We all know authors are crazy. It’s quite the cliché. But is it the madness of genius? Or the genius of madness?
Simply put — are the crazies drawn to writing? Or does writing make one crazy?
Writers in general tend to think too much about everything, so add on the pressure of character analysis, themes, plot, structure, the meaning of life, and you feel like that guy in Indiana Jones where his head explodes by knowing every answer to the universe. (Note: If offered this gesture, simply decline. Dogs get along just fine not knowing algebra.)
By committing myself to writing, am I committing myself to neurosis? You bet! Since I started writing, I never felt crazier in my life. You have to be a little bit crazy to put down that first sentence — even crazier to pursue it further.
I saw a YouTube video of David Foster Wallace speaking about his book Infinite Jest and it reminded me how many great authors suffer from depression. Spending too much time inside your own head can do that. I balance writing with climbing mountains. They are opposites.
One is this:
The other is this:
Ah, that’s better. Perspective!
Now I don’t suffer from depression (not yet anyway, but I’m getting close with the last round of rejections I received), so I’m not advocating someone with a mental illness should just start an excise program of hiking. But watching David Foster Wallace, a clip provided by a fellow blogger, I was fascinated by this prolific writer’s inability to communicate verbally. He’s sweating, he’s grasping for words inside his head unsuccessfully. You can almost see the traffic jam forming. The pile of thoughts crashing into a corner of his brain. It was uncomfortable, and yet if you produced a transcript and did some heavy editing, it was brilliant.
In 2008, after a long battle with depression, he hanged himself.
I’ve often thought about writer’s personalities, having met quite a few. Most are not charming or gregarious. There is a thick layer of ice that needs to be broken. And honestly, I’m not an esoteric literati, able to quote every brilliant writer dead or alive. (I’m not being coy when I quote Salinger: “I’m quite illiterate, but I read a lot.”) I’ve spent half my lifetime wishing I was, and the other half thanking God I wasn’t. I loathe pretension. But it’s not that. I honestly think much of their brilliance comes from the darkest of holes – holes in which I do not wish to descend. I’d rather a full life with words scattered to the wind, than a half-life marked with a brilliant novel. I believe the wind is where they’ll all ultimately end up anyway, no different than scattered seeds. If you don’t believe me, look up at the night sky, away from city lights. Perspective.
A few, and probably unnecessary, examples of the tormented: Salinger, got the scathing memoir treatment from his daughter in Dream Catcher, portraying him as self-centered and abusive; Nietzsche, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Zelda Fitzgerald, Paulo Coelho, Robert Lowell all went mad.
So any writer starting out, descend carefully. People think crazy gives them a writerly advantage. But watch your footing, my friend. For myself, I’ll settle on eyes-wide-open, with just a dash of crazy, knowing I’ll never be able to write the next greatest American novel.