Spider Writers

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

I usually spend a bit of the early morning outside. Mrs. B has created a lovely garden spot in our back yard. There’s a Celtic cross under an arched trellis, with creeping vines all over, and I’ll sip some coffee and have a little quiet time. Good for the brain and the soul.

The other morning, quite by chance, I saw something wondrous—a beam of sunlight illuminated a silvery, gossamer thread about eight feet in length. It was a single strand of spider web extending from our overhang to about twelve inches above our outdoor table. From there a more intricate web spread outward, like a pyramid, with three strands mooring it to the surface. A miracle of art and architecture!

I had Cindy come outside to see it. We gave it a full minute of admiration before I reluctantly took it down. As I did I said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Spider. I really am.”

I gave the anonymous arachnid no further thought.

The next morning I came out as usual. And once again the sunlight revealed that overnight the same spider had constructed the exact same web!

This time I had not the heart to take it down, for I know that spider must be a writer.

Spider webs are made of silk, a natural protein fiber. The material comes from an underside structure on the spider’s abdomen called a spinneret. In this way, a spider can seriously maintain it is creating art from the gut.

And isn’t that what writers do?

We toil and spin. We reach deep inside. We weave a dream onto the page. (This metaphor is also pursued in Larry Block’s excellent Spider, Spin Me a Web.)

And when we release our work it is sometimes summarily taken down—rejected by publisher or agent, ripped by critic or reader reviews. All that work!

So what do we do?

We go back to the keyboard and spin again.

We’ve talked recently about persistence and why we write. But maybe there’s one thing we ought to learn from the spider: We write simply because that is what we do.

To me that’s the difference between a writer and a hobbyist. Nothing wrong with the latter, mind you. A hobbyist can make some nice lettuce through productivity and business sense.

But a writer is someone who can’t contemplate not writing. William Goyen expressed it this way:

“I can’t imagine not writing. Writing simply is a way of life for me. The older I get, the more a way of life it is. At the beginning, it was totally a way of life excluding everything else. Now it’s gathered to it marriage and children and other responsibilities. But still, it is simply a way of life before all other ways, a way to observe the world and to move through life, among human beings, and to record it all above all and to shape it, to give it sense, and to express something of myself in it. Writing is something I cannot imagine living without, nor scarcely would want to. Not to live daily as a writing person is inconceivable to me.” (The Writer’s Chapbook, George Plimpton, ed.)

Now, I don’t mean that there aren’t times when we need a break. Rest is as much a part of the writing life as typing. That’s why I normally write six days a week and take Sundays off to rest. I always find I’m raring to go on Monday. I’ve taken two or three weeks off near the end of a year to think through my goals for the next twelve months.

I also understand completely when even highly successful writers may want a longer break from the hamster wheel. I do suspect, however, that at some point there will be a tug in the gut, that yearning to spin another web.

Because that’s what we do.

George Bernau was a San Diego lawyer who nearly died in a car accident. In the hospital he took stock of his life and “decided that I would continue to write as long as I lived, even if I never sold one thing, because that was what I wanted out of my life.” He had discovered he was a spider writer and went on to write some popular thrillers.

So…

Do you ever contemplate giving up writing for good? Think you actually could do it without your Spidey sense luring you back? 

Do you take breaks from writing? How do you feel when you’re away from the keyboard for any length of time?

 

37 thoughts on “Spider Writers

  1. I’ve stopped writing from time to time – taking care of ill family members, moving, working more than one day job plus theatre – but I always come back to it.

    In my dream life I’m writing at the beach house (or even better – on the beach) every day (except Sunday).

    In real life Sunday is my writing day because by then I’m usually caught up-ish with work and chores.

    Happy writing, y’all!

  2. Jim, I take breaks from writing, but I always come back.

    My hunt for spiders, however, is constant and eternal. I am the Blade of spider-hunters.

    Re: your own situation…if a spider’s web is knocked down a few times it will simply move elsewhere, such as under a bed. I recommend Suspend. I spray twice a year with it but you will probably need to do it monthly because of that spider-friendly climate in California.

    Thanks, Jim. Have a great day and keep knocking those webs down.

  3. Good post, Jim, and good analogy.

    I’ve found that there are enough little life interruptions (visits from relatives, days devoted to attending estate sales, etc.) that I seldom feel a need to manufacture a day off. Besides, I only “work” three to four hours per day, during which I put down three to four thousand words at a blazing fast 17 words per minute. (grin) Works for me.

