Writing Disorders and What to Do About Them


The Artist's Wife EGON SCHIELE
The Artist’s Wife EGON SCHIELE

Let me start by saying this is not a rant. No, it’s rather an earnest endeavor to help us all get to grips with our insanity. In some of us it’s stark and raving, in others it’s a mild form of disorientation. Both can be managed, if not cured. I should add that the Greeks thought of these before we did, and given the state of their economy and our own financial malaise as writers, we should pay close attention. Their forefathers knew what they were in for, and so should we.

Acute Narcissism: Narcissus was the unfortunate chap who became so enamored of his own good looks that he starved while being unable to tear himself away from his reflection in a pool. Reading the subtext, we understand that too much time spent alone and overcome by our own genius will lead to death. Sadly, there is no cure. Happily, awareness is the new buzzword on the metaphysical scene, so narcissism can be alleviated by the following:

Eat regular meals. Snacking like a deer is preferable to gorging like a bear whose hibernation is imminent.

Read. Whatever you can lay your eyes on. I use every opportunity to laud Charles Dickens and Dylan Thomas, but there have been some good writers since whose work will keep our narcissism in check. If it’s any comfort, they too probably struggled with the malady.

Acute Sisyphusism: Sisyphus was that miserable wretch who had to push a heavy stone up a hill, only to have it roll down when it got to the top and face having to go through the whole back breaking process again. I think he did something seriously criminal to earn this fate (he was greedy and a chronic liar), but writers do it every day on a voluntary basis. There is no cure for this either, but working smart rather than hard makes the slog easier to justify. Here’s how:

Buy a tractor. I imagine there are specials on in places where agriculture plays a dominant role. It might be difficult to find one in New York or San Francisco, but a bulldozer will be just as efficient. If budget is an issue, buy a wheelbarrow.

Sadly, that’s the only practical advice I can offer for this one. There’s no way to avoid the work.

Prometheusism: Apparently he was our daddy, having made us out of clay, and he was the only Titan with the stones to take on the gods and steal their fire. As punishment, Zeus chained him to a rock and employed an eagle to pluck out his liver EVERY DAY. (The liver is the only organ that regenerates, so the Greeks were spot on with their anatomy.) Never mind how bored the eagle probably got, having no dietary variation, just consider that it couldn’t have been fun for Prometheus either. Happily, there is a cure for this.

Don’t steal. Figure out how to make your own fire.

Set trends rather than follow them.

For the other mental, intellectual, emotional, financial, creative challenges we writers face, I’m sure Plato, Socrates and Aristotle had something to say about:

Self doubt: Try not to wallow.

Delusion: Entertain it only for the purposes of deluding readers.

Empathy and acute sensitivity: These are biggies for me. My mother tells me that when I was a baby, one of my relatives sent me screaming under a table each time he visited. It took them hours to coax me out and almost as long to pry my sticky little fingers off the chair leg. We later found out just how scary an individual he was, but I won’t go into that. I saw ghosts beside my cot and elves in ditches. I still root for the straggler in a race, the runners up in beauty pageants and the soccer team that goes home the same day it flies in for the World Cup. I cry when trees are cut down and rescue ants out of the bath, even if the whole colony is blocking the drain. This is not a good strategy for success. All that prevents me from crawling under a table, shrieking, these days is difficulty getting off the floor again. There’s no cure for this either, but whether it’s a gift or curse is up to you. These tips may help:

Limit fraternizing with the internet. It can swallow you whole and spit you out like a sunflower husk. Read only as much news as you might need to avoid sounding like an ignoramus at dinner parties.

Sign petitions to make the world a better place. They really do work, apparently.

Volunteer somewhere. The planet, animals and children, the elderly and writers all need help.

Write. Change the world. I have a post up on Tumblr that reads, Give a damn. Many damns. More damns than anyoneAn empath’s ability to get inside the heads of multiple species is the cornerstone of good characterization. Use it.

Care to share your own strategies to combat these? We’d love to hear from you.

Next up from Jenn… I don’t want to keep breaking promises, because, you know, that’s what Sisyphus did, but at some point, The Unreliable Narrator.

We love comments and questions.

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