Author’s are definitely driven but driven where?
Insane, that’s where.
There’s a certain disconnect associated with being a successful, driven author. Recently I saw this poster on Facebook – apologies to whoever made it for the plagiarism; it had been reposted so many times their name was absent. Whoever they are, they hold a rare insight into what makes an author tick.
It’s funny and kinda quirky, but suggests a mindset in which a writer would actually rather like to do that; act out their make believe with other people. Some of us defect to play and screen writing and actually get to see things come to life and that ‘other’ world given the kind of voice which sucks everyone else in too. Then we’re not alone in our head ramblings but have company which appreciates our perilous worlds and constant, elusive battle for…something.
I’ve spent the last few weeks back in ‘Hana-world’ and the realm of the tumultuous Du Roses. Life has gone on around me and I’ve driven to work and back on autopilot, switched off long enough to hold down my job, see some friends, visited family and enjoyed their company as well as celebrating their successes. But I realised something whilst in Palmerston North watching my daughter walk across the stage at her Bachelors university graduation and knew I’d had the same reminder weeks before when my eldest daughter clasped her Masters certificate in contented fingers; I can’t have both.
I can’t have ‘Hana-world’ and family. But I don’t want to give up either.
So I temporarily switched off Hana’s complaints and the problem of what to do with Wiremu Du Rose – the five-year-old nobody seems to want – while I enjoyed my own children in the real world. I rationalised, quite logically, that special moments with real people are for NOW. They don’t come around again. They can’t be rewritten, reworked, re-edited or re-uploaded to make me look like a better person. There’s no ‘re’ anything with such times; when they’re gone, they’re gone forever, a hazy memory in a wonky photograph or the words on someone else’s lips when they ask you if you remember a particular part. Gone.
So I focussed on being present and tried to earn forgiveness for all the times I’d been absent.
Such is the curse of the writer.
I’ve spent the last 10 years feeling like the proverbial clown on the unicycle. Everyone’s staring but I think I’m normal. Properly engaged people struggle with loneliness but I sigh with relief at alone-ness. I’m an anti-social, introverted, isolation hogging weirdo.
Because when I’m sitting at my writing desk nobody competes with the voices in my head. I can work through a scene where Hana Du Rose smashes up the crockery on the dining table in pure frustration and misery. I can rerun it, put it all back mended and get her to throw it how I want her to. She’s a pawn, my pawn. Isn’t she?
Readers love her but I need her to suffer in glorious technicolour because she’s keeping secrets from Logan again; my secrets. I need her to suffer because she whispered her grievances in my head throughout an important meeting and she tried to make me late for work by keeping me at the keyboard spewing out her troubles when I should’ve been showering and getting dressed. My manager will only tolerate me arriving in my slippers once in ten years. She said so from her very own horrified lips.
Hana’s ruthless and so are the others in my head. I worry about the hold these characters have on my time, my mental state and my ability to stay focussed. They would tie me to my computer for weeks at a time without food, without getting dressed, dehydrating and insane as they pour their lives and their issues through my head and onto the virtual pages. I am nothing more than a conduit to them; they don’t care about me. I am a slave to the people in my own head and I cannot get them out. Hana’s not my pawn; I’m hers.
I finish a novel and think I’m done. They seem satisfied for a while and leave me alone and then it begins again.
“We could do this…”
“You never resolved that…”
Switching off completely cost me last week but nobody will know. It set me back in my writing schedule and my characters withdrew in a silent protest. I ignored them so they returned the insult and seeing as they dictate everything about the novels; I had nothing to say. I couldn’t write for a few days afterwards, feeling blank and strangely empty. I lay on my bed and watched movies for 2 afternoons like a guilty ice-cream eater with my head in the freezer waiting to be caught. I did my accounts. I read someone else’s novel. I fought the guilt but then it started like a familiar pleasure-pain reflex.
“Where have you been?”
“Get me off this horse, my ass aches.”
“I’m gonna confess to Logan.”
Then I’m back, my fingers pounding the keyboard until my wrists feel locked in position. She can’t confess to Logan; it will mess up the next book. I leave her on the horse because I secretly hate her. I want her to hurt. I killed her off once when I couldn’t cope anymore but I still heard her like the ghost whispering in the brain of the crazy.
