where the writers are
The glamor of insanity

There are two ways for me to be as I write my book: I can go to my office at the Writers Grotto, open my laptop, type a sentence, then type another one, then type another one, noticing that some of them are good and some of them of them are bad but remembering that I can go back and make the bad ones better, and keep doing that until I'm exhausted. Then I can do it again for a bunch of other days until I have a book. I can work, in other words. Like a guy with a job. Like my dad.

Or I can open my laptop and stare at it and slam it closed and get up and pace around and ask myself why the hell I can't come up with a good enough opening sentence. I can take a long walk with my eyes on the sidewalk trying to cut to the theme at the heart of the book. I can screw around on my Facebook page or burn a movie from my DVR to a DVD or try to read a Patricia Highsmith novel without actually comprehending any of the sentences I'm looking at or go back to bed for "just a few minutes" while I wait for more clarity about what I'm going to write today. In short, I can get nothing done for days while I hunger for the moment of galvanic insight or self-loathing fury or shallow-breathed, tunnel-vision terror ("My editor hates me! My career's about to end!") that will force me, just force me, through the walls of my resistance and send me exploding through the book with the unstoppable momentum of passion.

Which would be my mom's choice. Not that she ever really lived it. She went to work every Monday morning through every Friday afternoon too. But she hated it, and she drank herself to sleep every night until she returned, and she was constantly looking for that new approach, that new specialty, that new way of approaching the whole thing that would inspire her to love it. She wrestled for years with the question of what to do with her life before economic logic and sheer resignation drove her to teach high school. Tried writing for a while, before her insecurities beat her. Always loved artists and their stories of struggle. And never quite trusted the ability of so many people (like my dad) just to keep plugging until the job was done.

The downside to such madness is pretty obvious: not much work gets done. Oh, but what an upside! Life is so much more entertaining in the throes of artistic agony! When do you think I feel more alive, when I spend the night wrestling with demons and angels or when I'm sitting at a desk typing? When am I more fascinating to others, when I'm pouring out the fear and anger and self-loathing that turns every day on this book into a psychological drama or when I'm closing my door and saying, "I gotta work, I'll be out at five"?

I'm sure you can understand, then, why I choose the glamor of tormenting myself over my book to the ordinariness of writing it. But there's a problem with that kind of glamor: it looks pretty tawdry once the game's been exposed. I mean, how do I sustain the charisma of the tormented writer after I've outed myself as a drama junkie? What the payoff for all my effort then, except for a few blog entries?

So the only real reward left is the book. Just showing up and getting it done, like a regular job. Like my dad. God damn it.

7 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

Empathy not sympathy

If I never written a book, I'd thought you are insane, period.  But having gone through the process, I completely understand.  You're not the first, and you certainly won't be the last.

Comment Bubble Tip

I still think I'm insane!

But it's nice to know I'm not alone in my madness....

Comment Bubble Tip


I noticed you wrote about Pokemon and Pikachu.  My seven-year-old daughter and I have been grabbing all the Pokemon books lately, especially about Pichu/Pikachu/Raichu, because she's into it.  Like the many kids before her, she can name almost all of the characters.  Sheesh.

Maybe we're the only two insane authors out there because of the common connection with Pokemon! :-)

Comment Bubble Tip


...is crazy-making in a different way. But it was fun to work on it, especially as my son was really into it at the time, and I think it's mostly quite good for kids, as pop-culture fantasies go. I hope you're able to enjoy your daughter's obsession!

Comment Bubble Tip

Every minute

How can I not enjoy her current obsession when instead of listening to normal music in the car we listen to her Pokemon music CD.  I especially find the rap song that names all 150 or so Pokemon characters rather catchy. :-)

Comment Bubble Tip

Indeed, a job. With an

Indeed, a job. With an optional office! And you get to meet cool people like Mary Roach. Good luck with the book! I hope you're making good progress.

Comment Bubble Tip

Yeah, Mary's very cool.

We miss her at Grotto West. Everyone there is cool, though. Couldn't even rank them by coolness. It's like a 35-way tie.