I’m not here to disparage those who suffer from real mental health issues. However, I’ve come to the very non-scientific conclusion that every fiction writer suffers from one form of neurosis or another. In fact, some of the most famous writers belong to the who’s who of addiction, lunacy and general questionable moral conduct. The latter of which almost always appear on some version of the mental intake form used by psychologists. Even if we strip away all the really “bad” stuff like alcoholism (Poe), drug addiction (King), bi-polar disorder (Plath) there remains a pretty impressive list of famous writers who suffered from clinical depression.
It seems like entry into the world of writing requires one be at least a little broken. Which had me worried a bit. You see I’m not an alcoholic although when I do occasionally drink I tend to over achieve. I don’t use drugs because I worry about brain damage. And if depression was a desert I’d looked a lot like an ocean. So it got me wondering how on earth I could compete with other writers who had the requisite mental health problems for crafting master works? I considered developing a drinking problem but I really don’t enjoy sleeping on the bathroom floor. Drugs didn’t seem an option because even cold medicine makes me sleepy. I tried depression, but found that once I crawled into bed I got so comfortable and happy I wound up writing my wife really sweet poems.
It took a while to figure it all out and then I realized upon some deep self-reflection that I had plenty of neurotic tendencies to qualify as a writer. I discovered that my initial self-analysis was incorrect because I remained too focused on the really big issues. There were plenty of conditions I could select from and as I reviewed the options I came to the conclusion that every writer (and most of those who hang out professionally with writers) have something of crazy to offer. The mental health issue arc is fairly long and diverse. The simplest is Low Self-Esteem. That was an easy box to check off as I assume that everything I write (fiction, blogs, poetry, work stuff) people are going to hate or at least think is stupid. I assume every book review is coming back a 2 or 3 star. So I had that one in the bag.
There is also narcissism which on the surface appears the polar opposite of low self-esteem but is actually its companion. Think about it. A person writes 80 thousand words and just assumes people want to read it…even when the writer believes it’s terrible. If that isn’t a case of “hey look at me I’m great” then I don’t know what it. Which leads to narcissism’s next door neighbor – delusions of grandeur. You know, all those big little dreams about the best sellers list, fame, fortune etc. Who would publish a book without such delusions? Forget the 200 thousand titles a month published—this is the ONE!
So I figured with at least those three I surely qualified as a writer/artist. I could probably hone the image if I became a little more reclusive and introverted. Not much “mystery” about me since I plot out most of my thoughts on a blog, but I could retract a bit. Maybe start over with a really cool pen name like Jack Cleaver or only speak through my agent, Mr. Durwood Blanderdash III. It all seemed a good plan. I was crazy without being too crazy…and then the contest announcement arrived.
Another sign of narcissistic behavior, is that I enter these damn writing contests. Coupled with self-esteem issues whereas I am dead certain upon entry that I have wasted everyone’s time because I am never, ever going to win. If we left it at that, my initial analysis would be safe and in tact. But it’s what happens after – the first reaction to “not being on the finalist list” that tells the true story – many of us writers are undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic when it comes to contests. The contest process goes something like this (and note the multiple voices going on in a single head)
Me: I’m not entering another damn contest.
Me2: But, but what if this is the one? What if you win?
Me: I won’t win. I never win. My writing isn’t there yet.
Me3: Well you won’t know if you don’t try. Maybe this time the writing is up to par.
Me: Good lord, okay I’ll submit the darn thing.
Me2: We’re gonna win! We’re gonna win!
Me: Don’t get crazy (half smile) we’ll see how it goes
~~~ Me pretends to forget about the announcement date, Me 2 checks every day, Me3 puts in on the calendar
Email Day – Announcement of Finalist
Me 2: There it is! Open it hurry lets see if we won!
Me: Relax we didn’t win.
Me3: Then just delete it if you are so certain.
Me: Shut up, there’s no harm in opening it.
Me:(Scanning the winners) Well no surprise there -see we didn’t make the finals.
Me3: Of course not—these contests are fixed.
Me3: Fixed. Friends, friends of friends, family members. They probably had the winner selected before they even had the contest.
Me: That’s a little paranoid.
Me3: Is it? Look at the winners. Look at those books. It’s all the same book. All those categories and every selection is just a romance masquerading as fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror…it’s all girl meets boy.
Me: Then why did you tell me to enter the darn thing?
Me3: To prove my point that these people hate you.
Me2: That seems unfair.
Me3: It’s a closed club I tell you. They’re out to get you. To hold you back.
Me: Yeah I should just quit writing. This is stupid. I have a good job. I don’t need the disappointment.
Me3: Screw them right. Let them read garbage!
Me: You’re right. I’ve had enough of this! The whole system is rotten. It’s fixed. None of the good stuff gets through.
Me2: Hey wait a minute.
Me and Me3: What?
Me2: You misread this. Look we’re in the finals. Our name is right there.
Me: I knew it!
Sad…but a true and recent story. And just enough motivation for me to submit The Devil’s Hour to this year’s Amazon contest…which I won’t win and is certainly fixed. The good news is I have just the required amount of crazy to continue as an undiscovered writer. You probably do too and we should really share our conspiracy theories cuz I heard on Good Reads they are in fact holding you back.
But really, who better for the writing job than all of us crazies? Neurotic word-smiths who devote so much time to making stuff up, exposing ourselves to public critique, and continuing to engage is a very long-term love/hate relationship with contests, agents, publishers, critics and readers…and of course the best love/hate relationship of all…the one we have with our own work.