Saturday, 20 December 2008

Schizophrenia - Sally Nicholls

My book group were reading 'Keep the Aspidistra Flying'.
"I wondered if Gordon was bi-polar," said one member, about Orwell's frustrated bookseller-poet. "Half the time he seems to think he's writing a masterpiece; the rest he seems about to give up writing altogether. That's not normal."
I glanced at the other writer in the group.
"Er ... actually I thought that was one of the most realistic parts of the book."
The other writer nodded. "Yes. That's just what it's like."

Being schizophrenic about your writing isn't something to be worried about. In fact, I doubt I could write a book without it.

Writing a novel is bloody hard. It takes months - it can take years. Months of sitting in front of a computer screen, months of angst and worry and tears and stress and refused invitations and guilt and strain. If you didn't believe you were writing something worthwhile, that you were saying something interesting or original or funny or entertaining, why would you bother?

I'm currently stuck in the middle of a difficult writing period. New words aren't coming and the words that I have seem dull and prosaic. Yet I keep writing. Why? It's not just howl of the rent check, it's because there's a small but insistent part of my brain which insists on answering interview questions ("Where did you come up with such an original idea?") writing my own reviews ("A powerful and important wrk") and planning the acceptance speech for the Noble Prize for Literature which this novel will surely win for me.

I'm exaggerating a little, but you get my point. Yet have I actually written the next Carnegie winner? No, I haven't. And this is where the other part of my brain comes in. Editing is just as long and difficult a process as writing, and if I lived in smug writer land all the time, I simply wouldn't bother. It's only because half of my brain hates everything I've written, thinks that it's dull, flat, boring, repetative, is sure that my editor will reject it and my readers hate it, can't understand why I even thought I could do this writing lark in the first place, only because this dismal and depressive side of my psyche exists that I can put in the hours of editing I need to turn my pile of words into something publishable.

Bi-polarism? Schizophrenia? Nonsense. It's all part of being a writer.


Brian Keaney said...

I think of writing as being more like eczema: it seems unfair that you're saddled with it, you can't get rid of it, and it wakes you up itching in the middle of the night

Brian Keaney said...

I think of writing as being more like eczema: it seems unfair that you're saddled with it, you can't get rid of it, and it wakes you up itching in the middle of the night

Sally Nicholls said...

Hmm ... or obsessive compulsive disorder perhaps. I certainly feel compulsively obsessive sometimes.

Lucy Coats said...

Oh Sally, I am so glad that you also have that small and insistent part of your brain which answers the interview questions and flies off into flights of fancy about Nobel Prizes and Carnegies. At least I'm not the only one! I think it's the striving towards and wondering whether this novel might be 'the one' (while suspecting it probably isn't) that keeps me going. I've written elsewhere on the blog about what I call 'writer's schizophrenia' (ie the hearing voices in the head bit), but I think this is probably another part of it which I have never admitted to before outside my own head. That's what I love about this blog. It helps me feel relatively normal!

Nick Green said...

Writers have no special talent. Parents have no special talent. A writer is just a parent who can hear the unwritten book crying.

Anonymous said...

nick, that's a good one. you ought to patent it or something before someone put's it on a mug.