Wonder Boi Writes

Schizophrenia and the Weekend Play

E. L. Doctorow wrote that “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia,” and while I’ve always found that quote cute and somewhat true, the full force of the statement had never hit me full on until this week.   You see, in the past I have worked on one book at a time.   When edits came in, I put my current project aside and focused on the edits.  When the edits went out, I picked up a previous project or started a new one.  That system had always worked well and made the most sense for me.  After all, each of my manuscripts is unique, and I worried about one set of characters bleeding into the other and shaping them in ways that weren’t authentic.  Also, my characters already have to share my attention with Susie, Jackson, my responsibilities around the house, and all of you lovely people.  It just didn’t seem right to make my characters have to share me with another set of fictional voices vying for my attention.

This week I received some feedback important to the production of my novel, the one I sent off last month, and I am now on a deadline to make some necessary changes.   So as usual, I set aside my current project and set to work on revisions.  I listened to my soundtrack for the revising novel, got into the mood, got into the setting of a small town, and got into my characters’ heads.  I was ready to go, and I was enjoying the chance to get reacquainted with Raine and Beth, whom I had missed over the last six weeks.  I started hearing their voices. The first round of edits went well, and we mapped out a solid plan together. 

 Then, much to my surprise, I heard another voice.  This one was Ren, the main character from my new project.   She was just jabbering away, telling me all kinds of things about her fears and insecurities.  She also started having conversations with other characters in her book.  They were great conversations, filled with insight and humor, and I wanted so badly to jot them down, but as soon as I did, Raine and Beth were bending my ear again.  I couldn’t tell them to wait.  It was their turn, after all, and they are on a deadline, where Ren is not.  I tried to explain the process to Ren, but she is young, both in actually age and in her character development.  That youthful energy won’t be contained, and it won’t last forever, so what’s a writer to do?  I imagine this is how parents feel when two of their children need two different types of attention at the same time. 

I have finally settled on the approach of splitting my already-limited time between editing and writing.  Instead of editing 40 pagers per day, I now edit 20, giving my attention to the details and fine-tuning of highly evolved characters who demand subtle brush strokes of guidance to be moved gently in the right direction.  I go pages and chapters without making changes, then pepper a few pages with new word choices, and perhaps, if I am lucky, a complete paragraph of illuminating test. Then I put away my songs about the Midwest, small towns, and trucks, and replace them with songs about travel, Spanish guitar, and the Dixie Chicks (but that’s another blog).   I then immerse myself in the broad, brooding innocence that is a new young character.  She moves quickly and sometimes recklessly across the page.  She takes off on tangents and charges haphazardly through a multitude of situations without regard to conventions or restrained by previous action. 

This ping-pong game of characters that is volleying through my head is exhilarating, challenging and exhausting.  I only hope that when it is all done, I have satisfied all of the voices in my head without losing my mind completely.

At least if I do go crazy, you can all say I went there bravely.  Brave and Crazy.

(Love the line – But this desire is too much/It’s rented out my brain/It’s showing previews of your body/Driving me insane/And that’s crazy)

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August 21, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Great post – I have Doctorow’s quote on my website and I can certainly relate to the many voices at the same time syndrome. Great song choice as well!

    Comment by Carsen Taite | August 22, 2009 | Reply


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