So, this is an about writing that’s basically framed as advice from a guy who’s gone a little nuts writing . . . but I felt bad that so many people were ending up here when they were probably looking for real advice on how to write mentally ill characters. So I went ahead wrote a short serious guide to writing mentally ill characters, with some great resources. So check that out. Or keep reading this. Or both.
Sometimes, specifically right this exact second as I’m typing this, I wonder, “What would I think like if I was a crazy person?”
It’s not as idle a question as you might think. As a writer, it’s important to ask, “What would I think like if I was a ______?” because extremely realistically depicting the thought-processes of twenty-something sarcastic males with wanderlust is a little too niche of a market. Some of you might point out that what I’d think like is whatever’s written in that blank spot, and yeah, you’re right, I mean how would I think. Happy? Of course not, you’re the sort of person who nitpicks everything even when the intent is clear and you’re going to die sad and alone. So, anyway, I got to thinking, what sort of advice would I give if I were a crazy writer? Crazier writer. What would writing from an insane person even look like? I know, I know, it’s a stretch to imagine writers as crazy people, and me as crazy or a writer, but use your imagination, like when you type in search terms on Google and pretend the NSA isn’t watching them and judging you.
Think of Yourself as Infinite Monkeys
It’s said that infinite monkeys chained to infinite typewriters could, in enough time, reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare. In fact, if you limit yourself to the first letter from each monkey in any one of those infinite rows or columns of simian typists, they would produce the complete works of everybody, ever, on the first keystroke, including this sentence, because that’s how infinity works. Of course, they’d mostly produce random strings of letters and shit–which means they would reproduce the complete content of the internet, too. Purely by accident!
People know this, it’s just common sense for people who lack the sense to think about better things. But, like people who majored in the social sciences in college, they missed the whole point of the enterprise.
No matter how good that novel is you’re not writing right now (I know you’re not writing it because I’m psychic, you’re not reading this while writing, and also because one of my infinite monkeys is also reading this over your shoulder right now), even if it’s better than Shakespeare, is still infinitely worse than one of those infinite strings of monkey gibberish.
“But Connor,” you say, because if you’re reading this you probably know me, “good and bad are subjective, you quivering mass of hog snot!”
Right you are. Good and bad are subjective, just like the rest of reality, including pig snot (pigs dig it), because, despite the best efforts of poorly imagined famous literary totalitarian states (oddly featuring barnyard or familial villain archetypes) , and more recently the United States government, it’s actually not possible to completely invade anyone else’s mind and point of view.
So yeah, it’s subjective. Fine. You win.
So is the choice of whether you’d rather have sex with Mila Kunis or a chainsaw.
Well, which will it be?
So, you can aspire to be a great writer, carefully attempting to create order from the chaos around you, or you can embrace the chaos that is reality, and just try to find the chunks that accidentally ended up looking like order, and shoot for something better.
There’s more wonder to be found dancing wildly through the chaos than treading in the footsteps of genius. Or, as monkeys 12E2385659090234 through 12E2385659090343 on Row 23458789438974352983479875398 put it:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Writing is Like Making a Sandwich
How is writing like a sandwich? Allow me to preamble a bit so that I can bring the whole slogan together at the end in a short–by which I mean tweetable–pithy comment at the end of the section.
See, sandwiches usually involve bread, and some sort of sauce, and some sort of meat unless you’re a vegetarian, in which case it’s not really a whole sandwich, really, at all, really. . . I guess a veggie sandwich is like a novella? Yeah, sure, let’s roll with that. Obviously there are lots of different types of sandwiches, including ones on rolls, and ones in wraps, which are technically “wraps” I guess, but if you differentiate between a wrap and a sandwich and you don’t work at a deli then you’re basically some dude who insists on using Starbucks’ drink size terms at places where less pretentious people work. Don’t be that guy. Also, some sandwiches are just stuff between lettuce on account of people who are gluten intolerant or just don’t like bread because they’re stupid.
What’s my point? Nothing to do with any of that. Writing is like making a sandwich; if all you do is sit there talking about it, you’re eventually gonna starve to death. (Tweet This)
Talent is Like a Box of Chocolates
Chocolate is amazing. I’m not going to say anything bad about chocolate. The tiny scientist part of me who still clutches his wrinkled BS degrees in the cold part of my brain with the leaky faucet (where he lives now) is muttering something about serotonin receptors and “like sex” which shows you how often scientists get laid. Which is exactly how talent is like a box of chocolates: Might help you get you laid, but you’re still going to have to work for it. (Tweet This)
I mean obviously that isn’t true for the hookers and the slutty girls (like those pay-for-publishing rackets) but actually getting published is like seducing that girl (or boy, I guess?) who was still wearing a purity ring her senior year of college. It’s going to take a pretty serious commitment.
