Being a writer is unlike any other creative profession, and I know this because I’ve tried quite a few. I’ve been a performing musician since I was a kid, and trust me, writing is completely different than music or theatre or just about anything else I’ve ever tried. Why? Because writers are completely nuts. Let me give you a few examples.
We have people living in our heads, and they can be little assholes.
Writing can be a very inconvenient creative outlet, mostly because the characters that we dream up (or perhaps find, but that’s a different blog post) really are little people in our heads. And just like real people, fictional people can be demanding. They want attention, have cranky days, act impulsively and thoughtlessly, and sometimes want to be heard at times that are inconvenient to say the least. Like while you’re driving 70 mph down the interstate. Or at 2:30 AM.
Worse yet, they have times when they don’t want to talk to us. Maybe they’re sulking, maybe they’re tired, maybe they’re just feeling stubborn, but no matter the reason sometimes our fictional friends just clam up. Of course, we writers aren’t really allowed to deal with this the way we really should. If a friend or a loved one decides they don’t want to talk to you, it’s perfectly acceptable to get upset or hurt, but if a fictional character does? Suck it up. Doesn’t matter how much you miss them, doesn’t matter how much it hurts, because as far as the rest of the world is concerned, fictional people aren’t real.
We writers know better. Yes, I know how crazy that sounds.
We have strange obsessions with things having to do with writing and the written word.
I am an old school writer, pen and paper. Mostly this is because it keeps me from editing the idea to death, but the downside of this I am obsessed with notebooks and pens. In any room of my house there are at least 3-4 notebooks hidden somewhere: shoved onto bookshelves, mixed in with my sheet music, on the end table, under the couch, on the dresser. And yes, this does not endear me to my loving wife.
Of course, she also bought me a leather bound journal for Father’s Day. Thank you, my Love. 🙂
Then there’s my pens. Unlike notebooks, where I am a gourmand, with pens I am a gourmet. I buy and use one kind of pen and one kind only: Pentel RSVP Black Fine Tip. I believe I have at least 42 of them scattered around my house and my work, as well as at least one package of multicolored RSVPs for edits.
And yet every time I go to Target or Walmart or (oh god help me) Staples, I am drawn to the stationary aisle as though there’s a black hole there that only affects me. They’re a drug, I’m addicted.
And don’t get me started on our book collections
One day, the foundation of my house is going to throw up its figurative arms, say “gg”, and collapse under the sheer weight of the books inside it. This is SO much worse than the notebook thing, partly because I’ve been reading since I was 4 but writing only since I was 15, but mostly because my whole family are addicts of the written word. There isn’t a horizontal surface in my house that does not house at least one book. The closing of a local book store was a cause for tears, no joke. No book aisle can be simply walked past by my family.
Every author I know is like this. Our bookshelves are packed two rows deep and then more books are stacked in front of them, usually divided into “read”, “unread”, and “get to it one day”. And god help us if we discover a new author we love, especially a prolific one. Or a series that is out of print, that’s even worse.
Discount bins? $1 racks at local resale shops? Library book sales? They’re like rolling a wheelbarrow of crack out in front of a junkie. I could not tell you how many books I’ve purchased because “it’s only $1, it’s only $.50”. Shit I will never read. I bought a copy on the Quran in Arabic and a Latin Vulgate Bible. Why? They were pretty and I wanted to see if they would spontaneously combust if I put them next to each other on the shelf. It’s pathetic.
Mood = Creative Output
There is nothing, nothing more sad and pathetic than a stuck writer. I know, I’ve been there. It’s like being emotionally constipated. We are surly, moody, sulky, and generally unpleasant to be around.
If anything, being on a roll is worse.
Not for the writer, mind you. For us, being on a roll is like being in love: Cloud Nine. But just like being in love, the only person who can stand being around us is the object of our affection. To everyone else, we are vague, selfish, absorbed, and obsessed. I knocked out my first draft of The Curious Snowflake in less than two weeks, and my wife told me later I was impossible to live with, utterly somewhere else. The only time writers are worth being around are on good editing days, and even that’s a stretch.
Everybody else is character fodder.
My MMC in my WIP (male main character in my work-in-progress, get with the nomenclature) is part me, part my son, and is based physically on one of my employees. His mentor is a short version of an old college buddy. The villain is my old voice coach (actually a great guy).
This is how it works. Authors want to make characters who are actually people, so they end up being a pastiche of the people we actually know. Famous, best selling authors do this all the time. Don’t believe me? Read the section at the beginning of Stephen King’s On Writing where he talks about meeting his wife and then go back and read, say, ‘Salem’s Lot or The Stand. Yeah, there’s a little Tabby King in almost every FMC ol’ Steve’s ever written.
So don’t piss off your writer friends, or you might find yourself immortalized in their prose.
So yeah, we’re basically nucking futz
Obsessive. Selfish. Oblivious. Moody. Judgmental. Perhaps even a little schizo-affective. So why does the rest of the world put up with us writers? Because we are also are loving, inspiring, thoughtful, and (at the best times) a little bit amazing. Most important, we write these stories and ideas that touch other people in positive and even wonderful ways. For that, I think, the rest of the “normal” people should cut us nutty authors a little slack.