Friday, December 5, 2008

The Noonday Dark Lord

As mentioned in the comments to the previous post (and as expected), I did not make it to the 50,000 word goal this year - not within shouting distance, even.*

Objectively, I'm okay with this. One of the laws of art and life is that failure is always an option; and "failure to meet a specific goal" should be kept distinct from "failure as an Artist." We don't always do what we set out to do. That's all right. "No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Somewhat less objectively, this has given me some reluctance to post here of late, because the Smart Monster has begun visiting me again. You've probably run into the Smart Monster a time or two yourself: it's the big invisible thing that follows you around and whispers at you, "You're a fraud, you know. You've never done a worthwhile thing your whole life. You have everyone fooled, but one day you'll slip up and everyone else will be able to tell too. It's just a matter of time." (The usual term for this, of course, is Imposter Syndrome, and is so endemic to people in the arts that it's nearly a cliche itself, but I've liked the image of the Smart Monster so much ever since a former director of mine described it that way, years and years ago, that it's stuck with me probably indelibly.)

Lately, the Smart Monster's tactic of choice is to point out that I have no right calling myself a writer, much less giving anyone else advice, with such a pathetic output. Never mind that I've done this and made goal year after year, if only to get some of my allotment of dreadful prose out of my system (although, I tell you what - I looked over some of my very first NaNo effort, the half-formed thing I managed to churn out back in 2002 with barely any idea where I meant to go with it, and there's a whole bunch of stuff in there that ain't half bad). The Monster sees a soft spot and can't help but get a claw in; it's in its nature. My mistake is letting myself be half convinced it has a point.

The truth is that the real problem isn't that I'm not a "real" writer. The real problem is that I'm an idiot: I'm a confirmed depressive with seasonally-exacerbated symptoms, and I went off my meds back in the summer.

Of course, depression itself is another of our occupational hazards, and for whatever reason seems to correlate with many of the same characteristics that drive people to writing in the first place. Just this last year it took David Foster Wallace and Tom Disch from us, having already famously laid claim to Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and Spaulding Gray. J.K. Rowling recently outed herself as a longtime battler with the Noonday Demon, and indeed a whole lot of the Harry Potter saga makes astonishing sense when considered as a metaphor for fighting depression; its hero is literally possessed by an enemy who has the terrifying capacity to turn all his good qualities into destructive, and self-destructive, ones. (One of the more intriguing possible translations of "Voldemort" is death wish.) We who have writing as a calling must sooner or later confront one of its unfortunate paradoxes: we are driven by a need to communicate, to pass along story to our fellow humans, and our chosen medium is one that demands long periods of isolation and solitude and antisocial behavior. Prose fiction is inevitably a dispatch from exile in a time-dilated alternate world; is it any wonder that writers are so frequently - and famously - lonely, self-centered, maladjusted, and contradictory?

I don't have good answers for any of this, except that I think it's our responsibility to be aware of it and take measures to counteract it when possible. I can't do much about the tension between the desire that fuels writing and the demands of the writing life, but I can do something about the bad chemicals in my head that make it all worse. So I've started myself on a daily dose of Hypericum perforatum, which after a couple of days has shown some promising signs of doing good, but if that doesn't work out I'm calling the doctor and going back on the hard stuff. Life is hard enough without having to deal with it through a fog of anhedonia and directionless rage.

The overall point being: Take care of yourselves, guys. There are a lot of rewards to be found in doing what we do, but there's a price as well, and part of that is this pitfall of mood disorders and downward-spiralling, self-perpetuating neuroses. The first step in avoiding a trap is knowing it exists; so if you're starting to feel bad, think very seriously about getting help. That help isn't necessarily drugs or therapy - not everyone who lives with depression-type conditions needs assistance on that scale - but at the very least talk to someone you trust about what you're going through. This stuff feeds on your isolation and self-doubt and uncertainty, so bring it out into the light where you can at least give it a name and see it for what it is. You deserve to not be in pain. Don't let any of the nasty voices in your head talk you into believing otherwise.

And one more thing. That refrain of the Smart Monster's, about how you're a fraud? Maybe you are - but that's okay. We all are, at some point, because pretending - being pretentious - is how we try on the faces we think we might want to wear. "Fake it till you make it" isn't just for pop stars and hotshot executives; the way you become anything is to start out as a wanna-be. Embrace it. We're in the business of make-believe anyway; get good enough at it, and who knows who you might convince?

*How far did I get? In terms of wordcount, more than a quarter; less than a third. In terms of story, just about crawling up out of the exposition and scene-setting phase, which probably means a lot of it's destined for the axe come the next draft. But it's more than I started with, and that's good enough for now.

1 comment:

  1. This post is a brilliant assault against your Smart Monster. Thank you!

    I'll come back to reread this post the next time the Monster visits me.