Thursday, May 5, 2011

Caution: Writing May Be Hazardous to Your Skin

I didn't write much when my kids were little. Actually, I didn't read much either. Except for easy to pick up and put down magazine articles. The trouble is I get very easily lost in a zone when I'm reading. I am one of those people who can be reading the back of a cereal box and my husband will walk in the room and ask me a question and I don't hear him.

When I'm writing, it's even worse. I am embarrassed to admit that over the years I have set off my share of fire alarms while writing and cooking. I have left gas burners blazing on the stove for hours. I have literally bled on my keyboard and did not know it. (See my blog from December 7 for more details). And the other day I gave myself a nasty case of frostbite.

Yes, you read that correctly. Frostbite. What happened was my back has been aching lately (probably because of the bad posture that comes from sitting hunched over my laptop. Back pain is also a writing hazard for me.) So I slapped one of those first aid icepacks on my back and went to work. I did not happen to read the package where it said, don't keep in contact with skin longer than twenty minutes. I suppose this is one of those warnings that seems stupid. Like, don't keep your hand on a stove burner. You'd know that, right, if you were burning yourself? (or, in my case, freezing yourself.)

Well, I'm here to tell you that the zone I go into when I write is pretty wide and pretty deep. I've heard another writer describe it as a dark pool. If you're lucky, there are times when you step in, and sink down. The computer screen in front of you disappears and you're IN. Scenes unfold. Characters become real. And your only job is to take dictation. It's like watching a movie, but it's in your own head. (There are just as many times when this does not happen, of course. Those days, it's just me in my bathrobe, completely present, fiddling with sentences and chewing on my fingernails.) But when I am fortunate enough to be in the zone, the me that is busily typing away does not hear things like my husband clomping into the kitchen, or our daughter throwing a slumber party in the basement, or one of my son's friends kicking a soccer ball at the neighbor's house and smashing their garage window. And, apparently, that zoned-out me does not feel the skin on my back freezer-burning.

I did feel it later, after I finished my writing for the day and wondered why my back hurt more than it had before. Three cheers for Aloe.

The going into and out of the zone thing is tricky stuff. I'm not trying to say there is anything magic about it. (Although, the truth is, I think there is.) It's what happens to any person who gets very absorbed in what he's doing. If you really love what you do, you lose yourself in it.

The moral of the story is: Writing has its drawbacks (The not-quite healed, itchy patch on my back is a reminder of that). But it's also the best way I know to spend a day.


  1. Yes, to not reading the directions, and yes to the dark pool. Great description and worth the frostbite!