Off-Time Character-Building, or, “That Baggott Girl’s Gonna Crash”

During my time at Michigan State University, I was only able to meet one invited author and two poets (having to pay your own rent in college makes it hard to find time for these things). The author, Julianna Baggott of Puresaid something that stuck with me: she imagines how her characters would respond to various stimuli – words, actions, etc – while she is driving.

Even now, this seems unsafe to me, but I was looking to economize at the time – to fit my writing into my everyday life. Unable – thankfully? –  to partition my mind while driving, I felt like a failed writer. Then I realized I’ve been finding me-time for my stories since I could count my age on two hands. Every night before falling sleep – ever since I was a kid – I’ve been concocting stories, and even now I use that twilight time to come up with new scenes and new sub-spaces where my characters can teach me about themselves, even if the scenes never make it into the books. Then I have the benefit of sleeping on them, and we all know how advantageous science has proven that to be.

Like so many other experiences of mine, this has taught  me that all writers are different. Where Julianna Baggott’s mind can operate smoothly and safely on two levels, mine requires dedicated focus, and even then my thoughts scatter all over at the slightest touch, which is both a strength and weakness. What is important across the spectrum, however, is that a writer experiences his or her works in their everyday lives. Even if making rent gets in the way of our daily writing, the presence of our stories is what makes us writers – although unless you are as badass as Julianna, I’d suggest keeping your eyes on the road.

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