Inside The Strange Mind of a Writer

Writers all face the conundrum when they set down to have a mental dual with their thoughts. It’s a gunfight, and words are the deadliest bullets. But as Stephen King says, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” And Neil Gaiman points out that being a writer is a very peculiar sort of job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.

Stephen King

Writers expose themselves, their fears, their beliefs, their hopes, and their loves to the world. They clean out the darkest corners of their minds and tell secrets that, so often, shouldn’t be told. And it’s all there on paper, and Hemingway tells us that the first draft of anything is little more than a pile of cow dung. It said it a little more succinctly than that.

But should we writers worry?

“Why?” asks Cornelia Funke. We have to face one fact that soars above all others. “All writers,” she says, “are lunatics.”

And so we are.

We learn so much from the experiences of those who travel the same road that we do, and here are thoughts from some of the country’s most noted writers.

Stephen King: The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them – words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When a secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.

Sylvia Plath:  And by the way, everything in life is writable around if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worse enemy to creativity is self-doubt.

Lloyd Alexander: Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.

Anais Nin: We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.

Virginia Woolf: Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau: How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.

William Faulkner: Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.

Neil Gaiman: Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.

Toni Morrison: Make up a story … For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stich that unravels fear’s caul.

Meg Cabot: White the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.

Sylvia Plath: Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.

Joss Whedon: I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. People love a happy ending. So every episode, I will explain once again that I don’t like people. And then Mal will shoot someone. Someone we like. And their puppy.

Stephen King: A short story is a different thing altogether. A short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.

Caleb Pirtle is the author of Chasing Love and Other Ghosts. 

  • David Atkinson

    Fantastically uplifting blog. Pleased that being a lunatic is more common than I thought.

    • We all have rooms in the same asylum. The Internet is the hallways from room to room.

  • SuziQuaif

    Fantastic article thanks. I often worry that I give my ego way too much free rein when I write and there’s more than a little lunacy involved. I find the more of myself I put in, the more satisfied I am with the end result. But I know that if I was to try and explain all the personal truths behind it, no one would believe me. Fact is always more fantastic than fiction. Still, I believe that there’s a lot of merit in fostering some understanding of the author behind the story. We are all human, we all have problems and fiction is therapy for the masses.

    • You can’t please everyone. You can only please yourself. Do it well, and those who want to follow the same paths you walk will follow and buy and read. We all have our own following, and we are searching for them while they are searching for us.

  • “When a secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.” That’s it exactly for me. That’s why I write, to see if there are any understanding ears. I’m always surprised when they actually listen to me.

    • And when they do listen, Mary Kathryn, you know it’s all been worthwhile.

  • I’ve written all my life. I began when I was barely into my teens. However, I hid everything I wrote until I was an adult. Then I was writing other people’s stories. I was a copywriter. I wrote about real estate, cameras and photography, boats, airplanes, trips, etc. etc. etc. It was all very safe. Now, I can write whatever the hell I want to write. Who’s to judge me?

    • A good writer is the only judge he or she needs, and that is the toughest judge he or she will ever face.

  • That’s fascinating, Caleb! Very inspirational, indeed.

    • We look for inspiration anywhere we can find it, and we always need it.

  • That’s some of the most touching material I’ve ever seen Stephen King write. Quite touching. Thanks for finding it, Caleb.

    • King never ceases to amaze me. Just when you think you know him, you don’t.

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