"What are you doing?"


"Well, it doesn’t look like something."

RufflesI had a lot of conversations like this in school with teachers that usually led to one of those "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" kind of lectures.  Sadly, my footwear never came with "bootstraps," so needless to say my school years weren’t my best.  Daydreaming was an issue that I didn’t shift until I went to college.  Now the daydreaming is back–in career form (of sorts).  Daydreaming is even tax deductible.  You just can’t daydream without a bag of Ruffles in your hand. 

Now that one book is in the bag and I’m embarking on the next, I’m in that daydreaming faze, where I’m piecing ideas, themes, scenes and other stuff together before I start outlining.

Normally, when Julie comes home at night, I’m banging away at the keyboard and she knows her little man has been hard at it since 9a.m.  At the moment, when she comes home, I’m stretched out in front of the TV with a cat or two on my chest.

"What have you been up to today?"


"It doesn’t look like you’re working.  It looks like you’re vegging out."

"I’m being conceptual.  I’m forming a story, wrapping my head around the idea.  You know me, measure twice, cut once."

"So it’s been a DVD day."

"No, it hasn’t."  I sit up and a kitten slithers off my chest.  "I have been working.  I’m mulling things through is all."

"Simon, what’s that pile of Dr. Who DVDs sitting on the floor?"

Doctorwhodiamondlogo"They help me mentally cleanse my palate."

"And this empty Ruffles bag?" she says, picking it up.

"Brain food."  I snatch the bag from Julie and aim a sleepy kitten at her.  "Julie, you have no idea about the creative process.  I am mulling.  Mulling is an important part of the writing process.  Now move, I can’t see the TV."

Julie’s an angel, but she can be mean sometimes–don’t you think?

The problem is that we live in a quantifiable world.  We need results.  Tactile ones at that.  When I’m in the throes of a book and Julie asks, "How much have you done?"  I can answer, "Twelve pages," or "Three thousand words" or "Two chapters."  These are things the world and Julie can hang their hats on.  Me included.  I like quantifiable.  There’s traction.  Forward motion.  Progress.  Industry.  A paycheck.

Mulling doesn’t inspire the same response.  Mulling is intangible–like air.  It’s there, but you can’t see it.  But just try and go through a day without it, and you (and I’m looking at you, my old teachers and Julie) will be begging me for some of that intangible stuff.  Yeah, too bloody right you will.

So I’m mulling and I’m going to take my time with it.  There’s no point in going off half-mulled.  That would be ridiculous.

I think I’ve explained myself sufficiently.  Now where did I put my Ruffles and those kittens?

Yours in front of the TV,
Simon Wood
PS: I’m attending my first LA Times Festival of Books.  It should be a lot of fun.  If you’re making the trip to the UCLA campus this weekend.  This is where I’ll be signing this Saturday.

Crime Time Books (booth #355)   11:00am-noon
Sisters in Crime (booth #355)   2:00pm-4:00pm
Book ‘Em (booth #441)  4:00pm-5:00pm

10 thoughts on “Mulling

  1. toni mcgee causey

    It took me forever to make the family understand that if they walked in while I was staring into space (or playing Soduku), that I was actually doing the hardest part of writing, which was the brainstorming part. By the time I start typing, I have a sense of the scene, the rhythm, the play of it all. It still hurts to be interrupted at that point, but it’s a bit more concrete for me than when I’m daydreaming, trying to help this world coalesce and translate the images into language. I know they tend to respect that more now, but it’s not without a little envy, too. (I think that’s why they want the quantifiable–or at least, another reason they want it–because they had to go off and be quantifiable during the day and here we are, staring into space, eating snacks, watching TV, and making up stories and someone is paying for it. Is that not the coolest thing, or what?)

  2. billie

    I call it puttering. The signs are stacks of books piling up around my chair, assorted notepads accumulating with lists or quotes or just phrases jotted down, music being played/changed frequently, candles lit, etc.

    Now that I work at home, I’ll often find some little project to do in the midst of the puttering time – rearranging something, cleaning out the junk drawer in the kitchen, something inane but it seems to have a purpose creatively.

    I think of puttering as a ritual that leads to the Flow – and the Flow is a moving path that leads to the book, almost like a conveyor belt that I have to get onto. Sometimes there’s a clear space on the belt and it’s easy to just step on, but other times I have to wait for the right place – and all the puttering is occupying time until that moment.

    Thinking about the process is also a huge part of my puttering, obviously.

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could bill for our mulling/puttering time?!

  3. Stephen Blackmoore

    I do a lot of that while driving, so there’s no one there to mock me.

    Except for the cop who’s been following me for the last half mile with his lights going, and that old lady I nearly sideswiped in the crosswalk. I swear she wasn’t there a second ago. Really sorry about the dog, lady. Thing the size of a rat, how the hell do you expect me to see it?

    Hope to catch you while you’re out at the Festival, Simon.

  4. Louise Ure

    I think lunch at Skates — with the waves lapping and the city skyline in the distance — also qualifies as cleansing the mental palate.

    Have a good time at the LATFOB, Simon!

  5. Brett Battles

    I’ve given up trying to explain it to people, and just say I’m eccentric.

    See ya’ at UCLA this weekend! And watch out for the Stephen Blackmoore character…especially if he’s driving!

  6. pari

    Simon,Have fun at the Festival; it’s a blast. I hope to be there next year.

    Mulling? I do alot of it while playing games on the computer. Otherwise, if the family is home, anything that looks like I’m relaxing is bound to be an open invitation for kids and hubby to disturb me. So, tap-tap of the computer games sound like work and give me a bit of that mental freedom.

    BTW: You’re in good company on the couch. Tony Hillerman uses that approach. He also plays a lot of solitaire.

  7. simon

    Brett and Stephen: See you in LA.

    Louise: I think it had more to do with the company you keep than the magic of Skates…

    Pari: Tony and I haven’t mentioned our new venture together. From 2008 and you can buy the new line of ‘Muller’ loungers designed for writers complete with chip tray and TV remote tray. The headrest doubles as ear muffs to cut hi and lo frequency whining.


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