Thursday, April 12, 2018

Yes, you are all nutso

What's the deal with this idea that writers have to be crazy, or at least half crazy? You hear it all the time. I know a few writers, and sure, some of them are a bit nuts, but others (admittedly I don't know them that well) seem perfectly fine. Admittedly again, I'm a writer, and I know that I'm a bit crazy, but I have to ask: where is it "written" that real writers are all somewhat off their rockers. Isn't it possible that a good writer might also be perfectly sane?

It's written right here: all writers are nuts.
No exceptions, not even you.

But let's all remember that nuts isn't a bad thing. It's actually quite the opposite. It's the creativity and imagination and the other-dimensional thinking that creates beautiful art, new ideas, and illuminates the world for those of us who don't have the good fortune to be your kind of nuts.

Sure, this nuttiness can manifest itself in ways that are perplexing and hard to deal with. But that's just part of the deal.

And being nuts doesn't mean your life is out of control, or you can't masquerade as a normal person most of the time. It just means that when someone slips on a banana peel, your first thought is about how to describe it, not just laugh.

So, when someone says "you're a writer? They're all nuts!" you say "Thank you!"

What's the craziest thing you've done in service to your writing life?

54 comments:

luciakaku said...

My sister had the worst, least complimentary way of expressing that idea. She told me once that if I kept up with my writing, I was going to end up cutting my own ear off. Never mind that was a painter, not a writer! Not that her scare tactics made me stop, either.

french sojourn said...


I have a neighboring vigneron that often watches me walking my vines pruning, weeding, or just maintaining them. Sounds fine, right? However I am usually gesturing while working on dialogue.

There have been a half dozen times over the last eight years when he walks by and can hear my conversations...he just signs the gesture for writing and I nod and slink off further into the canopy.

Never get off the writing boat.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E.M. Goldsmith said...

I can occassionally masquerade as “sane” for a few hours at a time. But even at my day job where I do my level best to keep things on an even keel, my co-workers will not allow me a stapler or scissors and they keep 3 fire extinguishers within easy reach of my office. Not that I am dangerous or anything.

No, I am only loudly expressive... or something. Was there a point here?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Thank God for hands free cell phones in cars.
At 25 to 70 mph I have talked out articles and op-eds, plots, characters and entire (trunk novels) which I believed would become NYT best sellers.
Over the years I'm sure strangers probably thought I was singing along with The Four Seasons, Diana Ross or the Beatles. Now I'm just another driver arguing with my husband about whose turn it is to cook dinner (or so they think). Little do they know I'm practicing answers to Oprah's questions on 60 minutes.
Crazy? Absolutely.
Side note.
Years ago I wrote an article about this, "Singing in the lane", I think my editor titled it. I was amazed by the response. A lot of us do this.

Colin Smith said...

I don't know. People are telling me I'm insane for the way I'm doing this years A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Maybe they're right...? 😆

Lennon Faris said...

Giving up every spare second to writing. For years and years. With no guarantee that it will see anything other than your parents' and cats' and significant other's eyes.

OH, wait, everyone here does that? Yep, Janet's right...

Stacy McKitrick said...

The craziest thing I've ever done was miss the exit to my work because I was thinking about a scene to write. I'm surprised I made it there at all. It's probably a good thing I don't have to drive to work anymore.

Yes, I'm a newbie poster (my first post was yesterday). But I've been a long-time lurker, so I'm no stranger to the blog. :)

LynnRodz said...

For some reason, all my best ideas come while I'm taking a shower so I keep a pen and paper nearby because I know if I wait until I'm through and I'm nice and dry, some of those ideas will have vanished into the Universe for someone else. The image is not pretty, the water turned off, shampoo falling into my eyes and me soaking wet, but there I am so writing down solutions to problems with my WIP, or a "darling" that popped into my head...well you get the idea.

That's not the craziest thing I've done, but for writing I guess it'll do.

nightsmusic said...

Not necessarily crazy, but this is my email signature line:

There are only two groups of people in this world that hear voices in their heads-schizophrenics and writers...and sometimes, the line between the two is VERY thin.

And before anyone takes offense, we've dealt with schizophrenia in husband's family so yes, I'm sensitive to it, but this fits...

Julie Weathers said...

