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Philip Yancey

Writing as a Psychotic Act, Part 2

(continued from previous article)

When one stands as you do in so intensely personal a relationship to one's lifework, one cannot really expect to keep one's friends. … Friends are an expensive luxury.

-Henrik Ibsen

Are you feeling compassion yet? Can you understand that the writer's psychosis is a more or less healthy reaction to a decidedly unnatural act? Would you like to hear more? If I could see some dim glint of pity in your eye (the writer's curse: not only can I not read your eye, I cannot detect if you're still reading this!), I could tell you so very much more.

Reach for a Kleenex. Would you like to hear of the writer's internal strife? In an odd inversion of nature, each of us must bear a mother and a father in our creative womb. We need the warm, supportive, forgiving mother who encourages us to make it through the first draft no matter how lousy it reads; yet we cannot succeed without the harsh authoritarian father who makes us go over and over the manuscript until we get it right.

And let me tell you about the life of a disembodied observer. You are who you are, one hopes; but a writer dare not attain such normalcy. We cannot freely project our own personalities onto the world, for that would interfere with our craft. Listen to Thomas Mann on this particular dilemma:

As a man, you might be well-disposed, patient, loving, positive, and have a wholly uncritical inclination to look upon everything as all right, but as artist your daemon constrains you to "observe," to take note, lightning fast and with hurtful malice, of every detail that in the literary sense would be characteristic, distinctive, significant, opening insights, typifying the race, the social or the psychological mode, recording all as mercilessly as though you had no human relationship to the observed object whatever.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn described the flip side of this self-repressive syndrome. Serving time in a minimum-security prison, he found himself thrust in with a despicable roommate, ...

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