Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Bi-polar Nature of Writing

Apologies to the mental health community for co-opting the term for a clearly-defined condition in service to a loose analogy; no harm or slight intended and in no way am I trying to minimize what people with bi-polar disorder suffer.  It's just the way my own brain is working this morning and certainly I'm not original in pointing out the similarities between the impulse to write and mental disorders in general.  But I got to thinking...

Writing requires two particular and somewhat conflicting abilities.

First, the need to submerge yourself in the waves of culture and humanity -- not just the books, magazines, comics, films, tv, and music that media presents, but general contact with other humans sharing communal experiences.  Time with friends, family, colleagues.  Eating, drinking, discussing.  Sharing opinions and thoughts, hopes and desires, annoyances and pet peeves.  For any writer, living a life fully and richly provides the context for your work.  It's research, in a way.  You absorb experiences you can then use and modify to tell the stories that mean the most to you.

But, and let's face it, there's always a "but."

Writing also requires the ability to totally disengage from those necessary and valid connections to actually, well, do the writing.  When you're actually at the keyboard, you need to be able to focus on that project, immerse yourself in that world, and not be pulled aside by the scrolling of the twitter feed or the pings of Facebook updates.  It requires a force of will not to constantly worry about "maintaining your brand" on social networks and actually generate content.  It's difficult in our world of constant connectivity to focus on one thing at a time and that's one reason why writer's retreats are popular destinations.

It requires the ability to turn down invitations from friends, to eschew the very things you love, like reading and watching tv, in order to create something.  The creative impulse isn't an easy one to obey and you should never underestimate the toll it demands.  However, producing something brings other rewards, sometimes monetary, sometimes simple satisfaction, so you have to find the balance.

It's a constant tightrope walk between artistic engagement and having a fulfilling life.  It's possible to navigate, with constant work and maintenance, but don't minimize -- or allow others to dismiss -- the effort required.