The Writer's Survival Guide: Chapter 7: During the Draft

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If writing were a spectator sport, as the comic group Monty Python once imagined when they placed a scribbling Thomas Hardy before cheering fans in a stadium, it would appear to the observer that nothing more is involved than the writer making marks on a paper or a computer screen as she transcribes a story from her mind to the page. To we writers, however, it is plain that infinitely more is involved, almost all of which falls under the category of wrestling with your soul.

Writing is much more than the recording of words. It is much more than the unfolding of a story. Writing is a slow learning, through content, style, process, and daily evidence of your tenacity, of who you are, what you value, and what you want from life. Fight too hard as you write — be too resistant, prideful, frightened, defensive — and you are virtually guaranteed to quit. But give yourself over to writing — surrender your resistance, pride, fear, self-protectiveness — and you stand a chance of continuing. Plus, you will have drenched yourself in self-awareness, and that is a benefit few other disciplines can bestow as thoroughly, and as well, as writing.

This may all sound very interesting, but seem hard to apply to your particular situation. That's the purpose of this chapter. You probably think that if you are having trouble doing your actual writing, your problem is unique. It is true that your soul is unique, and hence so is the specific pattern and pace of your wrestling. But in all my years of writing and teaching, I have found that the process of writing is bedeviled by the same impediments for all of us — they just manifest themselves in different ways for each person. By understanding the universality of our difficulties, we can keep moving forward. If, however, we think that our difficulties are our cross, and only ours, to bear, then we will most likely stop.

These universal difficulties fall into the following categories: mis-reading (or not hearing) the inner voice, withholding personal investment when choosing material, fearing faith, resenting criticism, getting ensnared in delusions, and getting paralyzed by aloneness.

In this chapter I discuss the above phenomena, and pose suggestions for how to work through each with minimal fuss and maximal alacrity. By the end of the chapter, you should have a much better sense of how to wrestle with your soul so that you don't get discouraged and you don't get defeated, so that you can manage to keep writing that draft.

Hearing Your Inner Voice

In Chapter 3, I defined the inner voice as the "internal aesthetic trail guide which directs us toward the great." The inner voice is each writer's unique intuition which can, if listened to attentively, tell a writer how a piece is doing and whether it's done. In effect, the inner voice is a writer's Jiminy Cricket, a little squeaky conscience that says, "Trim that paragraph! Beef up that description! Make that ending more subtle!"

But the inner voice has two disadvantages which come out at different stages of the writing process. The first disadvantage is that, during a first draft, a writer may mistakenly interpret fear as his inner voice, and the second is that, in later drafts, the inner voice is, at least initially, rather shy, and so if we're not careful we might tend to ignore it.

Let's go through these one at a time.

The Inner Voice and the First Draft — During the first draft, you may think you hear your inner voice insisting that you are screwing up. That your inner voice is shouting — right as the words are emerging from your hands — that the metaphor comparing the orchid to female sexuality is hackneyed, or the captain of the ship needs a description better than "grizzled." Or that you need to change the setting from the porch to the backyard. Or, perhaps, it is bellowing something less technical, something more along the lines of, "This is trash, you dope. Hang it up now."

If that happens (which it probably will), you need to remember two points. The first is that in your first draft, you don't need to fret about the details. Stop only when you have hit a major snag. Otherwise, keep going until you have completed the draft. After all, it is more important to get out a remarkably imperfect first draft than to stall halfway through a brilliant one. Imperfection can always be addressed in later drafts, but a brilliant half-draft is no draft at all.

