Writers aren’t exactly people…they’re a whole bunch of people trying to be one person.—F. Scott Fitzgerald
Writers aren’t noted for their mental stability. The more productive ones tend to be manic-depressives (excuse me, the PC term is ‘suffer from bipolar syndrome), while the less productive ones tend to be plain old unhyphenated depressives.
Remember the HAL 9000 computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey, which gradually went mad because it had been given conflicting instructions? Writers are in much the same situation (except that no one has figured out how to unplug us).
Insanity and Rejection
You recall that old saying that insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results? I think it was writer Ralph Keyes who first noted that doing the same thing over and over again was a basic requirement of a writer’s career.
Consider the simple matter of sending an unsolicited story to magazines for publication. Have you ever heard a writer suggest you send the story once, and give up if they don’t take it? No, the advice is always to keep trying, keep on sending it—I believe the proverb claims the number of times you hear ‘no’ doesn’t matter when you only need one ‘yes.’
In submitting stories to magazines, novels to editors, or manuscripts to agents, every famous writer will tell you to expect rejection after rejection: the proof of your character as a writer is your willingness to keep on going.
In other words, character is shown by keeping on doing the same thing while expecting different results. In other words, insanity is your most valuable character trait. Wonderful.
Write Your Passion, But Don’t Get Self-Indulgent About It
Write what you deeply care about! Write what interests you! Write whatever is fun for you! Follow your bliss! This page is the first page of the rest of your book…
Sure. But while you’re at it, remember at all times that the reader is the most important element in everything you do. Just because you are vitally interested in all those details doesn’t mean anyone else will care. Can’t you cut this by 50%? Why is that scene/chapter/character even there? Yeah, that digression is cute and probably the best thing you ever wrote, but how can you possibly justify leaving it in?
It’s all about you and what you care about. Except that it isn’t; it’s all about somebody you haven’t even met.
The Most Important Thing in the World is Only a Book
Thomas Carlyle declared, “Genius is the capacity for taking infinite pains.” Genius may imply that capacity, but I’m not so sure the capacity for taking infinite pains necessarily implies genius. (Think of all those ship-in-a-bottle types.)
I am certain of this, though: unless you think what you're writing is mighty important, you will not take great pains with it. Writing a novel—even a mediocre novel, heck, even a bad novel—is arduous, and no one can do all that detailed work without believing they are achieving something of worth. Possibly even Art, with the capital A. As Faulkner had it, “If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate: The Ode on a Grecian Urn is worth any number of old ladies.”
But get a grip. It’s just a book. Don’t be obsessed about it. Your success as a human being doesn’t depend on this book. Your self-esteem shouldn’t depend on this book. Your friends, your family, your pets, your health, your volunteer work, your potted plants—all of these are more important than some made-up story the world never even asked you to write.
Keep it in perspective. It’s only a book. Now go write it as though your life depended on it.
It Isn't Just Me (I hope)
I've got another double-bind or two I want to rant about, but I'll save that for the next post. I suspect every writer is familiar with the schizo problems I've described--and I bet they could even expand my list. Because it isn't just me. It isn't.