I've told this story before, but at times I still think I'm nuts for this.

Way back when, I spent 14 hours straight laying tile in the kitchen, dining room, and back hall, which was probably bigger than some NYC apartments. I wanted it wide enough to comfortably put a hall tree, bench and buffet along the walls and it was fourteen feet long. That's a lot of tile because I also had a large kitchen and dining room. I didn't even stop for lunch. On the plus side, I had my own electric wet tile saw.

I decided to sit down at the computer and write a bit to unwind before I went to bed. Don came in on his truck and stomped through the house to the office and snarled, "What are you doing?"

If I'd been plopped on the couch watching tv he wouldn't have cared.

"Don't go in the kitchen the tile is still setting and I'm just writing, Don. I'm not doing anything wrong."

"Oh, yeah, Julie. You're going to write a book and sell a million. Grow up and stop living a fantasy."

That's when I realized it didn't matter how hard I worked or how much I did, I would never earn the right to write. After 33 years of marriage, I walked away from some sort of security, a house I loved and Will and I had gutted and rebuilt from the studs, I had every intention of dying in that house, I walked away from horses I loved and into complete insecurity with a job for a magazine that wouldn't pay my bills.

I got a job in my mid-fifties driving a reach forklift at a distribution center. Reach forklifts are the big dogs. The not only go up thirty feet in the air, but they extend out to grab pallets deep in racks. No, I'd never driven a forklift before, but the company didn't ask. They just asked if I could learn. Neither did they care about my sex or age.

Later that year a writer who was a former editor and agent offered a writing workshop, but it was $800. I ate beans and rice for two months to save the money for the workshop. I like both, but was kind of sick of them by the end.

So, when I have helpful little people people tell me my writing sucks or I'll never be published, I just file them in that same special place I keep Don's precious prediction and say, "Well, bless your heart. Aren't you just a little ray of sunshine? Now, get out of my way before I run your sour ass over."

Steve Stubbs said...

If writers are nuts, does that mean they go well with soup?

And while we are on the subject of nuts, this is only slightly off topic: someone posted here that you don't like stories with cannibals in them. I assumr that is a reference to Harris' book, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. So the question is, where is the red line on character nuttiness.

After reading the comment I scrapped my forthcoming project about a tribal chieftain in New Guinea who opens a fast food joint for cannibals. In the story he calls it Yum, Yum. It grows into a chain that extends to both Australia and New Zealand.

Another great story idea bites the dust.

Karen McCoy said...

Julie, what a beautiful story. Fills me with admiration and awe.

I gave up an MFA in Creative Writing to take a job as a book buyer in a library--all to ensure deeper connections within the author world. A bit backwards, no? Ended up losing that job due to a combination of weirdness in the organization and the fact that I'm the kind who needs regular interactions with people in my work. This ultimately led to my current position--helping college students find their writing voice.

Bottom line:nutso can often lead to unexpected possibilities.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

There was one NaNoWriMo year (2009) that I bogged down literally halfway through the month (at 25k words) so I started a new novel. I almost won too....the only year I haven't. I had at least friend call me crazy for starting something new at that point.

In general, though, my authorial nuttiness tends to come either from 1. I'm gonna write some weird shit or 2. I'm going to research far beyond what's ever going on the page, but it's important for me to know.

So I learned that I couldn't teach myself rocket science, though I got close enough to find those equations that don't even have numbers in them anymore.

I also kinda-sorta know how a number of different styles of nuclear reactor work (and that there are different styles of nuclear reactor), am familiar with a number of famous and not-famous nuclear accidents globally, I know how physiologically deep sea free diving works, have never been to Detroit but have navigated it for hours on Google maps and recognize some real estate listings when they come up, know some conversant vocabulary for K9 Search and Rescue, am familiar with some basic practices in forensic anthropology...

The list goes on, I'm sure, and it's perhaps also worth pointing out that none of what I've just listed is in any of my accepted and/or published works. Stuff that's circulating or being worked on, but nothing I can just link you to. So, results vary on just how great all that research stuff is for folks (well okay the SAR story is getting good personal rejections anyway)

Lyss said...

