M is for Mental Health, or the Lack Thereof
“We’re mutants. There’s something wrong with us, something very, very wrong with us. Something seriously wrong with us.” — John Winger (Bill Murray), Stripes
He wasn’t talking about writers there, but he may as well have been. After all, we sit and put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper while other people are doing fun things and the sun is out. We agonize over how to make a scene to work, or whether Catherine and Jim should sleep together, or whether Double-A should be straight or gay. We scroll through our work wondering if we have the mix of male to female characters just right, and whether we’ve made all of one sex too villainous.
And that’s before you get to the really hardcore way’s we’re messed up.
Face it, a mentally healthy writer is a boring writer. Seriously. If you’ve got your crap together, that’s just boring. Who wants to live in the inside of Stephen King’s mind? Not me, that’s for sure. Or JK Rowling’s?
“Oh, these shoes are cute. I think I can wear them with the dress I got last week. Of course, that’s before Mildred got a dress that looks like mine. And she’s far too heavy to make that look good. She’s actually rather a fat bitch if you ask me…Hmmm…Those are the thoughts that should have me subjected to DEMENTORS for being so catty.”
There’s a reason we’re attracted to t-shirts that say “Careful or I’ll put you in my next novel.” That’s a warning, not an invitation.
A while back, I did a Wednesday writing exercise and my response featured Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character. Reacher had to go to Publix and get some things to prepare for bad guys so he could rescue someone. He had plenty of time, having gone through the numbers, the way Reacher does. By the time all the nincompoops finished screwing around at the store, the time had expired and the heroine was dead. I didn’t imagine that scenario out of whole cloth. The people at Publix are SLOW! REALLY SLOW! Most people accept that as part of life. I cherished it until I could use it in a writing exercise.
Read through any really good, really interesting writer and I suspect you will read the things that bog them down. Many of the internal challenges are at least somewhat autobiographical. Put another way, Hemingway didn’t drink heavily just so people in the alcoholic-beverage industry could pay their mortgages. I suspect like most heavy drinkers, there was an element of self-medication going on.
So my writerly brothers and sisters, embrace your mental mutations. Nurture them. Feed them. For they are the things that allow us to make magic on the page.
And if you disagree with me, remember, I can find out where you live.