The topic I thought I had in mind for this blog was displacement, as in “displacement activity.” That turns out to be a jargon term from anthropology/archaeology. It means something like scratching your head when you’re puzzled. Scratching has no natural connection with being puzzled. It’s a learned response–displacement from one itch to another. I had in mind something more like replacement, the substitution of one activity for another, with both activities intense and almost compulsive. Writing is compulsive and intense, though not necessarily all the time for all writers. Since writing can also be exhausting and even painful, most writers turn to other intense activities when the going gets compulsive.
I find myself returning to the same replacement activities. I have even developed a level of skill in some that gives me satisfaction, though never the level of satisfaction I enjoy from arranging 90,000 words in a bundle with a title and my name after the word “by.” So, as a matter of interest, what replacement activities do other writers engage in? I have no ulterior motive for asking. I’m just curious.
My favorite quick-fix replacement activity is cooking. Run of the mill cooking doesn’t count. I don’t think my family has ever noticed, but my cookery improves whenever my writing gets stuck. I take pains. I try out new recipes and unusual ingredients. Take quiche, for instance. Prosaic quiche is roughly as difficult to make as scrambled eggs and about as interesting. Last week, when stuck, I made a quiche using leaf-lard pastry, free-range eggs, and chanterelle mushrooms straight from the slopes of Mount Adams. Time consuming but tasty. I was very stuck.
Twice in my writing life I have been seriously stuck, the kind of stuckedness that demands long-term replacement. This first replacement took three years. I started out doing a bit of historical research for a crucial scene in a regency and wound up with an extra master’s degree in history. I have heard of other writers diverting from writing to research. Few divert that far or that long.
My second long-term replacement involved water-color painting. Fortunately, I was only frozen into that one six months–or maybe I took that long to demonstrate to myself that my primary talents are not visual.
What about games as replacement activities? I confess I’m afraid of games, but not because I don’t like them. I like them too much. They are as close to the virtual reality of fiction as anything out there except narrative history and tabloid journalism. I confine myself to three games–Sudoku, Scrabble, and bridge. I am allowed to play only one round of each before I begin writing and then only because they are mental warm-ups–Sudoku for numbers, Scrabble for words, and bridge because my parents taught me to play it when I was ten and one rubber makes me nicely nostalgic.
Other writers use games, often elaborate role-playing games, as exercises in plot manipulation and character interaction. I respect that, and I think gaming has a great future, but if I indulged myself in games I would risk losing my gift for creating “real” fiction. It’s as simple as that, so I don’t do it. I don’t watch TV for the same reason. Now, if I could just persuade myself not to read fiction, perhaps I’d get my “placement” cursor back on writing, back where it should be. If only I could stop blogging. . .