Thursday, June 27, 2013

Are Writers Really Insane?

The title of my blog is kind of a joke, and kind of not. I mean, the word "insane" is a strong word. It's an exaggeration. . . mostly.

This is not a scientific observation here—I haven't taken a survey, and I wouldn't know how to design a scientific survey anyway—but what do you suppose most people think about writers? How about some suggestions: we're eccentric, depressive, spacy, weird. We use big words all the time and we are aloof. We are disorganized and we have no sense of time.

Are you going to sit there and tell me people don't say that? Go on, the comment section is below. No? Because you know they do. The ones who don't say it are THINKING it. They are.
It is certainly possible to list writers who are pretty together as individuals. They turn in their stuff on time, dress well, and even remember to eat. But there are reasons why the general sense people have about writers is that we're DIFFERENT. Why is that?

Writers are more sensitive, empathetic, and attuned to conflict than most people. We have to be. That's where story material comes from. That's how it's possible to imagine a character in a situation and feel what it would be like to be that person, facing that problem. Sensitivity makes a person understand discomfort and emotional pain, and provides a reason to express that understanding by writing stories.

A writer needs to use and develop her imagination, which can lead to both vivid fictional worlds and lots of fretting and anxiety. Being able to easily imagine another world with different rules is similar to being able to imagine you've left the coffee maker on and your house may be burning down while you're out taking your cat to the veterinarian. The ability to create a kingdom full of conflict and conspiracy is similar to the ability to imagine that people are mocking you behind your back for the odd comment you made in front of a person you wanted to impress.

Writing involves a lot of alone time. That's good for people, to a point, but too much isolation can become bad. Although introverts need alone time for recharging, the need for some interaction with other humans is universal, or as close to universal as you can get when dealing with humans. Spend a lot of time away from other people, and you have a good shot at getting your perspective all skewed around. You may be at risk for posting snarling misanthropic screeds on the internet.

We writers are actually misunderstood. We do things like giving up TV and social events to have more writing time. We're surrounded by non-writers who are judgey about things like how long it takes to finish a good story or novel, how little money most writers have, and how rare it is to get published, let alone hit the bestseller lists.

Depressive tendencies. As a group, we have them more than most. Whether these are caused by writing or the cause of writing, they are common in writers. There's not a lot of understanding in the world about how depression feels or what can be done about it. Take all of the above items and wrap them up in a brain chemistry that goes to "crushingly sad" at a moment's notice, for no good reason, and see how you do.

Is it surprising, then, that many writers have issues with distraction, disorganization, and time management? I recently attended a panel at Mo*Con in which several well-regarded, accomplished authors talked about how depression can disrupt their day at any time and cause basic tasks like writing email to seem impossibly overwhelming. This is way more common than most people think.
I think when I chose my blog title it was my way of laughing to avoid crying, because even though I've gotten off easy with depression, I still have enough of it to be able to imagine what a deep chasm it can be for others who have it worse, and I know that many of my friends are down there a lot of the time, struggling to climb out. I'm aware of it, but I'm not at all sure I know how to help them with it, and I am completely sure that my own mental states don't let me provide as much support as I wish I could. I just try to keep myself as stable as I can so that I can offer a boost when I get the chance. I'm grateful to have a community of writer friends who understand.


  1. What with the depression, it is amazing that we writers are ever able to produce anything, much less the glorious gems that sometimes fall off our fingers onto the keyboard. It simply has to be magic; there is no other explanation.

    1. There's definitely something magical about it!


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