The second point to remember is that fear is not the same as the inner voice. You may find yourself duped into fusing the two into one, but after many first drafts of many stories, you'll begin to see the distinction: fears scream, while the inner voice whispers. Fears throw manipulative, negative-thought temper tantrums, while the inner voice prods gently. Fears seem thunderous, paralyzing. They demand we stop. They want to shackle our hands, rip us out of the process, make us prove to ourselves that we are no good at writing and, consequently, at anything. The inner voice says to go on, but throws in qualifiers. Later on you need to remember that the orchid metaphor is off, it murmurs in our ear. Don't forget you've rushed the description of the ship captain; you'll want to expand that in the next draft. The inner voice is patient. It knows it will keep nagging until you act — and so it lets you go on until you act. Fear, however, is an avalanche of prohibitions. You CAN'T use that idiom! That fight scene's a loser! Fear castigates and insults and insists on immediate response. The inner voice cajoles and suggests and waits until you get around to paying attention.

So, during a first draft, just keep pressing ahead. Don't stop. When fears try to thwart you, work on cognitive therapy techniques until you can keep going. (Described in Chapter 6, these techniques involve identifying your negative thoughts, recognizing them as illogical, and countering them with logical, positive thoughts.) When your inner voice tries to correct you, jot down what it says in your margins, or in another location, and keep going.

I urge you to end every writing session with a stint in your journal so that you can give your inner voice a place in which to express its concerns. That way it's all recorded, and you'll be able to knock off for the day with the knowledge that you've given your inner voice the respectful airing it deserves — and with the assurance that you will have those thoughts in ready-to-use form the next time you sit down to write.

The Inner Voice and Later Drafts — But when you move into your revision drafts, you need to recognize the other characteristic of the inner voice: shyness. Actually, this isn't shyness as much as a learned response; your inner voice is so accustomed to being ignored by you earlier in your writing career that it has trained itself to speak faintly, or maybe even downscaled itself from an articulate voice to mumbled misgivings.

My student David is currently struggling with this trouble. He recently handed me a story, grinning with pride, saying, "I've revised it, and it's done." I read it for class and saw that it wasn't done; it still needed to be tightened in the beginning, paced more slowly in the middle, made less preachy at the ending. When we met in class and I went through all this, I thought he might be surprised at my comments, but instead he responded, "Gee, I'd thought the same thing, but I didn't make the changes." "Why not?" I asked. He paused, then shrugged. "I didn't trust that my perceptions were right. They just hadn't seemed that important." Thus I was able to ascertain that his inner voice had been speaking to him — a major step for any writer. But unfortunately, it wasn't yet speaking loudly and assertively enough for him to respect. Sometimes he even convinced himself that it was not speaking at all.

How can you persuade your inner voice to speak up and be heard?

The primary tool to hearing your inner voice more clearly is to read your later drafts out loud, over and over and over. If you change one word, read the whole piece out loud again.

Reading aloud separates your writing voice from your inner voice. When you read out loud, you are reading your writing voice, while your inner voice remains inside your mind. Thus, you allow room for a dialogue between the two. That is, you read a sentence aloud. The inner voice squeaks that it's not quite right, so — if you're paying attention — you stop and work on the sentence. Then you read the sentence aloud again, and see how the inner voice likes it this time. Do this repeatedly — a hundred or more times if necessary. The inner voice needs to be coaxed from its whisper, and just one or two or five read-throughs will not achieve that goal. The inner voice is like a child: it needs a safe place so that it can speak, and that safety will come only when you prove that you will be there — and listening — by returning to work on and read the story again and again.

The more you read aloud, the more explicitly your inner voice will have the opportunity to speak to you. Then you'll know the difference between the inner voice and fear, and the inner voice and silence, and you'll be that much closer to feeling confident and self-reliant with your work — and, by extension, with yourself.

Choosing Your Material

When people ask what I write about, I summarize my basic concepts and narratives, but no matter what my phrasing or which book I'm discussing, their next comment is almost always either "Where do you get your ideas?" or "Well, do I have a story for you!" The first assumes that ideas come from research or the imagination, the second that ideas come from real-life incidents.

The truth is that ideas come from all those places. What matters is not where they originate, but what the ideas do inside you.