Maybe I am crazy. Na, there’s no maybe about it.
How can this possibly be a good thing?
That’s a thought which runs through my head far too often but I’m not alone in that fear. I talk to lots of writers who speak of ‘voices in their head.’ People were locked up for less than this, ensconced in white jackets which did up at the back and padded soundproof rooms where they couldn’t hurt themselves or disturb others. I imagine that sometimes when I can’t sleep; when I have work the next day but Hana Du Rose is acting out a scenario I really don’t want to see right then. I entertain the thought of her nagging in my head, but not being able to get my arms free so I can channel her diatribe through my fingers and into paper, a keyboard, onto a wall or some other physical outlet. On and on she would go, verbalising herself until I beat my head against the cushioned walls and presented such a scene of mental incapacitation they drugged me. Enter psychedelic Hana. It makes me feel unwell and then I know I’ll never sleep. So I get up in the wee small hours and I write. She’s won. Anything not to see psychedelic Hana.
“Great,” she says, nudging my exhausted hands to greater speeds. “Bring Tama back. I’m bored.”
I wonder if Beatrix Potter talked to herself. Did she ever burst into a room shouting, “You’ll never guess what happened!” only to start raving about talking rabbits, a duck in a kerchief and a nasty fox?
When fiction blurs reality I know I’ve got it bad.
So the problem is this.
How do I balance two worlds without cheating either one of my full attention?
I think the sad answer is I can’t. I am destined to remain a Jack of all trades and master of none. As long as I write I will have this battle.
When I find the real world difficult to bear I know I will blur the lines, crossing into ‘pretend’ because I can control most outcomes. no matter what Hana Du Rose might think. And when the voices stop in my pretend world, I will resettle for a time in real life, feeling lost, museless, bewildered and depressed, like CS Lewis’ children denied entry back to Narnia.
Or I will remain equally present and absent in my two worlds. And suffer rejection from both.
How do we, as writers, explain this to anyone else?
I guess we can’t. So we huddle together in small groups and whisper about the ‘voices’ and sometimes let our pretend people collaborate. We play games like children where our imaginary friends meet and have a laugh. We talk about them like they’re real and nobody makes fun of us or gets fed up. The dragon flirts with the mermaid and we pretend we’re normal whilst walking a hideous tightrope over a void of disaster.
We run two lives divided by reality and the clamour of multiple personalities. We’re Mr and Mrs Smith, sometimes both at once, operating in a real world scenario whilst existing in this whole other life nobody knows about. It’s completely unsustainable.
Do we medicate to shut up the voices?
Do we throw ourselves into our work and pop up friendless and alone when the battery goes flat on the laptop?
Do we keep treading the tightrope over Niagara Falls, knowing we’re going to plunge to our death one day but edging along anyway? Where’s Blondin with his wheelbarrow to push you from one side to the other when you need him? If there was WiFi you’d be able to type in there for goodness sake! You could be there but not there. Everyone would think you were amazing while you typed up a chapter or two and made him walk back the other way so you could edit. Perfect!
We are driven.
Driven insane, driven to desperation, driven to succeed and driven to balance to the best of our ability. Driven. That’s what it really means to be an author. We’re galloping horses pulling a stage coach filled with real world problems and our characters hold the whip, cracking and beating it across our backs until we stumble and our real people look out of the carriage window to see what’s wrong. Then we’ll be revealed as the frauds we are.
There’s no hope for the author. They’re trapped, held prisoner by creativity, huddling together like sheep in a storm. Who would know to look at us? Grinning in photographs, caressing our print books like proud parents and hawking our wares at every opportunity.
What’s the real story?
“Buy this book. You might as well. Damn near cost me everything.” And smile, smile, smile.
K T Bowes is the long-suffering writer of the Hana Du Rose Mysteries, the From Russia, With Love series, the Troubled series for teens, the New Zealand Soccer Referee series and several other standalone novels in the mystery/romance genre. If you wish to meet the owners of the voices in her head, check out her AMAZON homepage or her SMASHWORDS homepage.