One of the Andaman locations in my new novel.

Ross Island, India circa 1936, another setting in the new novel.

Reflections on a life among words

OUT TAKES ...bits and pieces of story, research, and process

Writing Mind

September 23, 2009

Tags: writer, marriage, writing process, writer's mind, observation, creativity


My writing mind exasperates my husband. Somehow he can juggle fifteen deals, three potential lawsuits, casts of hundreds and never seem absent, never fail to do a load of laundry as he passes through or check the machine to see if a load needs to go into the dryer, never neglect to close a door or drawer behind him, never lose track of time or miss a scheduled appointment. Never keep anyone waiting. I have no deals pending, only a handful of faces in my mental registry, and suffer from illiteracy when it comes to legal documents, yet I am guilty of all the above lapses and many more. My only excuse is the writing mind, and it is trying not only for those who must live with me but for me as well.

The writing mind is not an alternate reality but an alternate hell. While the clothes sit waiting for hour after hour to make the transition from washer to dryer, I sit frozen at my desk mentally scribbling and erasing passage after passage of transition between one character and another, one span of time and another, one location and the next. The faces that people my head are strangers noticed in an airport or compilations picked out of case studies. I will never meet them, and they will never give me that cold party fish eye for forgetting their name or for committing the unpardonable sin of misremembering that our children were in different classes. Yet these phantoms hold me accountable to a higher and more demanding standard: they insist on becoming real, on lifting off the page and speaking their mind, not mine, and moreover, they insist on making sense. Trouble is, they have more power over me than does my family or anyone else who has the misfortune to actually be real. There is an exceedingly thin differential between the minds of the writing and of the schizophrenic. That differential, according to my husband, consists primarily of narcissism. The schizophrenic cannot help hearing voices, while the writer commands these voices as a way of shutting out the world.

My husband is a self-described Philistine. He has little interest in Art, less in Creativity, and absolutely none for Nostalgia. And yes, on a regular basis I try to justify this gap between us as a reason for leaving him, but since he's a better parent than I, because he does get the laundry done and is not, fortunately, as averse to romance as he is to Art, I have not as yet been able to make this justification stick.

Besides, I fully agree that the Writing Mind is a complete pain in the ass. It is self-indulgent, profoundly wasteful, anti-social in the extreme. I am never fully anywhere except at my desk. The closest I come is to play the observer. Look at the woman with the too-clear skin who almost doesn't look her age and tries to prove it by wearing black stretch paints and a leopard-trimmed vest with a matching leopard handbag, both doubtless from an exorbitantly overpriced Montana boutique that she couldn't afford if she were as young as she's trying to look. Or, what is wrong with this woman who's just come dancing over to tell us about her six near-death experiences and how she nearly drowns every time she swims because she's so in love with the water that she forgets to breathe and how she went into the hospital the other night to find out why she only sleeps three hours a day and they poked her full of holes -- look, see the bruises? -- and then pronounced her healthy, healthy, healthy, and yes, she's having an exhibition of her quilt, which is all hearts and flowers, bright colors like her dress, my, just look at this dress, you know it used to fit me -- I make all my clothes -- but since swimming the space between my ribs has widened, my lungs have so expanded by over an inch, and I'm so HAPPY! But come closer, you've got to hear this... And I come closer but the band plays louder and I can't hear this last juicy morsel before she spins away, dancy, and shaking her ample arms above her head, clapping, rejoicing, sleepless.

I observe such things and file them, perhaps to use again some day, more likely not. But this woman, however manic, is a participant, while I merely watch. And this is the real penalty of the Writing Mind. I am never really there. All life becomes an out-of-body experience. And yes, it is exasperating.

On the other hand, somehow, every now and again, it results in a book.

below for more about Aimee's books & work.

Anthologies of fiction and nonfiction that Aimee has edited or contributed to.
a suspenseful novel of rescue and redemption set in Central Asia at the start of the Cold War, featuring two unforgettable heroines whose fates are irrevocably intertwined.
The unforgettable tale of star-crossed love that spans four decades and two continents.
A young photographer wrestles with her repressed past and identity as an Amerasian in New York's Chinatown. Now back in print after more than a decade, FACE is Aimee's first novel.
Work on Eating Disorders
While there are numerous memoirs available chronicling individual women’s struggles with anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders, this is the first book to bring together many people’s stories to create a complete and candid picture of the recovery process. Aimee Liu has skillfully brought together firsthand accounts of recovery to create a realistic roadmap for the journey. This book also includes informational sidebars, written by professionals in the field, on topics including treatment options, choosing the right therapist, the pros and cons of medication, how parents and spouses can help, and much more.
How do anorexia and bulimia impact life AFTER recovery? GAINING is one of the first books about eating disorders to connect the latest scientific insights to the personal truth of life before, during, and especially after anorexia and bulimia.
America's first memoir of anorexia, and one of the earliest books about eating disorders, originally published in 1979
Craft & Criticism
Resources and suggestions for students and fellow writers
Aimee's latest book reviews