I'm not sure where I heard it, but someone said that all writers are neurotic. I've wondered about this, as you can imagine, now that I'm trying to become a writer myself. It just seems a tad overwhelming to say that all writers are neurotic. Isn't there any room for leniency here? Isn't it possible that there are normal writers out there being perfectly productive, kind and contributing members of society? That there are writers who can, in fact hold conversations with other people, wash their clothes, mow the lawn and vote responsibly? Truly, the reputation of the neurotic writer can't encompass all of them?
But then there is the evidence for this reputation. Hemmingway had the six-toed cats. Virginia Woolf met her unfortunate end with a river. And Copote's numerous particularities go without saying. So yes, there are some writers out there who have contributed to the reputation that they sometimes get as being less than sane. But the actual writers, the real people, aren't the only one's contributing to the image. The neurotic writer is also found in the fanciful world of Hollywood. As Good as It Gets gave us the socially crippled romance novelist Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson). Ron Howard's The Paper produced a slew of crazed writers that were unkind, finicky, paranoid, emotionally negligent, and obsessed. And for an even darker look at writers, look no further than Johnny Depp's portrayal in Secret Window, compliments of Stephen King of course. Indeed books, the very thing that a writer does also contribute to the image. James Duncan's classic, The River Why explores the sanity of the author after he trudges into the Oregon woods to fish and write, his two favorite things. But after months of isolation and fishing for hours on end he begins keeping a pet fish in his home and talking to himself (well wouldn't you?). Even though he was doing his two favorite activities in the world he was alone, and that's what got him. The solitude.
However, writing is of course a solitary task. It requires a fitting place to work, stillness, and as Virginia Woolf added, a lock on the door. It's long hours alone spent knitting words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into many, many pages. There is obsession over word choice, endless edits, and serious doubts as to whether or not what has been slaved over is even any good. With all the alone time and separation from society it would seem perfectly logical to have a few writers pop up as less than normal. But all of them?
That being said you come to a chicken and the egg type question: Do you have to be neurotic to write, or does writing make you neurotic? Is it symptomatic of the task or is it characteristic of the individual?
There have to be normal people who are writers out there. There must be an equally brilliant and successful yet socially benign group of writers who do not warrant the attention of a mental health care provider, much less the stares of passers-by. Right?