Why Writers Are Strange Folk

I think writers, pretty much all of them, suffer from mental illness. How can it not be an illness to build and destroy worlds in your head?  Or to murder people, or decide who falls in or out of love, or which child lives and which one dies, or any of the other things that go on in our twisted little heads on a daily basis?

We walk around talking to ourselves and we actually listen to the voices in our heads.

On any given day we may carry on both sides of an imaginary conversation, out loud, in the produce section of the local grocery. I suppose that could be just me, but I doubt it.

The Writer's Brain.

I think we are all one traumatic event away from Multiple Personality Disorder.

Add to that all of the unknowns, and we become riddled with anxiety. Can I get published? Should I do it myself? What makes for a good query letter? A good blog? A successful platform?

So we look for guides. We read books on craft. We search out mentors and gurus. We register for classes, attend conferences, check web feeds and do a million other things to help us figure it out.

But all of that work? Can make us more crazy.

Because we have no single savior. We simply have more voices.

One voice says we must plot our stories carefully. Pin boards, timelines, character studies and conflict resolution all must be neatly ordered and in place before we begin.

Another voice urges us to just write. To get words out first, then clean up the mess.

There’s the Snowflake theory. And Freytag’s Pyramid. There are voices promising that we can write book in 10 days. Or 30 days.  Or be published in a year.

There’s Anne Lamott*. Stephen King. Donald Maass. Orson Scott Card. Natalie Goldberg.

Wait! All these voices – where in Hell did I go?

That question brings its own angst. And is possibly the reason it seems many writers fall on the extreme ends of any given personality index.

Some writers seem to compensate for the competition to self by being themselves, in the loudest, most opinionated, most blunt way possible – this is me, like it or suck it.

There are a number of others that fall into the more introverted end of the spectrum – spending so much time with the head people, that they don’t interact as fluidly with real ones – wait, did I just say that out loud, or did I think it, then pause to edit without ever opening my mouth?

And of course, I’m sure there are a wide array writers that are perfectly adjusted, normal individuals, with no imaginary friends; no random, vocalized sentence fragments, and nary an existential crisis in sight.

But I’ve never met one.

Perhaps they’re hiding from the rest of us.


*Seriously? Anne Lamott doesn’t have a website?

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18 thoughts on “Why Writers Are Strange Folk

  1. Mentally ill? No question. All those characters in my head, talking incessantly, so much smarter and braver than I, and with lives more interesting than my own. As you can tell, I fall among the introverts.


  2. I think there’s no question that writers have to be a special breed – special in a nice way of course. Introversion is pretty much part of the field. Creativity often brings its own weirdness, I suspect. One of New Zealand’s greatest writers, Janet Frame, was always upheld as an oddity. Another, Katherine Mansfield, was a hedonistic Bohemian. And yet who can deny the fantastic contributions that all these people make to the ordinary lives of others though their books? It’s all good.

    Matthew Wright


  3. Love the picture of the writer’s head.
    I don’t write any fiction at all, so I don’t have too many characters in my brain – but my family is sitting in there, that’s enough to drive me crazy 😉


  4. Not only do we listen to the voices in our head, and argue with them, we also write down what they are saying and try to get others to listen too.


  5. Awesome article! Makes me feel better about my characters piping up and taking over the plot I’ve so carefully created. Anybody think that we’re not really introverts at all, but we just interact with people who live in our heads?


  6. Well I do have bipolar disorder which means I get a tick on the mentally ill part 🙂 But I totally see where you’re going with this and yeah… how do writers live through all this? How do we get up every morning to tackle all these brain fractions and idea bombardments – or worse – silences? Great post. I’m spreading some sunshine – Please stop by to pick your Sunshine Award! 🙂 X


  7. Really a great GREAT! article. I am almost completely convinced I am mad when it comes to my writing! I also love that the Ideas part of the brain is the largest. That’s so true! I come up with more ideas than probable solutions to my books all the time. lol.

    Also, I nominated you for an award today!!! Come check it out here:
    If you don’t do awards that’s ok. I just wanted to pick some new people and let you know!



    • I do awards, so thanks! I just haven’t managed to get that page up with the new design. And I am so glad I joined up with your reading challenge – a few times knowing I had a goal, even if it is a giant, fat absurd goal, makes me pick up a book instead of being lazy and grabbing the remote.


    • Thanks! There could have been so many more – it seems writers all have about 50 voices going on at once, characters, tips from publishers and agents, grammar police. It’s a wonder we can get anything done.


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  10. Hmm. Anne Lamott is pretty active on Twitter (previously said) and Facebook. It’s strange not having a website these days but it sounds like she’s making it work!


  11. Thanks for this article, I’ve been sorta worried that i might actually have something like a border line multiple personality disorder, (doubtful but there still could be a chance) started two years ago for me at a time when my life wasn’t going so well. My characters picked me up and brought some sense to my brain long enough to get me to safety. Almost 18 now and the bond is still strong if not stronger, i try to think of it as a mutual respect and when i piss him off i know instantly like the grinding of thoughts in my head.

    Glad you posted this up as even after all this time I’m still dubious (part of our personality). I write when i get the chance and when i feel like i need to let of some steam, i do believe like you said near the start of your post that writers are a rare breed and almost everyone i know just reads or does “normal” (what ever normal classifies these days) things. Have fun! And Ard Sabouths! (Meaning Calm Dragon for the Jaden kind of dragons)


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