When writers speak about their "material," they are referring both to the content of the story — or the "idea" behind it — and to the themes of the story — or what the story is saying about humanity and the laws of the universe. For instance, many writers write about sexuality, but some do so in a way that says that people are cold and deserving of empty marriages, others in a way that says people are romantic and justice will prevail in love, others in a way that says people use sexuality to connect and that that is good, others in a way that says people use sexuality to control and that that is good.

Same overall content, different approaches. In other words, different material.

How do you find your material?

This is one of the biggest snags for apprentice writers, and for advanced writers who have taken time away from their work. Either nothing seems worthy of their writing energies, or everything does. They can't muster the desire, or else they can't discriminate between desires. So they are left at a loss, floundering, getting nowhere, not continuing.

But choosing your material isn't that mysterious or troublesome of an endeavor. It comes in a very simple way: by being observant of the world and, at the same time, reflective of yourself. Or, to put it another way, by being externally alert while being introspectively perceptive.

In practice, this means a two-stage process. First, keep your eyes and ears open to all that exists outside you: a song on the radio, a refrigerator dumped on the street, an overheard conversation in the diner, a cat darting across a busy road, your dry cleaner's fleeting references to her childhood, a nightmare about your ex-husband getting engaged, a friend's anecdote about her mother. Look at it all. By "all" I mean everything from such sources as:

- Newspapers, radio, and television — News, ads, songs, comics, op ed pieces, offhand remarks, etc.

- Conversation, both direct and overheard

- Experiences, both recent and so old as to be mythological

- Dreams and pre-dreams (that foggy semi-conscious state at the beginning and end of sleep)

- Photographs, paintings, greeting cards

- Other books

- Objects/scents/sounds

- Combinations of all the above

You'll notice that some of what you are seeing does nothing for you. But some of it will fascinate you, set all your pores on Alert, throw your inquisitiveness in fifth gear, catch your heart and won't let go. This stuff of fascination will lead to your content.

Then begin the second stage of the process: think about why this particular object/conversation/etc. captivated you. You need not think about this overtly, and certainly you need not do so before you have actually begun to write. But when you have begun writing, and are developing characters, you need to probe inside yourself for where the emotions and concerns of that object/conversation/etc. intersect with the emotions and concerns of your own life. Do not "Write what you know." Instead, "Write what matters to you." This is because your material is content in which you feel a substantial personal investment.

One of my most successful stories was about a loving elderly couple who try to share each other's dreams. I was in my twenties when I wrote this, so I did not know about the elderly the way I knew about all the ages I had already lived. But I did know about love and dreaming, and realized as I wrote that what mattered to me and my characters was that we both wanted our romantic relationships to last — although, since my characters were elderly, they needed to face the likelihood of their relationship ending due to death. This meant that my emotions and concerns were not identical to theirs, but my emotions and concerns overlapped with theirs. Therefore, I could write the story feeling very connected to them.

Content is not what really matters in writing. Emotions and concerns are the key.

How to know your own emotions and concerns?

- Keep a journal

- Bring deep talks with friends to definite, I've-really-learned-something conclusions rather than amorphous, superficial, drift-off endings

- Consider seeing a counselor — therapist, clergyperson, hypnotist.

- Engage in reverie-producing activities, such as physical exercise, repetitious household chores, gardening.

- Be honest with yourself

- Eschew self-evasion and denial

- Think

The key to finding your material is to feel compelled by an idea enough to want to find why and how it matters to you. Then you can stay with that material for a while, and when you feel the urge to move on, you'll be equipped to begin a new search, because then you'll have a deeper understanding both of how the search is done, and of the identity of the person who is searching.

Maintaining Faith

I have addressed faith in other sections of this book, especially the sections on "Confidence" in Chapter 2, "Humility" in Chapter 3, and "The Right Mindset" in Chapter 6.

