Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Be Mentally Ill. Be Extravagant.

I was reading a friend's blog recently and stumbled across a sentence that had me saying, "Yes!" (Of course, that's not an exact quote and I'm not feeling like coming up with any witty dialogue today. So, for the sake of this blog post, let's just suspend our disbelief and try to believe that I simply said, "Yes!")

Right, so I was reading Nova's blog and the first paragraph had me saying, "Yes!" (Of course, that's not an exac-- okay, you got it...)

Here's the first paragraph:

Say one day you get an idea. You’re delusional enough to think it could be a book or something. So you gather up the stamina, drive, inspiration, guts needed to write it, you dig yourself out pockets of time, you bang your head against the wall, you let go of your grip of reality, you lose friends because you’re always at your writing spot writing, you let yourself think you should be allowed to do something this extravagant like be a novelist or something and… somehow… you complete that novel. That’s the most satisfying moment in the world, isn’t it?

In one paragraph, I found my entire writing life. The frustration. The joy. Re-reading a passage of Legendary Days and thinking, "Holy... this is actually good." And there's all your friends who say things like, "Have you got your book published yet?" Or "I should write a book..." which always seems to be said in a way that barely hides what they're really thinking: If this moron can do it, hell, I'm probably the next Jonathan Safran Foer or something.

All of that is so true, so well put, that I felt like I needed to share it and then ghetto it up with my own thoughts.

But above all the frustration, joy, and friends who are about *this* close to getting a ninja kick to the face, it's the idea that being a novelist is extravagant. I've heard people say that there's a certain amount of arrogance in wanting to write a book, especially when you suffer from the mad compulsion that some of us have faced in trying to put words on paper in just the right order. There may be better words to explain it. Like Mental Illness.

After looking up the definition of extravagant, I think I we should just stick with extravagant... (although certain definitions, when paired with writing/writers, does make a strong case for Mental Illness...) Because writing is extravagant. Writing a novel - even calling yourself a novelist or writer sometimes does exceed the limits of reason or necessity.

Because writing is grueling and, at times, thankless. For every moment of joy, I have about 500 moments of self doubt. For every epiphany, there's about 700 places where I smell my manuscript because I can't tell if I'm a bad writer, or if one of my kids puked on the pages.

I'm convinced it is not normal to want to be a writer. It may be romantic, but it certainly is not the mark of a sane person.

Because why would you want to make your life harder? Why add on hours to your normal work day, long after kids/wives/husbands/dogs/your xbox/whatever have gone to sleep? Why do all this against some very discouraging statistics that say most of us will never be published?

Re-read Nova's paragraph, and I think the answer is obvious.

It's the day when you can say, "This is finished. And it is good." Even better, the day when somebody else - your wife, an agent, an editor - really *gets* what your book is about. It's the day when you can put something out into the world that has the power to make somebody else laugh, cry, stalk you on Twitter.

It's the second or third book you write, when you really get into your groove. Or maybe it's a third draft when everything that's coming out of your head just fits. You've got the voice nailed and, even though it's 1 a.m. and you have to get up at 6 or whatever, you keep typing.

It's extravagant because, for some of us, it is just that important. More than that, it is necessary. There is a lack of moderation on our ideas, our words, our hope that one day we will be able to support ourselves (even meagerly...) as the most hallowed of all things - a writer.


  1. Nice post. I always like when you complain about your friends who think writing and publishing a book is a simple matter of want-to. I've finished two of them and haven't come close. But tonight, I'm going to write. I think that probably falls under the definition of insane.

  2. That picture literally knocked my socks off. I mean, they left a dent in the wall, I was laughing so hard.

    I am like three words into that paragraph, in regards to my journey. Your analysis scares me, a little, but also makes me want to prove to myself what I can do.

  3. Paul: I only have a few non-writer friends, so it narrows that complaining down a bit. And, honestly, some of it is hyperbole... ;)

    Jonathon: I liked the picture too... Don't be scared... err... at least TOO much!

  4. I wish you had a link to "stalk you on Twitter."

  5. I saw your picture and instantly recognized you from the blue boards. I mean, your picture, is hard to not recognize. :) This post really summed up what is to be a writer.

  6. Anita - I didn't think of posting a stalking link... dang it.

    Pauling - That's my "Argh!" picture from when I was getting agent rejections. ;) I should probably change it now...

  7. Bryan, I loved this post! I'm glad whatever I said kickstarted this, because you've inspired me... I agree that there's a certain amount of arrogance needed to actually go about writing a book. I like to balance that out with my rock-bottom insecurity. I'm a pleasure to know ;)

    I love this and completely agree: "I'm convinced it is not normal to want to be a writer. It may be romantic, but it certainly is not the mark of a sane person."

    Why are we out here doing this again? Oh, yes, now I remember. Because we're not all sane and we can't not.

  8. Nova: I liked that line too. I have fits of arrogance and additional fits of insecurity. I feel sorry for our partners AND our agent...

  9. Hi Bryan -

    Nice to meet you tonight!

    Now that you've met a bunch of us (authors) all at one time ... it's crystal clear we're not right.




    P.S. I always use the description "solitary and obsessive" about the writing life.

  10. Lisa - I like 'solitary and obsessive'... very true. (And nice to meet you!)