Are the voices in my head bothering you?

4 Mar

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” ~ E. L. Doctorow

I’ve long (semi-jokingly) maintained that all writers are at least mildly schizophrenic.

Let’s get the definition out of the way. Contrary to the confusion caused by many films and television, schizophrenia is not synonymous with Multiple Personality Disorder (or is it Dissociative Identity Disorder now? I’ve lost track). According to, schizophrenics “interpret reality abnormally” and may suffer “some combination of hallucinations, delusions and disordered thinking and behavior.” Some theorize that the reason Van Gogh famously cut off his ear was in an attempt to stop auditory hallucinations.

Beyond blogging, I haven’t done much of my own writing in quite a long time, but I can say with a straight face that the protagonist of my intended Young Adult book is still in the back of my mind, whispering to me. The stress and turmoil I’ve been under lately drowns him out, but when I’m calm and happy and quiet, I can hear him. His name, by the way, is Corran; he’s a 16-year-old Scot raised in/near London and transplanted to Southern California. And he wants his story to be told.

Back in college when 19-year-old me discovered Highlander: The Series and the character Methos, I wrote a full fanfic and at least a couple partials. Some of my best memories of that time involve hitting that state of flow where I didn’t feel like I was writing. I felt like Methos was leaning over the back of my chair, whispering in my ear the words that then appeared on the computer screen.

I don’t know a single writer who can’t relate to this; eventually, all good characters reach a point where their writer is no longer writing, but dictating the exploits of a character who has taken on a life of his/her own. HousemateF has what she calls “The Committee” – a chorus of voices in her unconscious who chew on plot bunnies and spit out solutions. Other writers I know talk as easily and matter-of-factly about their characters as they do about their friends, family, and next-door neighbors. Those characters love, eat, desire, and have motivations; they may have personalities that are the complete reverse of their creators (I certainly hope so in the case of someone like Val McDermid, who writes serial killers as well as she writes clinical psychologist Dr. Tony Hill!).

Writers have voices in our heads.

Which is why I feel it’s ridiculous to call writing a “solitary” pursuit. Sure, the actual act of sitting down with pen and paper or computer keyboard usually requires the writer to be alone and pound out words. But development and problem solving are often group activities (see also: the scene between Shakespeare and Marlowe in the pub in Shakespeare in Love; for that matter, I think Shakespeare is one of the best film representations of the creative process – you can see how Will constantly pulls from his environment and the people around him). Even your own characters work with you to shape the story, if you’re lucky and they’re cooperating.

And having a community that understands you is invaluable, to prevent a feeling that you might be going mad. After all, if you say “voices in my head” to a non-creative person, you’re likely to suddenly have a lot more personal space, if not a fitting for a straitjacket. The first time I realized that someone else understood what I meant about my characters talking to me, it was a relief and a revelation.

Here’s to all the writers and their voices! May they continue to provide many years of entertainment and enlightenment. And Corran, please don’t give up on me just yet.

(Doctorow quote via The Daily Post and The Urban Muse, “30 writing quotes…”)


2 Responses to “Are the voices in my head bothering you?”

  1. Kristen 4 March 2011 at 12:41 #

    These are things that don’t make sense to people. When I say that I’ve got a huge block in writing physical action, it’s not because I can’t write the words, it’s because my characters are on a screen behind my eyes, and finding the precise words, to translate movement, is harder for me, than articulating thought or even emotion. I make playlists for my characters, because if I can get them responding to music, through movement, words. . . DANCING, even, they’re more forthcoming. Sometimes the white noise in my head, from RL, drowns them out. Sometimes I’m drowning in their sorrows and joys. People who’ve never experienced this, tend to find it irrational at best. It’s not, it’s just what being an artist is.

    • ButMadNNW 4 March 2011 at 14:42 #

      One night, sitting in my dorm room, I was trying to work out the mechanics of a sword fight Methos was having with another Immortal. Because my computer was on the fritz, I was borrowing my roommate’s, who for some reason had a plastic knife on her desk.

      Without thinking about it, in the midst of my frustration with the scene I was writing, I grabbed that knife, jumped up, and started dueling with an invisible opponent. Just trying to work out the moves.

      I wonder what I would’ve done if someone had walked in at that point… 😉

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