Aside from those comments, the main thing to bear in mind about faith is that it walks hand-in-hand with patience. Patience generates faith; faith generates patience. When you give yourself time, you see that you can do it. It is hurrying that obfuscates faith. "I can't!" you wail, as you despair over ever getting to the next stage in your writing. But with patience, you recognize that you can. Slowly. One day at a time, maybe moving pebbles instead of boulders. But that you will get there — even a there you are currently unable to see.

Handling Criticism

You finish the story (or at least you think so). You decide to spring it on the world and see how others react. Even if the story is not about your life, you probably feel coupled to it — that it reflects on you. So if your friend reads a story you've written and hands it back, saying, "Well, the ending is a little pat," you think, "My God! She thinks it rots! She thinks I'm a buffoon! She doesn't like me!" Or else you might respond to criticism with anger and defensiveness. Once I was asked to critique a story that an acquaintance had written. I dutifully made comments with my red pen and gave it back her. This woman became furious, her rage taking on Ghaddafi-esque proportions. She called my phone machine at home, shrieking But it really happened that way! My mother liked it so what's wrong with you?! You only care about the market, not art! You only care about art, not the market! And one more thing — I never use exclamation mar - at which point the phone machine cut her off. Needless to say, she never spoke to me again.

Why do we respond to comments about our work with either self-anger or anger at others? Ego. At the bottom of these (self-)destructive responses is the foolish belief that we must be perfect for people to like us. We think we must make absolutely no mistakes, and if we do, we're unlikable. Instead of realizing that making mistakes is a necessary part of every learning process, we either attack ourselves ("I'm a failure! I have no reason to live!"), or we kill the messenger ("You just don't know what it's like to work for days on a story! You're a narrow-minded, ignorant literary snob!"). It's as if we imagine that readers are reading our personalities rather than our stories. So what if an incident in our stories "really happened," or our mother liked it. If the writing doesn't work, it doesn't work. Think about it: when you're reading a book and something seems off, you don't think, "Well, I'll excuse the author's sloppiness because I guess it really happened that way." You simply lose track of the story, or maybe even close the book. Our work is not us any more than our children are us, or a song we're singing is us. Our work is something we've created, something we can nurture and develop until at last it reaches maturity, something we don't need — and shouldn't expect — to get right on any particular deadline.

This craving to be perfect is, to be blunt, silly. No one expects that the first time he picks up a violin, or even the first five years he practices on his violin, he'll be able to compose a great symphony. He may want this, but he knows he has to work his way up to it. Yet somehow, if that aspiring violinist picks up a pen instead of a bow, he believes he should be perfect, if not the first day, then the first year, or the first novel. When I tell this to students, they say, "That's not a good analogy. I've been using words all my life, so it's not like I have to learn how a whole new vocabulary." But in fact, it is a reasonable analogy. You may have been using words, but unless you've been using them on paper — and you have been using them to tell stories — you are, when you write, essentially speaking a whole different language. Great photographers, though they use a visual language, don't immediately metamorphose into great movie directors; great barbecue cooks, though they use the language of food, don't immediately metamorphose into great chefs. Apprenticeships are involved, and apprenticeships necessitate the willingness to make mistakes. You cannot learn to walk until you can accept — and embrace — the necessity of falling.

All that said, how do you learn to handle the criticism that you will, inevitably, need to face?

You employ the Three Basic Attitude Groups:

1. Eliminate your ego.

2. Acquire patience.

3. Listen to your inner voice.

When you eliminate your ego (and, as a corollary, your pride), you accept that you are not perfect. This means that you can hear what people say about your work and recognize that they are not saying it about you. You and the work are separate beings, just as you and the pot roast you made for dinner are separate beings. Once you accept this, you can handle people's comments with aplomb rather than self-anger or defensiveness. (See "Ego" and "Pride" in Chapter 2.)

Patience allows you to receive criticism calmly. If, for instance, a friend points out that the ending of the story seems forced, you realize that you need not mope, but get back to work. So, the story wasn't perfect this time around. So what? What's the hurry? Your only deadline is your own death. Before that, all the deadlines are artificial. (See "Patience" in Chapter 3.)

