Sliding Doors Between Reality and Fiction

You’re halfway through the climatic final scene in your work-in-progress. Typing furiously for four and a half hours, you’re finally making some real progress. That’s when it happens…

 “Mom, I’m hungry! It’s 7:30. We ate all the chips an hour ago.”

 You glance up from the monitor and realize the sun has set and the room is dark.

 “I’m coming!” you reply, as you drag yourself from a fiction-induced stupor.

Like Gwyneth Paltrow’s character in the movie, Sliding Doors, wordsmiths live parallel lives. Once we enter the imaginary world of our characters, re-entry into reality is difficult and prone to have emotional repercussions. The anxiety associated with this stressful feeling is much like Mommy guilt. You just don’t feel like you give your best to either side: writing or real life. Which is more real, anyway?

As an author, you live your life through the characters you create. These fictional beings live in an alternate universe to your “real” life, but when you are interacting with them all day, every day, the lines tend to blur. Dianne Christner, author of four Amish Christian fiction novels, broke out in hives for an entire week, while writing scenes where her protagonist suffered an allergy attack.

I spent one week in July as a kid, reading “The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder, wrapped in a blanket and shivering on the couch. I had given myself over to the fictional world. Readers who love books do that. Writers who build those worlds do the same.

Although I write primarily non-fiction, I still find myself preoccupied with an awkward sentence or paragraph, unable to fully participate in sparkling dinner conversation or the most mundane household chores. It’s like I’m only awake when in the prose world and merely a zombie in the sphere of dishes, groceries and cat-box duty.

Spending time with other writers will help ease the guilt and anxiety associated with prose-related reality shifts. Stop for the day mid-paragraph and mid-sentence. Your brain will have worked out the conflict during the night, and you’ll easily get up to speed in the morning. Finally, try to have set “office hours” for writing, and when quitting time comes, punch the time clock.

When I am fully present in one reality, the other suffers for it. I don’t want my family to get less of me than they deserve, but I need to write to become completely myself. So when I’m facing a deadline, my loved ones are forewarned that I will be mostly absent in body and mind for a while. After the heat is off, I take a few days to reconnect with reality. And clean the bathroom.

“Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning:  I wanted to know what I was going to say.”–Sharon O’Brien, American author/editor