I act out scenes. For example, I was writing a scene about a character hurrying down a stairwell. So while I was at a hotel, I was running down the stairs and then stopping to listen, acting like someone was chasing after me. I'm sure security cameras caught me...

I also will grab people and say, "I need to try something." Then I force them to act out holding my hand or touching faces so that I can describe the movement.

It's fun being the weird one!

Craig F said...

I begged off from going to a dinner party put on by a very high ranking government official. I was deep into the psyche of my antagonist and knew I knew I couldn't get the language down at that time. It is a deceptively simple language there. Everything is a single syllable so the inflection is key.

Brendalynn said...

I occasionally write at night, in bed, with my laptop on my knees. I was working on a passage involving a beautiful antler-handled hunting knife.
You gotta hold the thing to describe it, am I right? Maybe wave it around a little?
My husband rolls over, spots me wielding the knife...long pause here...and goes back to sleep.

Sorry to hear that you didn't have one of the good ones, Julie.

Timothy Lowe said...

I accompanied my brother to a firing range so I could feel what firing a Sig p250 felt like. Afterward, I had a beer. Then I had another.

My characters are waaaaay tougher than I am.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

I think my biggest insanity is attending 18 hours of writer workshops at a 3 day conference.

But, they do say that trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. So, querying probably counts. (As I tweak my opening pages and query letter...again.)

Geoff Mehl said...

Persisted. But I'm not complaining.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

My very first talk/reading/signing, I sat out in the parking lot of the bookstore staring at the posters that were taped to the windows. Each one had an enlarged photo of the cover of my book. I couldn't breathe and felt certain I was going to hurl.

The crazy thing was, I earned my living as a fire fighter/medic. I'd been part of a team that fought a warehouse fire standing on the roof. I've stepped off a 40ft aerial ladder onto the two inch wide railing of a condo balcony, pulled a drowned toddler out of a pond, climbed into the tangled wreckage of cars to remove bodies. Twenty years of this and I never, ever hesitated to do what needed to be done.

But sitting in that parking lot, I was paralyzed with fear. What if I chose the wrong passage to read? What if it doesn't resonate? What if no one asks questions or buys a book? What if? What if? I finally asked myself if I believe in these stories.

The bravest thing I ever did was walk into that store believing my book was worthy. Crazy.

Sherry Howard said...

Julie, thanks for sharing! I’m sure you’ve had no regrets about that decision! I’m sorry that someone you spent so many years with didn’t appreciate you any more than that.

My craziest recent adventure was spending a lot of time talking to a bucking bull national champion. Which was fine until he wanted me to set up a bucking bull training in my city and bring him here to run it. Crazy meets crazy!! I backed away. . . slowly.

Claire Bobrow said...

At my first writing conference, I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven. Author/illustrator John Agee had just given a presentation about what it was like to learn from three legends in the field: Tommy Ungerer, Maurice Sendak, and William Steig. He used one of my favorite picture books, Steig’s “Doctor DeSoto,” in his presentation.

Afterwards, people were thanking him as he walked out and – I don’t know what came over me – I said, “Frank oo berry mush,” thinking he would laugh and say, “Doctor DeSoto! Great quote!” Instead, he gave me a nervous look and hurried away. Oh, dear.

Amy Johnson said...

Hi, Stacy! Nice to meet you.

I'm loving today's post and comments. Some of the stories have cracked me up. And I've also been sent deep into ThinkyThinkThink Zone thinky-thinking about how fortunate we are to have this place and this family.

Kregger said...

I don't think this is too weird, but...

I drove 400 miles to take a ferry to an island in Lake Michigan where I stayed in a monastery abandoned by the Christian Brothers' monks (yes, the same monks of wine and brandy fame), slept in their cells and toured Beaver Island by bicycle to research one of my books, The Mad King of Beaver Island.

I can't wait to go back.

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Weathers said...

On the plus side, I often act out something to make sure the choreography is correct. I use a heavy paper tube now for my sword, but I have my eye on the real thing one day.

Once the blockade was in full force on the south, people had to get creative with substitutes. So, I'll be testing out southern Civil War recipes (receipts) this summer. Let's see what roasted okra seed or roasted yam coffee really tasted like or vinegar pie.

Lord knows if I had the money I'd have a horse and a sidesaddle. Research.