And when you listen to your inner voice, you know which criticisms to value and which to dismiss. You know that certain comments are pointing you in someone else's direction rather than your own, and so, although you will listen (and perhaps learn) from these comments, you need not act precisely on them. You also know that certain comments duplicate your inner voice — "Hey, I knew that paragraph was dull, too, only I just didn't bother to work on it." In addition to helping you sort out the more useful comments from the less useful, your inner voice can help you determine whose comments are truly about your work, and whose are more about envy, or some old grudge, or mere taste. Plus, your inner voice will tug at your shirtsleeve when a critic offers a comment that initially seems off-base but is, in fact, simply an inarticulate expression of something that is highly valuable; Listen to this! it'll say, It's worded poorly, but what she's really trying to say is something you ought to hear. (See "The Inner Voice" in Chapter 3.)

With these three attitudes, you will find that criticism isn't such a big deal. You can face it all, whether it be from friends, teachers, or editors. Some experienced writers call this developing a thick hide. But that seems misleading, since it encourages apprentice writers to assume they need to get calloused, toughened. Rather than developing a rough exterior, I prefer to think of handling criticism as developing a healthy interior. Work on the inside. Then whatever happens on the outside — however disappointing — cannot weaken, debilitate, or destroy you. You'll see that they don't have that power. You, and you alone, do.

Delusions of the Creative Process

Like the first few months of a new romance, writing is so intoxicating that, when we're in the thick of it, we can easily lose our judgment. In romance, this blinding passion almost always leads to impetuous thoughts of commitment — Let's get married! Let's get my name tattooed on your heart and your name on my backside! We are Romeo and Juliet, Dante and Beatrice — ranking right up there with the greatest lovers of all time! With the power of us together, we could never fail — we could take on the entire world!

In love, our delusions almost always run to the glorious. Not so in writing. In writing, delusions go both to glory and to despair. Either we rocket into the heavens of:

This is brilliant! I'm a total genius! No one has ever written such an earth-shattering opus before! I will transcend mortality! I will be bigger than Shakespeare!

Or we slide into the pit of:

This is absurd. I'm a complete loser. No one has ever eeked out such putrid drek before. I could die of shame. I'll be as insignificant as roadkill.

Either way, we often get into a trance of misperception, in which the most extreme grandiosity, or the most hangdog self-abnegation, seems to make absolute sense. Occasionally we think both kinds of thoughts at the same time, and, oddly enough, such paradoxical thinking seems to make sense, too.

As soon as you realize you are experiencing these delusions, you can act to address them. The first point to remember is that delusions are part of the creative process. We create; therefore, we fantasize. That is, we are so accustomed to weaving our own reality out of everyone else's that we know how to see what others do not, and hence believe what the available evidence may not support. Others see a room; we see the intersection of planes, the ceiling giving birth to the walls, the walls embracing the floor. Others see our story; we see the clumsy sentences, the brain-dead characters, the luscious setting, the astonishingly original take on the central moral dilemma, the resonant final line, the phone call from the Pulitzer saying that everyone now sees we are so wise that the President of the United States would like us to let him know if we would become his advisor, the stupid transition in the third paragraph.

Probably all artists experience delusions as they create. Delusions are normal in the creative process. If you acknowledge this fact, you aren't as likely to be bowled over by them when they occur.

The next step is to recognize that there is nothing wrong with delusions per se, provided we remind ourselves that that's what they are — mental illusions that we are inventing about ourselves — and don't allow them to control our writing process. But you need to make a distinction between positive and negative delusions, since they affect us differently. Positive delusions are those that lead us to believe in our own glory (the I'm a genius brand of fallacy); negative delusions lead us to believe in our own ineptitude. Let's break down what each does to us.

