Guest Blog: Chris O’Neill: Oh Shut Up!


Oh, Shut Up


A friend of mine has often mused “Is writing about writing really writing, does it count?” I am in the unenviable position of writing about not writing.  I’m sitting down today to think at the keyboard, which is where I do my second best thinking.  First is in a comfy chair by a roaring fire in a room with floor to ceiling bookshelves, the kind with a ladder on wheels, I would be using a fountain pen on really nice paper, there is soft instrumental music playing on a magic stereo which I don’t need to have any electronic capabilities to work, but this is in the little world I have built for myself in my head.  In the real world I’m at my laptop, in my living room by the fireplace, but no fire yet today.


My goal today is to answer the question, “Am I really a writer?”  Or the underlying question, “Who do I think I’m kidding?”  Self-doubt abounds.  Looking at this question logically, and let’s all please bear in mind, I am a natural blonde, who spent her formative years in the constant company of an Irish ginger.  The colors color affecting the way you look at things, my logic is not Spock’s.  I interview myself in my head, is this writing thing just a hobby like knitting?  Or is it a part of who I am, does it define me?


Me: So, what have you had published?

Me too: Well um…does High School count?  A bit of poetry in the school literary magazine.

Me: So you haven’t done anything since school, college was 32 years ago.  How can you call yourself a writer?

Me too:  No, I’ve done some things.  I wrote poetry for a while after school, and I write little essays, mostly comical about things that have happened to me or my family.  I write when I have something on my mind.  I committed poetry when I thought I had cancer.  It was a little bitchy and angsty, I posted it to a site my daughter uses, and it got an award for being the best item posted to the site that day.  People liked it, it touched people.  Well except that one guy who thought it was whiny.  I thought, they might chop off a breast, I have a right to whine a little, and I never imagined many people would ever read it.

Me: So you didn’t think people would see it.  So you only write for yourself?  Do you ever try to get anything published?  I think you’re in the knitting category.  I think this is something you do to keep your hands busy, when you’ve got nothing else to do.

Me too:  (a bit defensively) well, no…that’s not fair.  There’s the novel.  I have to do research, and figure out things, and there’s work that goes into it before the story ever gets to the page.  I need to figure out maps, and names.  It’s not just “ooh, me, I have a sad thought.”  There’s a tale, or at least a piece of a tale, and a message to get out, right now it’s very much a “Leaf by Niggle” but I’m working on getting it out.

Me:  Really, what’s the date of the last time you worked on it?

Me too:  Um, December 3rd?

Me:  Yeah, that’s knitting. It’s been over a month.  Writers write every day.

Me too:  Well, there’s been Christmas, and family home, and well, if it were knitting then why do I knit sometimes, too?

Me:  Because you’re not a writer, and knitting keeps your hands busy, too. And as far as the research, you realized you miss school, you miss learning something new, you actually liked research, and you are a fraud, you like people to think you’re smart, and you think at work, but about things that don’t interest you at all, and so it’s a chore, not fun, and nobody thinks you’re special because you do math all day.  You don’t think you’re special, and you are a self-involved person who wants to be something different from “mere mortals”.

Me too:  Hey, I don’t think I like this interview.  That’s kind of harsh.  Life works the way it works.  I ended up doing something for a living that requires a lot of brain exercise every day, and sometimes it drains all of my creative juice.  You’re right, it’s not something I enjoy, and every day I find myself wishing I had taken a different path professionally.  But I didn’t and people count on me, and there’s the life you wish you had, the one with the room with wall to wall books, and there’s real life.  I live in real life.  I work hard, and I balance a lot of things.  I’m a fair business owner, a decent employer, a good wife and mother.

Me: But you aren’t a writer…you dabble. What’s most important to you?

Me too:  My kids and my husband obviously.

Me: What do you talk about when you meet someone new?   What do you tell them about yourself?

Me too:  Mostly I talk about my kids. It depends on the person I meet. It depends on their interests.

Me:  Do you ever volunteer that you are a writer?

Me too:  Um, (meekly) well…no.

Me: Why NOT?!

Me too:  They’ll ask what I’ve done lately, it’s always the same, “What do you write?”  “Have you been published?” “Do you have a blog?” and then the answers are so lame.  No blog, never been published, and when I tell them what I write.  Medieval Fantasy.  The eyes roll, or the immediate disinterest.  “Oh, I don’t like that, it’s not my thing, I never read anything like that.”

Me:  Well it’s a pretty tight genre; people outgrow it in their twenties.

Me too:  You know, in case anybody ever wondered, it’s hard to invent an entire world.  Anyone can imagine soft porn, Shades of Gray; humph….I read Chaucer…for fun!  And you can write a murder mystery that happened in Kansas, and while you might need to come up with new and depraved ways of killing someone, humanity pretty much supplies them, and you know what Kansas looks like, and there are newspapers and maps and geography, and legal documents, and case files to research.   I’m not saying its easy Mr. King, but to someone who thinks any state without an ocean is the Midwest, making up a whole world, with believable geography and physics, and cultures is not a picnic.  It wouldn’t hurt people to read about things that never happened.  Fantasy has got Good vs. Evil, and Striving to Right the Big Wrong, and the Little Guy trying to Save the Magic Thing-a-majig. It might actually be good for people to read that, and think about those things, those things used to be things we thought about as a people.

Me:  You’re off topic, and if you want your writing to change the world sweetheart, you kind of have to actually write the book.  How long has it been?