My son gets calls like, "Have you ever been shot in the chest? What was the first thing you did?"

"Grabbed it and cussed. My buddy got shot five times. It blew him backwards. He cussed a lot."

Since the boys have been through lots of trauma, I can call them and ask, "You know when you broke your leg and the bone was sticking out, what did it feel like?"

They're more cooperative than some medical professionals. I asked my doctor on my last visiit if a man was shot in the head in a grazing fashion, but a bone splinter entered the brain, how long would it take him to die?

"That's an interesting question. Is there a reason you're asking?"

"The morgue won't talk to me."

You'd think the morgue would be more cooperative about these kinds of questions, wouldn't you?

KariV said...

@Steve Stubbs - if you ever revisit your cannibal fast food idea, just remember the brain is a delicacy reserved for women (I hear accuracy in writing is a thing ;p).

I don't know that I've developed any major eccentricities yet, but I'm sure my kids think I'm crazy or selfish or both ... "Go play. No, you can't use the computer to watch your favorite show. Mommy's writing. You're hungry? Well, after this scene..."

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Well boys and girls I can say after reading the comments so far that we are all certifiable and extremely braves souls.
Nice bunch us, we talk to ourselves, ask interesting questions, face fear and believe we can do this.
AND YOU KNOW WHY ?
Because we can do this.
We will do this.
We do do this.
We will continue to do this.
We will die doing this.

roadkills-r-us said...

Hard to day, because I gave up thinking in terms of what's normal a good while back. So long as nobody is trying to lock me up or kill me, it's "normal enough".

One candidate would be going back and reliving (in my head) my hippie days in great detail. I had locked a lot of that stuff away. But when I'm done with my current fantasy series, there's a killer (sic) detective book in that.

Oh, I have practiced tailing people (including "following" from in front!) on foot, on bikes, in cars, etc. I've skulked in bushes. I've spent a half hour trying to open a drawer or cock a semi-automatic pistol without making any noise. Etc.

Julie, your story broke my heart, but I'm glad you were able to move on. As for the issue with the morgue, I assume you mentioned that they would be credited in your book? Have you contacted an undertaker's association? I bet they could point you to someone who would help! But yeah, I would hope the morgue would be more helpful.

french sojourn said...

Julie, your first post brought tears of sadness and the appreciation of your courage.

Now the second however, brought tears of laughter..."The morgue won't talk to me." Bless you and stay strong JLW.

Sam Mills said...

I dialed my epidural down all the way so I'd know how to describe contractions. XD

Okay. Got the idea. Done. Dial it back up!

Sarah said...

I harvested stinging nettles barehanded for research. And then retted what I harvested to see what nettle fiber was like. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be...

Kate Larkindale said...

Like many of you, I talk to myslef and act out scenes to make sure they sound authentic. My partner is always laughing at me sitting at the laptop, typing and gesticulating as I do...

CynthiaMc said...

Julie - according to the trauma surgeons I used to work with, it depends on where in the brain it hits. It's amazing what people can survive. If you ever catch Trauma:Life in the ER a few of the episodes were filmed at our trauma center.

I don't think I do anything weird, but I do run lines in the hall (most nights when I'm in show I go from work to rehearsal so I have to grab practice time where I can get it. Most of the time I'm alone but every once in a while someone will whip around a corner and catch me mid-sentence. I said "I'm rehearsing for a show." They said "Don't worry about it. We know you're in Psych."

Julie Weathers said...

Cynthia,

There was a guy who survived a tamping rod, which is a sizable metal rod driving through the bottom of his jaw and out the top of his head and survived many years. I can't remember his name now and this was in the 1800's. In this case, I need it to look like it's not that bad, but actually is and the man dies. Head wounds bleed a lot I know from experience, so that isn't a problem.

CynthiaMc said...

Brain bleeds can do it. Patient looks fine, complains of headache or backache.MRI will catch it but people think it'll go away (including doctors when it happens to them).

One Of Us Has To Go said...

I don't feel writing makes me nuts. Cause I have been nuts for a very long time, before I knew the alphabet.

As a three-year-old, I refused to eat ice cream and asked for mustard. As a ten-year-old, I was still unable to eat cream cakes, cause they felt so 'weird' in my mouth (I kept trying to eat them, because they LOOKED so nice!)