Positive delusions. I often think that positive delusions are almost necessary for the writing process, especially in the first few drafts, when we are conjuring something out of nothing, and need the reassurance, however overblown, that we are spending our energies usefully. After all, if we didn't think the guests would have a riproaring time at the party next week, would we even bother to send out the invitations today? If we didn't think our child would become a happy, healthy grown-up, would we really want to conceive? It is a reality of human nature that we need the lure of an oasis to take off into the desert. Positive delusions keep us lumbering forward, convinced we are doing something so important and good that we have no choice but to press on.

The only disadvantage to positive delusions is when we cling to them during later drafts. That is, if we continue, when we are venturing into the revision stage of writing, to believe that we have produced work of such virtuosity that New York agents will kowtow at the very sight of our manuscript tumbling down from the transom. When such tenaciously positive delusions occur, we resist shred the sections that don't work in our writing, let alone rethinking the entire piece. How could we? Our magnificent creation must stay intact to preserve its magnificence. Pull out a single brick and you will mar the divine beauty of the work. It would be like touching up the Mona Lisa so we see her orthodontia, or giving Sleeping Beauty a bad case of insomnia. A single stroke of the delete key, we are convinced, would indisputably annihilate everything.

To translate, this means we are clinging to our ego.

This is not an insurmountable problem. In fact, I advise my students: when you are writing a first draft, be a monomaniac. Yes. Go ahead. I give you permission. Think yourself God. Maybe even a new and improved God. Dream of making millions. Of installing a heated swimming pool in your ten-acre backyard. Of winning the National Book Award. Of being the first American to be knighted. Of unleashing such public loyalty that your every trip to Shop-Rite is accompanied by a ticker-tape parade. Puff up with hope. Wallow in delirious joy.

But when you set sail toward revision, throw your ego overboard. You cannot get anywhere with revision if you are too protective; send your God costume home from the parade so you can get on with the business of sweeping up the sidewalk. Only then will you be able to see what needs to be done to your story, and will you be willing to roll up your sleeves and do it, regardless of how much time and effort it takes. (See comments on Ego in "Handling Criticism.")

Negative delusions. These thoughts are another matter altogether. Believing our work is gutter-fodder, our talents will evoke ridicule from every passerby, our very characters are limp, pasty dimwits who blatantly mirror the same narcissistic traits that caused our wife to leave us — such thoughts are not useful. Not only are they bad for our self-esteem, but when we believe them, we clam up and don't finish our draft at all, whether it is a first or five-hundredth draft. Negative delusions are anchors. Only they don't just keep us moored to one spot; they tug us down, out of the light and oxygen, until we drown in our own self-disgust and despair.

Fortunately, negative delusions can be neutralized and, as with all other thoughts, this can be done methodically. First, as I discussed in "Hearing Your Inner Voice," (above), negative delusions are fears, not realities. Variations on the theme of This stinks, I stink, the whole world stinks are not logical thoughts, and certainly not accurate perceptions. They are the result of twisted thinking. They are manifestations of fear.

This may take a while to see, but once you get even a glimmer of it, go right into combat. Don't delay. Arm yourself with patience, egolessness, the inner voice, and cognitive therapy techniques (see "The Right Mindset" in Chapter 6). Put in your minimum of seven hours a week. Use a process journal to keep track of how you are feeling and thinking. And, most importantly, do not stop. If you don't stop, you cannot fail, because you will simply, by sitting down to write day after day, have to improve. The only way you can know conclusively that those negative delusions are accurate is if you stop. Otherwise, there is always hope that you can prove those delusions are wrong.

A friend recently told me, "The true mark of a person is how she handles her fear." We all feel the fear. We all have the delusions. Some of us ignore them, and keep trying anyway. Others of us give in, which means the fear wins because we quit.

Fear doesn't mean you can't. Fear only means you think you can't.

But you can.

