February 5, 2012
First off, a commercial. If you want a chance to win a Kindle Touch and a copy of Susan Mallery’s next book BAREFOOT SEASON or a bunch of books, including one by me, Click here to enter The Bouquet of Books contest:
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Now back to answering questions about writing.
Do you hear voices in your head? Do your characters talk to you?
Because all writers are crazy.
And hoards of them are headed towards me right now, to argue (perhaps violently) that they are perfectly sane, thank you very much. And that I have no right to project my problems onto them.
“Mmmhmmm” I say, nodding skeptically. “You either have a problem, or you are in denial.”
But let me amend. All writers are crazy (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
In 50 years, I’ve had at least three careers I am willing to count. First, I worked in professional theater, as a first hand in a costume shop. That’s a job title about as confusing as key grip. I was in charge of stitchers (non sexist seamstresses) and supervised by a cutter (who did pattern making and draping). Despite their titles and mine, I did the actual cutting and stitching of fabric. And occasionally pattern making, tailoring, etc.
A lot of people I met were, shall we say, theatrical. Temperamental, moody, given to excess. Every costume shop I worked in had a bottle of vodka somewhere, to get the smell out of costume arm pits. And because it was good with orange juice. We had no logical explanation for the beer in the fridge, or tequila…
Theater attracted a certain personality type.
Next, I became a librarian. I used the part of my theater brain that had the patience to sew beads onto hems that would probably get stepped on, and work for hours over costume details that were too small to be seen by the audience. In short, I used the OCD, anal retentive, got-to-do-it-right and there-is-only-one-right-way part of my brain. Because librarians are a little nuts, too.
Not very, of course. Librarians are the sanest of the bunch. Although I heard that there was a shelver at the main branch who was autistic, and really good at his job (as long as you didn’t want to make eye contact). And then there was the guy that did my inventory, who went back home and filled his apartment with gas cans, and…
Let’s just say, I only met him once.
Like theater, certain types of people are drawn to library science.
Now, I am a writer. I use the theater part of my brain to be wildly creative and emotional. I use the librarian half of my brain to be picky, technical, hyper-critical of my own work. And when I am in the thick of a story, the plot and dialog are running as a continual sound track in my head. At its best (or worst) I can shut it off. At its worst (or best) it is like having a TV on in the next room, turned up loud enough to distract you from the people standing right in front of you. And that TV is tuned to a really interesting show, while your family only wants to talk about boring stuff (like what you’re making for dinner and why it has to be pizza again).
Like the other two jobs, there are aspects of my work day that can be treated with psychotropic meds. But writing has both other jobs beat, in the smorgasbord of mental illness. Normally, if you tell a therapist that you spend your day disassociating from reality, talking to people who aren’t there, and laughing and crying over things that haven’t actually happened, they will write you a scrip, or at least begin furiously scribbling notes on your file.
Because people who are 100% sane don’t do that.
I don’t envy them their rationality. It must be very boring. And it is probably lonely to have one person in your head instead of a whole bunch of imaginary friends. And really, now that I have learned that I am ‘a writer’ I am much more sane and balanced than I used to be. I spend a lot of time rooting around in my own subconscious, trying to understand myself, and the people who I am making up. I also spend more time trying to understand the real people right in front of me. I bleed off some of that excess emotion and fantasy, and can clear my head for reality.
And I am a good ways ahead of my mother, who had a really good imagination as well. Which is my way of saying she was, totally psychotic. When she made something up, she believed it was real. I can separate fact from fiction.
And then sell that fiction to pay the mortgage.
For those of you who are now worrying that you are either too crazy or not crazy enough to be a writer, my next post will be on the care and feeding of the subconscious AKA “Where do your ideas come from?”