Me too:  (Deflated) I started it when I was on the bus from work when I was pregnant with Caitie.

Me:  And she’s how old now?  Where does she go to college?

Me too:  Oh shut up!

Me:  Hardly a very articulate answer.  So you’ve chosen to do something hard, nobody’s making you.

Me too:  Oh shut up!

Me:  Ah, very witty.  So why aren’t you writing?

Me too:  I don’t know, because this is bigger than I thought it would be, and I don’t think I’m very good, and sometimes I’m just exhausted, and it’s audit & tax season.  Who am I kidding?  I should just quit the writing group I’m in and give up.  I could still keep in touch with my friends who write.  Maybe I should just join a book club, and learn to read middle aged soft porn.

Me:  Oh that’s attractive, self-pity.  That’s very nice.

Me too:  Oh shut up.

Me:  So, you give up.  You’ll what…knit?  What happens when you knit?

Me too:  I sit still, and I think.  I think in scenes of my novel.  I get “the blurbs”.  You know little bits of things that might be something someday. Happens when I’m on a long car ride, too.

Me:  And what happens to those blurbs?

Me too:  Well, I’m not near my laptop, and if I don’t have a pen & paper handy, sometimes I lose them. I usually lose them.

Me:  I guess that doesn’t matter though, because you’re not a writer.  Nobody’s ever going to read what you write, because it’s not “their thing” so why are you bothering, right?  Who cares if you lose them?

Me too:  But I care.  I used to carry a blank journal and a nice pen everywhere.  I got out of that habit.

Me: Maybe you should stop with the anti-technology pose and see about a big purse and a tablet.

Me too:  Yeah, I don’t think I should spend money on that. I could start carrying a blank book again though.

Me: Of course you never plan to publish it.  “I write for myself, it doesn’t matter.”  You are such a phony.

Me too:  Well, I have a business to run, and kids who need me, and my husband actually likes me and likes to spend time with me.  I really don’t have the time.

Me:  Really?  The business is pretty much 9-5.  That’s eight hours out of 24. You’re a mathematician, that’s a third.  And sleeping, another third.  There’s an hour or two between sending the kid out to school and going to work.  What are you doing with that?

Me too:  I….go back to bed.

Me:  After dinner, you do what?  Watch TV, or listen to music in the living room?

Me too:  I read sometimes!  I love to read.  I’m not giving up reading.

Me:  Every night you’re reading?

Me too:  Sometimes I’m exhausted.  I can’t even think, my brain hurts.

Me:  So your brain wouldn’t feel better in the world of your novel?  Must not be much of a place.

Me too:  Oh shut up!  I have to lug out my laptop.

Me:  Oh, the laptop you bought for yourself, just for writing?  That one?  The one you would put on the lap desk you specifically asked for for Christmas?  I smell a list of lame excuses here.  Are you a writer or not?  Can you give it up?

Me too:  I don’t think so.  Things pop into my head all the time. I see things, and they trigger things.  I guess because I can’t write full time, I think there is no use.  And I’m afraid to send things to publishers, other things, the little essays and things, because I don’t need the rejection.  If this interview shows anything it’s that I’m not nearly as sure of myself as I like everyone to think.

Me:  Really, you insecure?  Who would imagine it?

Me too:  You know you’re a sarcastic bitch, right?  I mean that fact hasn’t escaped you?

Me:  No, no I’ve picked up on that.  So, you’re giving up, right, because you have no time, and (oh wait, you do have time) and you’re a chicken (oh, no, you have faced everything life has thrown at you and simply floundered through it and gotten it all to work out, so nope…not a chicken) and nobody likes the kind of thing you write, (oh, but wait a minute, your kids, and their friends, and your writing group, and probably the out of state group you’ve been too big a chicken to really join, all have told you repeatedly it’s good, so SOMEBODY has read your stuff), but you’re quitting, right?  Might as well go into the file right now and hit the big delete button.

Me too:  (indignantly) I’m not quitting!  Who said I was quitting?  I have things to say.  I have a point to make; I need to figure out how to make stealth philosophy in the middle of a great tale.  Oh SHUT UP!  I can do this.  I just need to actually do it, and not sit here writing about not writing.  I am not having this, let me tell you!  You don’t just give up something that you’ve done all your life, because what?  Because nobody’s stroking your little ego?  Because what you choose to do is hard? …Oh…Oh, I see what you did there.  And it worked, too, dammit!

Me:  I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Me too:  Oh Shut UP!  I’ve gotta go, I have books to write.





3 thoughts on “Guest Blog: Chris O’Neill: Oh Shut Up!

  1. I recognize the monologue. It began, for me, long ago in graduate school. These days, I don’t give into the debate completely but it hangs around like a beast waiting to feed on my mind and leave me empty. Joining a writers’ group has helped me tame the beast or at least keep it at bay. Once you have been published, as in this blog, you have fed the beast for a while.

  2. Thanks Joanne & Will. Not sure it counts, since Mel and I go back to high school and she’s extremely supportive of my floundering efforts, but it did the trick. I guess sometimes you just need a boot in the bum, and if no one else will provide, you must supply it for yourself. Well, back to figuring out the reason the evil king is evil. My daughter told me I’m too nice to write a good villain, I can’t get into the mind set, but it is audit/tax season at work, and Oh…I’m getting there. Thanks for the feedbback, it helps to know I’m not alone.

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