Writing is not pain. Writing is only work. Long and patient work in which you give yourself over to the process and come to understand yourself. Writing takes effort, and time, and courage, and faith. Give it all that, and then writing won't even be work; it will be a path to self-knowledge and growth, a journey not of fear but of fun.

Coping With Aloneness

We write alone. Even if we are on a crowded subway or in a noisy living room, even if we have discussed the story with friends at the cafe or the teacher in the front of the room, when we put down the words, we are doing so on our own.

Often, we write in a private place — our bedroom, our office before dawn. We might even remain in this private place for hours. Ideas pounce upon us, and no one is there to hear. We laugh, but only our ears will know. And when we have questions, or feel scared, or want a congratulatory hug, we just have ourselves, sitting in our chair.

Sometimes, this aloneness is no trouble at all. We are so involved with our characters that we don't feel alone; we feel spirited and energized.

But sometimes we don't feel as involved. Maybe we're full-time writers who wish we had a spouse. Maybe we're just not caring about our characters yet. Whatever the trigger, our aloneness turns into feelings of isolation and loneliness. Our solitude becomes oppressive. No one knows we exist. Maybe no one cares we exist. We don't know how to bear the silence.

How do we accept the long stretches of being alone — which we must have to write — so that they don't interfere with our writing?

Writers have struggled with this dilemma throughout the ages. Some turn to alcohol, though their reward is even worse depression, erratic personality traits, and early death. Others turn to leaving their desks to visit with writers. This sometimes works, though it can also lead to lunches that go on for the rest of the day, effectively terminating the writer getting back to work.

So how do we cope?

First, we need to remember that feelings of aloneness are different than loneliness — though we often treat them as synonymous. As I discussed earlier in this book, loneliness is not about a lack of social interaction, but about how we feel in the company of ourselves. Knowing this, we might want to examine whether our unease with aloneness is more about an ache for other people, or about a desire to escape ourselves. If it's the former, read on. If it's the latter, refer back to the section on loneliness in Chapter 2.

Beyond that, we need to find ways to make peace with the aloneness, or, as I think of it, to accept the solo in solitude. Every writer has his or her own list for doing so. This, I've found over the years, is mine:

- Live with people you love. Whether this is family or friends, their presence will give you social interaction to look forward to.

- If you can't or don't want to live with others, make social plans in advance — to occur after your writing time (all of it) is done. Again, this provides social compensation for all your time alone.

- Take frequent bathroom breaks. (This is easy if you are drinking a lot of tea or coffee.) When you are away from the desk, pause to look into the bathroom mirror. Yes, it's you, but it's the external you, which is a different version from the you you've spent the last hour with.

- Talk to yourself.

- Take breaks to call people on the phone. Whenever I have questions, I call friends who are knowledgeable on those topics, or I call libraries. A brief chat about the varieties of plastic egg cartons or the intricacies of legal procedures can do wonders toward making me feel reconnected with the world — and refreshed enough to reconnect with my characters.

- Take a quick break to leave a nice phone message for one or two people you care about. They'll feel good when they play them back them later, and you'll feel good when you think about them doing so.

- Send letters so you can receive mail in the middle of your session. If you don't already have correspondents, sign up with a pen pal agency and get some. E-mail serves the same purpose.

- If you are writing full-time, then when you have finished your writing for the day, leave the place where you are writing and exercise or run errands. Do this every day, even if it's just to go to the grocery store or circle the block. Cultivate acquaintances with people you regularly see, whether that be other dog walkers or the guy at the newsstand. Sometimes it just helps to know that your existence is acknowledged.

- Find talk radio stations you can tolerate and put them on when you have finished working and need a voice around.

- Always keep books, magazines, and newspapers around to read when you have stopped working.

- Write harder. Then you'll forget you're a you, anyway.

Aloneness need not be difficult to manage. With some effort and the right attitude, it can be enjoyed. Then you'll be able to face it in other situations, and you'll be happier for knowing you have such resourcefulness and strength.

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