Anyone who is paying attention to my house must wonder at the fact that we would appear never to sleep. Our lights are never out for long. My spouse goes to bed usually some time between 11 and midnight, and a few hours later, I'm getting up.
There are periods when I can't sleep because I have too much to get done (like in the 3 weeks before Christmas). There are times I can't sleep because I'm fretful. Lately I haven't been able to sleep because my characters are keeping me up at night--or I should say, waking me up extra early.
I've hung out with these characters before. They first showed up in short stories that I wrote in late 1997 and 1998. This summer, as I've thought about linked short stories, I saw how so many of my short stories involved these characters, even if they were named somebody else. I've rewritten past short stories and written one new one. And this week, I've been writing another new story, and I can't sleep because it's so delightful--but the only time I can be sure that I'll get writing done is in the wee, small hours of the morning, when everybody else is asleep.
I feel like I'm hanging out with old friends, and in many ways I am. The characters that I create often become real to me. And they're often based on even older friends, people who really exist, or on amalgamations of several friends.
I used to worry about the fact that these characters kept showing up through the years, but now I embrace them. In her fabulous book, Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers, Carolyn See says, "What if you quickly made a list of the ten most 'important' people in your life? Without thinking about it, or trying to make a good impression on anyone, or a bad impression either? Whom do you love? Who betrayed you? Whom did you betray? Who drives you nuts? Who's out of your reach? Who's your role model? Who's your benchmark for insanity?" (page 118).
See says that these will be our characters for life. I felt such comfort when I read that. I finally quit worrying about the fact that I seem to have several archetypal characters--I don't mean archetypal in the Joseph Campbell way, but archetypal to my writing. A future graduate student poring over my work would notice some recurring types: the characters with alternate sexualities who are both transgressive and ordinary, the ones with the passionate zeal for life, the gardeners/weavers/quilters/bread bakers with a sturdy sensibility, the ones with mystical insight into the spirituality of our times, the activists who veer into zealotry. Those folks show up again and again--and they often fall in love with each other, in ways I never intended or anticipated.
And I fall in love with them, which makes sense, because I have loved the real humans who inspired them. In this age of Facebook, I wonder how many writers have contacted past friends, only to feel dismay at realizing the person they really wanted to contact was a character created from the fabric of that friend's life.
So, I'm not getting much sleep this week. But it's wonderful to be writing fiction again.
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