Wow, this entry worked out really well considering I just wrote down a random heading and went with it.
Metaphor Resembles a Simile
Well, that particular metaphor resembles a simile the way pug resembles a dog, only more so because it actually is one. So it’s also a paradox of sorts. By which I mean not a paradox, but a word resembling it: a contradiction. That last bit wasn’t a simile or a metaphor. Which is also my point here, although really I have two, the first being that people only sorta know what most words mean, which eventually gives rise to most words meaning more than one thing, which is really great for a writer, because as long as you’re just a little vague you can make nearly anything into anything.
“Why yes, the vaguely phallic potato described in chapter two was indeed a metaphor for the struggles of God against man, ma’am, not at all a literal description of one of the vegetables I left out on my counter and then added to the scene in a moment of abject boredom, fully intending to delete the paragraph later. And then forgot about, because, well, who cares? Well spotted, well spotted. . . What’s that? Oh yes, potatoes are technically tubers, you are just so so so clever, aren’t you?”
Anyway, so don’t over-analyze stuff: It means what it means, or something like that, unless it doesn’t. It’s a lot like women, that way, which is a metaphor for the sexism rampant in modern society, which is a lot like the sexism rampant in all the rest of history, except now women are legally entitled to whine about it. That’s progress. Metaphorically.
Oh, right, you can say almost anything, as long as you say it any way but clearly, and then just claim it’s irony/parody if anyone calls you on it.
Also, never forget about the safest form of metaphor, hypocatastasis. Don’t know what hypocatastasis is? You’re missing out!
If You Want It Too Much, You’ll Pay Too Much For It
I’ve avoided a lot of fights simply by virtue of not wanting to. True story. People who start something almost always find a reason not to follow through when it seems like you might just want them to. Similarly, acting like you want something is just an invitation for people to raise their prices, or change the currency, if you know what I mean. You do. You know.
I mean, when people say you’ve got to want it more, they’re not wrong, but what they really mean by that is you need beat everyone else. . . Off is what I left off the end of that sentence. Because this is a family blog. By which I mean, members of my family read it. And also one or two other people. Sometimes. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that wanting is not what it’s about. Doing, acting, getting, those are what it’s about. Unless your goal is to want something, in which case I guess . . . carry on? I’m not the boss of you, or anyone else. Hell, I’m barely the boss of me. Sometimes I ask myself, “What are you doing?” and I say, “Shut up, just go with it.”
And I do, because talking to yourself is a little crazy, but arguing with yourself is way crazy. Like if you threw Michelle Bachman and Nancy Pelosi at each other so hard that they merged to form a new human being with all of both their neuroses. That kind of crazy. I chose two women not because I’m sexist but because if they were two people of opposite sexes and they merged to form one person with all of their neuroses that would be nothing but sex on a larger-than-usual scale combined with an accelerated childhood. So. . . boring. Plus they were the two craziest people I could think of in the House, and, really, that deserves some sort of recognition. That’s like being the two pinkest flamingos or something. Or Tom Cruise in front of a mirror.
There’s a Right Way to Run With Scissors
Somewhere in my youth I realized something incredibly obvious. You hear over and over some version of it, “Connor, don’t run with scissors.” “Connor running with scissors is a good way to kill yourself.” “Connor, if you cut that girl’s ponytail off, you will spend the rest of the year in principle’s office!”
I wasn’t really going to, I just wanted to see how much attention my Kindergarten teacher paid to the class. Slightly too much, it turns out.
Well, at some point I realized that if you held the scissor by the cutting bits, instead of by the handle, then you can run as fast as you wanted, fall down, whatever you want, and there is no way to stab yourself as long as you keep a grip on things. Just to be clear, this was not through trial and error, just applied thought.
Life is full of people walking everywhere when they could be running because they’ve never once thought to hold the scissors by the other end. (Tweet This) Yeah, that’s a metaphor.
Anyway, this is coming a bit too easy and becoming a bit too fun, so. . .
Sometimes Spend Some Time in Character as Yourself.
Okay, that’s all I’ve got. Getting into character is like making stupid faces when you’re a kid: What if you get stuck that way?