thought I'd pass on a couple interesting bits of info:ReplyDelete
1. Persistence hunting was a practice, prehistorically, most often undertaken by women. Since we were the only ones who needed meat (for having babies), ladies were the hunters, not gatherers. How badass/feminist is that?!
2. A major consequence of our ancestors' persistence hunting is the evolution of creativity. We were unique to other animals, then and now, because we could chase the prey without seeing them, visualizing where the animal might go and the successful end result. Over thousands of years, this led to us being the only species with the imagination to build, draw, and hey - write stories. So you weren't far off after all!