As a teenager, family members told me I was nuts (cause I behaved obsessively and performed compulsions).

Now that I am writing, I feel rather NORMAL, since I'm not alone with that 😀.
I didn't have to do any research whatsoever for my debut novel.
But I will for my next one, which will include confession, but since I'm not Catholic, I don't know how this works at church. So I want to meet a priest.

If I won't find one to tell me about it, I will have to do it properly/for real. I'm not sure about the 'right' sin, though. Should I commit one first... ;) ?

Julie Weathers said...

Cynthia,

Thanks. This is the Civil War, so they wouldn't catch it. From reading letters and diaries, I was sure this would happen. Friends talk about their buddies getting shot, but thinking they're fine and then keeling over dead later.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

P.S. LynnRodz, I am with you. Totally! All my best ideas come while taking a shower!!!

I wonder why...!?

C. Monson said...

My husband thinks I am crazy because I'll rub the bark on the side of a tree until I can get the description of the way it feels against my skin just right, or suck on a lemon until I puke to describe the taste on my tongue and body response. I have allowed a rip tide to take me under, which is by far the scariest followed by standing on the edge of a cliff to feel how the wind whips around the body. Don't stand next to railroad tracks, the wheels kick up tiny bits of rock.

I read that a writer allowed her family to tie her to a chair, blindfold her, and then leave her in a dark basement alone to experience what a kidnap victim might feel like. To me, that is nuts!

Beth Carpenter said...

I was late to a 4:30 vet appointment yesterday because it was 3:15, and I wrote for 10 minutes, and suddenly it was 4:45. Writing causes time skips--look it up.

Steve Stubbs said...

Julie, your story reminds me of another I heard some time ago. In the other, hubby told his wife explicitly, "If I can't be successful, then neither can you."

I think you did the right thing by getting out.

I am a people watcher. Some people aspire to rise to a higher level of success and join others who have already made it. Others aspire to stay where they are and drag others down to their level. Almodt everyone operates in one of those modes. The difference is, the latter group suffers from envy and resentment and depression.

As for fantasy, without it you cannot write.

You also cannot be a success without fantasy. Every success, great or small, started with a fantasy.

See you on the bestseller list.

Craig F said...

Some of my best writing happens when I'm stuck in a hotel in some strange place. I am not much for bars or sitting in movies. I guess writing also helps keep me sane.

Julie: Most comas are caused by excessive pressure in the skull. That pressure come when the brain is jostled enough to bleed. It is very possible that someone wounded in the head during the Civil War would appear dead. I bet some were buried before they were actually dead.

If you need to understand the Civil War, I would suggest following Sherman's March. He was nasty. Near Savanna there are pieces of railroad track wrapped around trees. The official reason was that it was to disrupt supply lines. No mention is made of the bones found under those rails. The rails were used to tie living people to those trees. They usually died of dehydration.

Last thing: Only in Hollywood are people blown back by the force of a bullet hitting them.

John Davis Frain said...

I suppose I'm reminded most often about the time I played an undercover cop, and the next day three cops pulled me over to talk about it. We laughed and laughed.

By we, of course, I mean me. They failed to see the humor.

Even when I cued them up by saying, "You're gonna think this part's funny..." they still didn't crack a smile. But what a scene.

Julie Weathers said...

Craig,

Thanks,

Yes, very familiar with Sherman, unfortunately. Wish I wasn't, but it's part of the story.

"Only in Hollywood are people blown back by the force of a bullet hitting them."

Somewhat. Taking five rounds to the chest with the bullet proof vests on will apparently knock you backwards off your feet. Seven direct hits is about all the vests will take. Not going to argue with him about what happened, I certainly wasn't there.

Brendalynn said...

Now that's dedication!

AJ Blythe said...

Really don't have time right now to read all the comments...but you guys are so awesome I couldn't stop.

I've checked off so many things y'all do, like recording myself on my phone when driving/walking the dog or acting out scenes, often dragging the closest person into the scenario.

I guess the craziest thing was taking up 12 months full time study while still holding down the day job so I could study Biometrics (which incorporated forensics) for research. I remember the first day when we all had to introduce ourselves. There were police officers, handwriting experts, immigration and customs employees all giving some version of "doing the course for their job". Then there was me..."I write murder mysteries and this is research". Cue stunned silence.

