Why Writers are Neurotic

Ask any publisher, any literary agent, any writer’s family and friends, and they will tell you: writers are a messed-up bunch. They don’t know the half of it.

First, the obvious: rejection sucks. I get back the form letter saying “not right for us at this time” and I find myself wondering what to do with this work that is obviously crap. I liked it before, and even when I read it now I think it’s pretty good which just goes to show what a talentless hack I am thinking something like that is good because obviously it’s not. It got rejected. So I could submit it somewhere else but why the hell should I bother? Crap’s crap the world around.

Far worse than rejection is Limbo. I send something in, and they say they usually reply within twelve weeks. Now it’s been three months (do the math). Nothing. I don’t want to be that annoying writer that pesters the publisher, but thoughts start to pile up. Maybe it fell between the cracks. Maybe they never got it. The postage has changed since I sent the SASE; maybe the response is lost in a bureaucratic muddle. Hanging over me is the question: When is it all right to submit the work to another market? Do I check with the first magazine to get verification that I am not under consideration there, or does that just make me a pest? For a writer, there is no level of hell lower than limbo.

Another thing: Everybody has a friggin’ story. When I’m in a bar talking to the dentist on the next stool, I won’t mention my teeth, and I don’t want to hear his story idea.

Other writers. God we’re an insufferable bunch. Actually, that’s an unfair generalization. Writers who have branded themselves artists, I do not like to hang around. Strutting preening iceholes, intent on establishing their pecking order. They don’t have conversations, they have cluster monologues, working to establish their personality cults like they’re Kerouac or something. Most of all I hate the person I become in their presence; I join their game. It’s the Sharks and the Jets right there in the cafe/bookstore. At the bottom of this folly lies the assumption that “ideas” are not just redemptive but vital, and that writers are rescuing humanity by exposing these ideas. People don’t read ideas, and people don’t read most of the tumescent drek this crowd serves up. You want to inform humanity? Write about humans. The ideas will fall out of the writing or you’ve simply told a good story. It’s cool either way.

“Hello? Helloooooooo…” Just because I’m sitting at your table in the restaurant doesn’t mean I’m with you. When I get that distant look in my eye, I’m working, dammit. Leave me alone. I am working all the time. Sometimes I can turn down the intensity and pretend to be with you. Most of the time, not. If that bothers you, go chat up the dentist on the next stool.

Expectations. Some of the words I write may make you think I’m sensitive, or caring, or thoughtful. I am a writer. I make stuff up. That’s my job. The people I create, even the bad guys, are much finer humans than I am, unburdened by the need to act without months of deliberation; that’s why you enjoy reading about them. I am spontaneously awkward, and rather a jerk at that. Except when I’m not, which is most of the time. I just made that up to make a point. You see how it is?

The greatest source of neurosis of all (although Limbo is a very close second): great literature. Nothing fills me with the need to write more than reading the work of a master. I read something transcendent, lyrical and wise, and the moment of beauty is besmirched – I will never write that.

But still I write.