    Even so, when I’m not writing, when I’m not relating my characters’ story, I miss it like air.

    • At that blazing rate you really do have to miss it. It’s like Charlie Chaplin on the assembly line in Modern Times. When he’s relieved he walks away but his arms are still performing the task…

  4. First mosquitos, now spiders. Can’t wait for next week’s post.
    My critique partner and I are both at about the same place in our writing–polishing before giving our babies to our editors. She was complaining, wondering, whether she had another book in her, whether she even wanted to write anymore. About four days later she said, “I’m getting antsy” and reported she’d put down about 2K into a new book.
    I’m the same way. I’m a ‘one book at a time’ person, so when I’m in editing/marketing/other stuff mode and not working on creating a book, I last about a week before I HAVE to write something new again.
    Having spent most of two weeks on a trip to Croatia, I’ve had my away from writing time. Back to spinning another web.

  5. I always, always have stories in my head. Scenes from, currently, any of 12 of them pop into my mind and I let them play out until I see where they go. It’s like I’m checking in with friends and relatives, getting updates on their lives.

    I do not, however, always sit and type them. There’s a lot going on that takes my time away from the keyboard. Or, maybe that’s a lie I tell myself because I’m afraid of getting smashed to smithereens like a spider if I show myself.

    The spider needs its web to catch food to survive, and keeps building them even knowing they will be destroyed by nature or people. Every time one is destroyed, the spider builds another. Maybe I should apply your analogy and not let anything keep me from the keyboard, a writer’s spinneret. After all, I’ve never heard of a writer actually getting smashed to smithereens. At least not physically.

    • Becky, you go for it! It’s part of the writing life to put ourselves “out there” where a smashing may occur…but also admiration and appreciation. Spin those webs!

      And yes, as Ron Goulart said, “Never assume that a rejection of your stuff is also a rejection of you as a person. Unless it’s accompanied by a punch in the nose.”

  6. Well at least you’re calm about the spider web. My reaction would be “EEK!” and grab the nearest thing to swat it down. LOL! Mr. Spider can go build in someone else’s back yard. 😎

    I can’t imagine ever contemplating giving up writing for good–it’s been instilled in me since I formed my first sentence back in first or second grade & I discovered the thrill of stringing together stories. Although I do go through dead spells with no writing–sometimes for so long that I wonder if it will ever come back. But then something always lures me back.

    I wouldn’t recommend my unreliable productivity schedule to anyone, but I am confident that I will get at least some of my projects completed when all is said and done. Whether I like it or not, I’m an “all in” or “all out” person. A lot of people do well chipping away with 10 minutes a day or some other routine to write regularly. I gotta be immersed. Even now as I sit back & think on the projects I have finished, the fun of it is thinking back to how cool it was that for X number of months I was completely carried away and banging out that project—the writing, the research, the whole shebang had me humming as I was living & breathing it. I just don’t get that thrill if I have only 10 minutes a day–it feels more like folding socks.

    I’m waiting to see what happens over Christmas break–the first chance to have some decent time off. I think I’m about due for a creative re-birth. We’ll see.

    • I think we go through many creative “rebirths” over the course of a writing life. And there’s always a great initial charge and good production of words. May that happen for you, BK!

  7. Charlotte’s Web

    I plan to write as long as I am physically and mentally able. Before I retired from my “day job” about a year ago, I craved time to write, and envied those who had it. I usually found one or two days. Now I have the luxury of writing every day, and I feel cheated if an obligation steals one of those days.

    When I’m away from home overnight, I take a laptop and a journal along and do a little writing at the end of the day. The time may come when I need breaks, but for now writing is the creative release, the break I need from the rest of life.

    • It’s a great feeling, isn’t it? To finally have more time to write. And seeing writing as a “break” from life is good, too. Bradbury said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

  8. I love this, Jim. The spider spinning a new web is the perfect analogy for we writers. I’ve taken “unintentional breaks” from actual drafting or revising in the past, but even then, I was always thinking about writing. These days, when I do take a day or two off, I return refreshed. I don’t do it often. I’ve thought about your one day Sabbath from writing for myself, but, it’s hard to resist the lure of writing.

    Now that I’ve been retired for nearly two years (which feels more like five thanks to the pandemic distorting my previously excellent time sense), I feel like the luckiest person in the world–I can open the toy chest of my imagination any time I want and take out something to play with.

