Friday, June 11, 2010

How Split Personality is a Good Thing

It's amazing how often you discuss writing with people and come across the same quaint notions of what a writer is. (I'm not even going to touch the popular image where we are all filthy rich layabouts like the guy in Californication with agents who pander to our every whim.)

You hear things like:

"People say it's lonely being a writer. You spend your life alone."

Hmmn. Well I guess there is no physical person actually sitting beside you, but I'm sure most writers would agree its pretty crowded in that particular space. So many characters either trying to talk at once, or waiting their turn. Either way they and the universe you are trying to create are there with you.

Then, once the writing part is over and it's time to sell the manuscript, there is no such thing as simply wrapping the thing in brown paper, licking on the stamps, posting it off to some distant publishing house and waiting in the silent parlour for a reply. At least not anymore.

People talk about the writer living in the garret, working away in the bliss of artistic isolation. In this image the writer is uncomfortable with people, introverted to the point of dysfunction. Maybe they start that way.

All the successful writers I know are incredibly dynamic. They might be an introvert at heart, but they have all worked damn hard to become just about everything else as well. Effective networkers that can move through a crowd. Polished performers that rattle off anecdotes in a seemingly spontaneous manner, keeping a workshop or panel crowd entertained while simultaneously informing and promoting themselves and their work. Strategic thinkers who can plough their way through Internet sites and magazines and absorb a bird's-eye-view of the industry, much as any steel-trap minded lawyer or analyst might.

So who exactly is this author person? An artistic introvert at home in their own skin? A networker who delights in the company of others? A performer who feeds off the room? A cool-thinking analyst, capable of ruthlessly pursing their goals who would put Hannibal Barca to shame? Which one? All of them?

It's enough to put a psychologist into a mental hospital. How on earth can one person be all this?

Any clues? Have I missed out any additional split personalities?


Synova said...

A closet exhibitionist.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Lol, Synova. Nice one.

I was running a class today, teaching narrative to computer game designers. And I told them it is really good to write some pages of dialogue between your characters. This way you get to know them and when you come to write, you know where they are coming from.

One cheeky kid put his hand up and said. 'Um, Miss. They're not real.'

Writers are people who feel guilty when they don't write the stories, their characters want them to write.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Synova. I'll add that one to the list:) Rings true!

The other one I forgot was being good at readings, that's a skill!

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Rowena. Yes - its a case of 'If you don't get it. Don't ask!' Writers certainly know what we are talking about when we talk about characters wanting to speak:)

Anonymous said...

Just the writing itself requires that you develop the ability to switch personas with ease. Personae?

You've got to be able to mentally switch from the nasty boss to the lonely housewife, to the Hero, the cheeky kid, the supercilious cat...

I think we must be basically secure, else we'd all be drooling bisexuals, eternally conficted by indecision over swords v guns as the proper accouterments for our shopping trips.

A.N.Onymous said...

A couple of points.

First, I read this before heading out to work, then on the way to work I find myself arguing about the nature of healthy split personalities. The issue? I was the only person in the truck and I was winning/losing the argument.

Second, as a father of three, with a full time career, and two home based businesses, the time factor to write is critical, but I have to reply to the comment by Rowena "Writers are people who feel guilty when they don't write the stories, their characters want them to write." I'd have to say that those self same characters are the one's who keep me up too late and up waay too early, or they'll get mad at me and I'll suffer. So, yes, split personalities is an issue, or a blessing, depending on which side of the cookie you're looking at.

Dan Casey.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Recently a fan letter said reading the samples on my website is like "the three faces of Eve." Frankly, I myself am starting to worry that I'm not "normal" even in the outer reaches of the term. Other people, sure, write a lot of stuff and sure, Monkey too can write future and well researched past. But I hit all these places three to four times a year, careening from the Chinese Hades to the 24th century.
The scary thing is that it is NOT scary. It's just what it is. You know there are actors who act by thinking of situations that will bring on the right expressions? And others who just slip into the persona and ARE it? Well, part of the reason I can do what I do is that I slip into the character. I am the character for the time of writing it. Which is why I enjoy first person so much, I guess. Not because the characters are me, but because I am each of them.

For some time now I've had the strong suspicion that if anyone catches me long enough to shoot me full of anti-psychotics, I'll never write again. And the proof that I'm not sane is that I keep avoiding mental health professionals. :)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Proving once again that I'm insane, I'm going to recommend you read Diana Wynne Jones Hexwood AND hand a copy to cheeky kid.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, matapam. LOL! Hey, I like the idea that we are all basically secure. I'll try to convince myself that:)

You are right though, we are all very comfortable trying out these different skins. I suspect that probably translates into chronic people-watching as well.

When you stand back and thinka about it, it kind of weird actually.

Chris McMahon said...

Hey, Dan. LOL! You think of it as a win/win -- whether you are winning or losing you ARE the winning team:)

Writers are strange creatures. Who else would propel themselves through so many hoops just for the sheer compulsion of it? It least musicians get a good social life as well. Still, I wouldn't trade it for anything:)

Chris McMahon said...

Hey, Sarah. Be sure to keep those pesky health-professionals at bay! We don't want your worlds vanishing into drugland.

You reminded me that its been a long time since I came in out of the wilderness. I've been part of a local writing community for more than a decade now, and I forget the sense of belonging that I felt so strongly when I first found these people.

Up until then I had various people in my life who would listen to my occaisonal rants about stories and think either 1) I was mad, 2)I was mentally deranged, 3)I was stupid (because they could not follow me) or 4)I was trying to take the piss out of them (i.e. be sarcastic). Either way they would edge away from me, call me names or be outright aggressive. Not nice.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Dan, it sounds like you are as pushed for time as I am.

I woke up two nights this week at 2 am and went into my computer room and wrote for 4 hours.

It was wonderful, but I paid for it the following days.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Rowena. Well done using the time when you have it:)

Anthony J Langford said...

That's dedication Rowena. Inspirational.

I agree.

I was'nt talking to you. I was talking to..

I know who youre talking to. I'm not stupid.

I never said you were. Frankly its none of your business.

It is my business. I was the one who decided to comment here.

No way! I was the one who clicked Dashboard!!

You are such a liar! I hate you!

Ditto. Dickweed.

Anonymous said...

I've had an interesting "split personality" the last few weeks.

I had a sudden urge to take up painting and drawing again. I found that while I was actively "arting" my writing dried up. And my math. Couldn't do sudokus to save my soul.

Very odd that the writing and math co-exist peacefully, but need to be subdued to bring out the visual art. Perhaps that's just because I'm so out of practice. Perhaps they involve different parts of the brain.