Thanks for your contribution, Pam:
I was talking to a writer pal the other day, one who has put aside her very successful writing career to earn a Ph.D. She’s in the throes of writing her dissertation and it is giving her fits at the moment. We’ve chatted often about how lucky she is that she has those years of writing practice behind her. How much easier, if it can be called easy, are the gathering of research and the weaving together of facts for her than for many of her academic colleagues. But we’ve also been struck by how remarkably similar her dissertation writing process is to mine (wrapping up a mystery novel) and to many others we know of. Same inner turmoil, same terror at the blank page, same fear of failure and
rejection. In short, we suffer the same writers’ neuroses.
Joyce Carol Oates relates this about her writer pal, John McPhee: “He says every writer has a mini-nervous breakdown some time in the mid-morning but keeps going.” Haven’t we all felt that? I know I have. Checking in on my friend Hallie Ephron’s blog, Jungle Red Writers (subtitle of which is Writing Well Is the Best Revenge – love that) I found an interview with Dennis Palumbo. He’s the screenwriter who did Welcome Back, Kotter among others. He left to get a Ph.D. too, and became a psychotherapist helping writers with creativity issues – all the above-mentioned neuroses and more. He even wrote a book
about that called Writing from the Inside Out. So he gets it, right? Smooth sailing in the writing department for him, yes? Well, not quite. His first mystery novel, Mirror Image, just came out and he reports suffering the same obsessions, feelings and worries as he did pre-Ph.D.
So what’s the answer to this writer’s life that can be so uncomfortable at times and downright crazy at others?
First, we need to recognize there’s no escaping it. No matter what we write, we are tapping into our creativity and that by its very nature leads us to the most vulnerable of our inner landscapes. Second, since that is so, I think we need to do as Dennis Palumbo does and stop hassling ourselves about our writer neuroses. What’s the point of that, after all? Third, I love what John McPhee says we all do anyway (at least those of us who are writers …): after the mini-nervous breakdown, we just keep going.