It’s 4am and my coffee is clutched between tired hands like a sword that’s about to slay dragons. In two hours this house will be utter chaos: adults rejoining the real world in a slim effort to bring home the bread, while children race the halls to prepare for school, a daunting task that cannot be completed without me, their patient and ever-suffering mother. But that’s two hours away, and in the darkness of the early day, that’s when I sit down to perfect my craft.
In the wee hours of the morning, that’s when I sit down to lose my mind.
I’ve had many writers ask me if it’s hard being a writer. Is it hard to put pen to paper, to weave a delicate story with characters so poignant that even they make me cry? Yes, it’s a difficult task. Is it a challenge to painstakingly edit, cutting important scenes with a tear in the eye, and staring at the same story for days on end? It pulls at the heart-strings. But before I get to all that, let me tell you why becoming a writer is the craziest thing I have ever done.
You see your story everywhere.
When you craft something so amazing, so deep, and so powerful, it tends to take over your life. Pretty soon you will join the ranks of writers who can’t disconnect. Every play date at the park, every interaction with the person who makes your coffee, every argument you have at home, it’s all food for fodder when you are a writer. And it gets worse: that character description you labored over for two hours, for some reason it looks as little bit like your mother. Or your best friend. Or even that guy at the burger place last week. You panic a little, wondering if anyone will ever make the connection, but of course no one ever does. You’ll be fine, of course, until you pass a stranger on the street and think, “He looks just like my main character.”
Then, you’ll know for sure you’re starting to go crazy. Alas, it will only get worse.
You see your plot everywhere.
And then the inevitable happens: you start seeing your plots develop in real life. Like a magician of the written word, by some strange creation you link your plots to events that happen around you. A friend gets in a car accident, when you just finished a similar scene in your novel. Someone at the bar just broke up with his girl, just like in your story. How can this happen? Is it your inane ability to project your events onto others or could this … gasp … somehow be a coincidence? In surreal moments like this, I find it’s often helpful to just tell people you’re a writer, and you can’t believe this just happened.
Of course, it will make you sound crazy. No sane person can predict the future, right?
Worst of all, you wish you had thought of it first.
You wrack your brain when something develops in a book or a show or a movie and you regret not thinking of it first. Sometimes the unfortunate suffer in silence until they figure out how to adapt that plot their own means, because it was so overly brilliant, so mind-numbingly awesome, that you absolutely, positively must use it.
I’m sorry, my friend, but you are definitely going crazy.
But it doesn’t matter, as we discuss our final point. You’ll leap off the edge of sanity when you begin to edit.
Editing your story produces a polished piece, but you’ll go crazy in the process.
Anne Lamott, author of Shitty First Drafts in her award-winning novel on writing, Bird by Bird, once said: “The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.” I remember reading this for the first time in grad school, and thinking the author was a little off her rocker. Now that I’m a writer, I realize I’ve just a few loose screws, too. In many ways, your first novel is your baby. You birthed it from your own fingertips, lovingly crafted scene by scene and character by character. You love that novel and you’re determined to perfectly preserve it as peacefully as possible. But it’s not going to sleep through the night, and it’s going to fight you every step of the way. You’ll find yourself up late (or like me, up early) editing your book until it doesn’t even look like your first draft anymore. At times, you will feel like you’re losing your mind, somewhere between the sixth and seventh time of staring at page 184.
So is being a writer hard? It’s a word so far from the truth that I’d much rather tell the person asking that jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge seems a worthwhile event. But that would make me sound crazy, right?
Someone once told me that I was insane if I thought I could publish a novel. They issues doubts like payday at a casino. The first time my barista looked like my character, the last time my friend was in an accident, and my most recent experience with editing told me that person was exactly right. I will tell you, though, that the first time you hold your book in your hand, the first time you sign it, the first time you let it loose in the world, you free your infant to romp in the minds of others, you have successfully shared your version of crazy with the world.
And boy, is it empowering.
I’m here to tell you that every writer has a spark of sanity. Cherish it, carry it, and cling to it for all its worth. So what if you’re a little crazy? Everyone is. Writers just share it with the world.
What’s the craziest thing you have done?