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The sadistic psychosis of writing a book

Posted by E on December 9, 2007


Last night a friend from California emailed and asked what others have wondered as well: how is the Nanowrimo-challenge book doing? I thought I would paste partions of my response to her, in the hope that it would kill several birds with the same stone.

The marathon novel has been gathering dust since precisely november 20th… I had reached 50,000+ words but had to call it short since we were hosting a friend of mine from Spain and I cannot multitask – be a host and a writer, which is strange since she’s a writer herself, but alas! nothing more written since.

I estimate there is still about half a book to write, and then have to get onto cleaning it up for a 2nd draft. Which will be so difficult since I am convinced that it is utter crap. But I’ve been warned not to dismiss it as complete crap until at least the 2nd draft is finished….

A factor that has impeded my writing for the last years is my reluctance to read….I get so frustrated when I read good books and feel that I can never get a manuscript to that polished point…of course this is all a chicken before egg sort of thing, since good books are never written by people who don’t read. Therefore I am perfectly aware that I need to read before I can write anything decent, so herein lies my conflict. I hate reading anymore, though I am surrounded by books.

But having my friend Sofia here for so long has changed some things, and I feel that her arrival was an impetus for me to take up writing again, and not in a lackluster, lackadaisical way but seriously. I mean to get something done and published over the next year. And for the first time ever, I have ventured out into a gay writers’ group here in Toronto, though I am still too terrified to read in public. But I know I have to get there too, because everybody knows that half of being a writer is the ability to posture and sprew bullshit on a stage.

So, if and when the crappy novel gets to 2nd draft, I will be sure to let all my creative friends in on the misery of having to suffer through it. I have stumbled across a quote I am now particularly fond of, written by Nabokov of perverse Lolita fame: “Only ambitious nonentities and hearty mediocrities exhibit their rough drafts. It’s like passing around samples of sputum.”

The biggest issue I have come across is that of too much creativity: since I’ve been suffocating under a big load of blockage, now that the door is open, there are too many voices trying to shove through the door, not allowing one another polite access, kind of like trying to get in and out of the subway in Seoul, that nobody can get through intact. During my nano month, there were 2-3 other novels that were trying to break through. I kept notes on one of them, but there was constant conflict. I find I stumble across my most brilliant ideas when I am obligated to do something else. It may be a masochistic trend most writers share, I think, since others I’ve mentioned this to also concurred.

I don’t think I’ve ever been a writer before now, or I deluded myself. What I was, was a poet; but being a bard is such a different thing from a novelist. Writing non-fiction is also so vastly different. Only now am I entering the schizophrenic playground of a fiction writer. There are so many observations I have noted as the process unfolds. I become characters, entering their realm and seeing everything as though I was there, like a virtual movie going on parallel to my everyday life, and I feel pulled in both directions since both realms have the same weight of reality inside my mind.

I am glad to have a month to come up for air; when I am inside a book, it feels like I am scuba-diving into another world, and both the process of submerging and resurfacing are somewhat traumatic. I believe I am the type of writer who works best in strong, intense spurts – I cannot imagine how some people can take years to complete a book. They must go insane after that much time. Kind of like mathematicians who apply their brains to the numbers for so long that they eventually just go mad. Like those guys in A Beautiful Mind and Proof – utterly, droolingly, electric-shockingly insane.

As it is, once I am inside that parallel reality, I don’t want to do anything but live it through – I don’t go out, don’t cook, don’t clean, don’t do anything but live it out in real-time. It may be a bit drastic, but it’s the only way I can do this. I barely eat and barely talk to others. I live on coffee, wine gums and gummy worms, anything I can reach with one hand while I furiously pound at my keyboard with the other.

I would love to reenter the book right now and process it through to the end of a first draft, but the situation of the moment does not allow the insanity to return, at least not for the next month. I will be travelling to Cuba soon, and then moving into a new home after I return. The insanity will have to wait until February.

Not that I haven’t manifested my psychosis in other ways: though I am about to fly to Cuba, I am terrified of flying, and at this point I am less concerned about a wonderful sunny beach vacation than the prospect of crashing on takeoff or landing. Of course, about a week or so ago the sadist in me compelled me to watch a marathon of Mayday shows: six hours of gory, no-survivor, all hope lost reenactments of various plane crashes.

That’s being a writer for you. 🙂


One Response to “The sadistic psychosis of writing a book”

  1. macshaggy said

    During my nano month, there were 2-3 other novels that were trying to break through. I kept notes on one of them, but there was constant conflict. I find I stumble across my most brilliant ideas when I am obligated to do something else. It may be a masochistic trend most writers share…

    I know what you mean. My best ideas are those that my procrastinative mind does me. It’s almost like, “I know you working on that, and it’s important. BUT I have something else that is better so play with it now. You can always come back to that silly idea.”

    It drives me nuts…but keep up the writing on that book. You’ll be glad when it is complete.

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