I was the only one on the course who asked a lot of questions about how things meant the perpetrator could get away with the crime (they were already teaching us how to catch them, so made sense to me).

The course had a very practical component so I dusted for fingerprints, took shoe imprints, photographed crime scenes, collected evidence...totally cool.

LynnRodz, you can buy children's bath crayons, which are a coloured soap, to write on the walls of your bath/shower. I know about them because there be some in my bathroom *wink*

BJ Muntain said...

Craziest thing I did for writing was my trip to WA for the Cascade Writer's Workshop a few years ago. I was short money, so I couldn't afford to fly all the way there. Instead, I flew as far as Vancouver BC, went for supper with a friend, then got off the Sky Train at the train station - only to find that it closed overnight. My train to WA was at 5 am or something similarly awesome, so I wound up spending the night in a nearby Tim Horton's, trying to stay awake, looking around at those who couldn't. Then, a train to a barren train station outside of Seattle, and a friend picked me up to go to the hotel there. Coming back a few days later, I spent the night at a friend's place in Vancouver/Surrey, caught my flight home - and wound up stuck overnight in the Calgary airport due to a storm at home.

Had a good time at the workshop, and gained a LOT of experience in the perils of travelling on a shoestring.

Casey Karp said...

Not quite as dramatic as some of you, but I suppose quitting my job to write full-time was a bit unhinged. Especially since I hadn't sold anything at that point.

Other than that, however, I'm quite the model of sanity.

We all have multiple voices in our heads telling us what they're doing, right? We all do online searches for bomb-making materials, TSA procedures, and surveillance system capabilities, don't we? And we all neglect to eat, sleep, or bathe for weeks at a time until we decide whether the correct word is "crush," "vanquish," or "annihilate."

Right, guys? Guys? Hello?

Barbara Etlin said...

I heard a funny monologue* while sitting in a hallway outside an open door at a doctor's office. I took notes, then turned it into a guessing game on my blog.

*It sounded exactly like someone coaching a woman through labour.

CynthiaMc said...

BJ - You made me think of something I had almost forgotten. I entered my first screenplay in a contest. The prize was attendance at a film conference. I didn't win, but I came darned close. One of the judges sent kind words and said I should come. I set up vacation time and Hubby and I worked out the budget so I could go. Then I lost my job. I wanted to cancel. Hubby said no. So I went. It was time well spent. The producers, directors, other actors I met there are still my friends years later. The winner of a huge international contest took me aside, told me she loved my script and I should enter it in that contest (it only made the semi-finals in that one). She and another screenwriter I met there remind me every year when that contest comes around that I should enter. An actor who was the keynote speaker said he loved the script and if I ever got financing for it he had his eye on a certain role.

That Sunday morning I was looking for a Catholic church so I could go to Mass. The "church down the hill" turned out to have the same name as my home church, St. Margaret Mary.

That was a pretty crazy time, but it all worked out.

kdjames.com said...

Too much crazy to fit it all into a comment (although a certain charity auction for Nashville comes to mind, Janet, when you were easily as nutso as any of the writers involved).

Casey, I'm right there with you, doing my best to get added to all the government watch lists by way of research.

I think the only time I ever really [briefly] questioned my own sanity was during a phone conversation with two of my sisters and I made some mention of the voices in my head. There was a rather ominous silence and they said, "You hear voices?" "Like you can actually hear them talking to you?"

"Well, not literally. I mean, they're not audible." How do you explain there's almost always a dialog running through your brain? Then I said, "Wait. Are you telling me you don't?"

Until that moment, I'd assumed everyone had voices in their head. Not sure who was more stunned by the discovery. Made me feel sad for them, how empty and lonely their heads must be.


I love this quote, attributed to John Cleese: “Creativity is not the possession of some special talent. It’s about the willingness to play.”

Yep. Playfulness definitely fuels my creativity.

Panda in Chief said...

Of course the pandas talk to me! I hear their voices loud and clear as I watch my favorite videos, pandas on a slide or pandas helping rake leaves. Am I crazy? Probably, but I am endlessly entertained, so all in all, I call that a win!