The Pitfalls of Pleading Insanity: How jokes about being a ‘crazy’ writer hurt all writers.
Ah, the crazy writer. Edgar Allen Poe, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemmingway, Slyvia Plath. The names conjure the image of tormented, alcoholic, or strange souls destined to be on the outskirts of society while they penned the next literary masterpiece. Several famous writers have suffered from mental illness and have even succumbed to their disease or addictions. Somewhere along the way the image of the ‘crazy’ writer, holed up in a dank cabin and reeking of alcohol and tobacco while wearing a bathrobe and slippers, became the go-to image. This has even been reflected in movies and books.
To society at large writers can seem strange. We’re often quiet, solitary and research things that no ‘normal’ person would consider. But does that make you ‘crazy’?
Some writers have delved into extreme risk-taking behavior for their research but those instances are few and far between. The majority of writers are just as sane as the next person. What makes writers special isn’t ‘hearing voices’ or being addicted to coffee or drinking alcohol like water. It’s the willingness to bare bits of ourselves for the world to see. It’s sacrificing hours, days, weeks, years on works that may never see the light of day. Is that crazy or insane? No. It’s dedication to a craft.
As someone who suffers from a medically diagnosed mental illness that has resulted in being disabled, I find these memes about ‘crazy’ or ‘insane writers’ not just unamusing, but deeply hurtful. You might joke about ‘hearing voices’ but until you’re sitting at you computer and hear someone walk into your house and get up to go greet them to find no one there, or hear someone telling you that you should stick your hand on that hot burner because you deserve to be hurt, or you might as well stab that knife into your gut because you’re worthless, you won’t understand what it REALLY means to hear voices. Being mentally ill means living with this every single day.
It is not like imagining a conversation between your characters. I do that. I know the difference—the vast, vast difference —between two.
Besides that, when we say writers are ‘crazy’ we’re robbing them of their actual creative mind. We’re relegating creativity to a mysterious mental hiccup that can’t be predicted or nurtured. This is a grave mistake. We need to emphasize that creativity is not some mysterious, ethereal muse that can only be summoned if insane or inebriated. It is something that can be actively nurtured and grown. Creativity means hard work, dedication and the willingness to learn.
Some of you are probably rolling your eyes and muttering about my being ‘overly sensitive’ and ‘not getting the joke.’ I do get the joke. Sometimes I even joke about being crazy. I am crazy. I take meds for it. But my crazy is a disease. Something that is trying to kill me. Read that again. This disease would KILL me without treatment. I’m sorry but I’d rather you not joke about my life. If I chose to do so, that is one thing, but please—some respect.
This is my personal plea to you, my fellow writer, to not share memes that make fun of being mentally ill. There are plenty of other, much funnier, memes about writing to share.