    Have a wonderful Sunday.

    • I love that, Dale. The toy chest of our imagination! A reminder, too, that as we write we must try to have fun and play. There will be plenty of time for work when we edit.

  9. I was late coming to the spinning wheel, but I’ve always had stories weaving themselves in my head. Now that I have the time to write, I’m caught in the web, and I can’t resist putting those words down on ether.

    I also commit one day a week to rest. I shut down my laptops and don’t write at all. I try not to even think about my current projects, but that turns out to be very hard to do. I believe the one day of rest makes the other six more productive.

    • Exactly right, Kay. When I’m not writing on Sunday I do feel that tug. But I resist and I’m always refreshed on Monday. (Cant say I haven’t cheated from time to time!)

  10. Jim, I too feel guilty for swiping down a spider’s work of art/architecture. I also apologize to the boxelder bugs that invade the house every fall before I squish them. They’re just trying to make a living, too, but not in my house.

    Over the years, I’ve taken extended breaks, like Cynthia’s to take care of family obligations.

    But I always come back. Like a moth to the flame. Hey, there’s an idea for your next entomology post. 😉

  11. I did. I gave it up for good. So I thought. There was gaps, like a couple of years, where I didn’t do a thing.

    I made great money in my current profession. And I think my #1 problem was I didn’t know how to transition from technical writing to fiction. I had huge mountains to climb and little kids that needing everything. I was also frustrated I couldn’t create the writing I wanted to, and was rejected all the time because of it.

    I would think of myself as a spider with long fangs. One day I bit my ass and jumped in. (I’d say kicked myself in the ass because I was very angry with my lack of trying.) The biggest hurdle was to learn and adopt the writing life, but the web is up. .

    • Good on you, Ben. I spent ten years not writing because I’d been told I didn’t have what it takes. When the “bite” finally came I went with it and haven’t stopped since. Over 30 years now and the webs keep on coming.

  12. Thanks, JSB! I’m one of those weird females who like spiders. (Just don’t like bugs that fly.)

    I think about quitting every day. And the angel on my shoulder talks me out of it every day.

    I write something every day, be it a WIP, subscriber email, blog post, or SM post.

    And I read something the other day that cheered me immensely: Asking “what if” questions, talking to a character, imagining a setting or scene, etc. is all writing.

    So I can honestly say I’m always writing!

    😬😬

  13. The lawns and meadows around my home has ornamental trees and shrubs scattered about, and this time of year is giant spider web season for a particularly large and creepy spider. You do not want to be tooling along on your dangerous lawn tractor and drive through a massive web and have that large spider somewhere in your hair. So, this is, also, Marilynn walks around the yard with a broomstick before mowing season.

    I guess I’m an exception for stopping fiction. I did some time back, and I’ve not regretted it. I wrote steadily for over thirty years, but the joy of the writing was sucked out by the bloody business, and I realized I no longer needed to share what I wrote within the business or without. My characters and my stories still play around in my head, and that’s enough for me.

    • I suspect those characters will want to come out and play on a page, Marilynn. But until then, keep clear of those spiders. I found a black widow in my garage a couple of months ago. Killed it, but did not sleep well that night.

  14. 2020 was a disaster. On Thanksgiving my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. On Christmas Eve our son died of Covid. I was distraught. I gave up, friends, family, pickleball, eating, cleaning, and working out. The only thing I could do was shuttle my husband to doctor’s appointments and write. I could not give up the page.

    • Writing gives me a map and a compass to explore a new world. This new world is more under my control than the ordinary one. It’s a place where I can make good things happen, even when my real world is full of disasters and potential disasters.

      Keep it up!

  15. Great analogy, Jim. I gave up writing for a week because of a @#$%^ spider. My wife always keeps a succulent plant on the kitchen table as an air purifier. One imported a venomous brown recluse spider that snuck out and impaled me in the right elbow while I was innocently pecking away on my laptop. Well, I’ll tell ya! My whole forearm swelled (swool?) up and the ache was nearly unbearable. It crippled my right fingers to the point where I could not type. Given that my left is nearly useless at all times, I was on the sidelines for a whole week. No succulent no longer comes in this house without a complete and thorough spider inspection.

    • Ouch and holy moly, Garry. Forced break due to spider bite! Ack! I may not sleep tonight.

      I’ve got to go back to analogies that have to do with verdant forests and meadows and unicorns.

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