Writing a book involves a different recipe of elements for every author. Some folks must write down their story in a longhand format—
handwritten on legal pads,
printed in their super-secret diary, or even pieced together on a dry erase storyboard complete with enough 3M sticky note details to plaster a full-scale papier-mâché replica of the Empire State building.
Some of us owe trees a massive apology letter.
Others are all about their space. They need absolute quiet—or absolute chaos. They need three screens, two dictionaries and a bottle of scotch at their elbow. Maybe they can only write on rainy days so the gloom of a gray day won’t allow the sun to reflect an enticing sparkle across their monitor and make them yearn for two hours of mowing the lawn. Or maybe the rule is that they only write on days when there’s a full moon, their desk is clean and they’ve just found a copper penny.
And some people need deadlines: a class, a critique group, an editor sending threatening daily emails asking where the damn pages are.
It’s a unique process and it’s individual to each writer.
I just need a therapist.
Seriously. That’s it. My go-to guy.
The way I see it, who knows more about the human condition and all of our frailties than someone who studies the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for a living? Someone who can gossip at the water cooler about some miserable bloke with serious issues while legally define the gossip as “work?”
Yeah, I figure I’ve hit pay dirt.
So our conversations usually go something like this:
Him: So, what’s on your mind today?
Me: Ugh. How long have we got? An hour? Fifty minutes? Where’d you put your clock? You moved your clock. Did you paint in here?
Me: Yep. Smells like fresh paint. I wonder if paint fumes are something that kids can manipulate into drug experiences these days. Are you finding kids are coming into therapy with an addiction to paint fumes? Have you been treating anyone for that lately?
Him: Are you concerned that one of your kids may be struggling with an addiction?
Me: No. Well, who knows, right? There are a million different kinds of addictions so chances are they’ve got a few, but let’s just say they were—no wait, let’s not make it an addiction. Let’s say one of them was struggling with a transgender issue. Yeah. Much more interesting.
Him: Are one of your kids struggling with a transgender issue?
Me: No, but for the sake of this hour today, let’s just say that they are. Tell me everything about it. Wait. Let me get a pen.
That’s my method.
It doesn’t work for everyone, but I’m not everyone. Unless you were to see the notes my therapist keeps on me, in which case, you might conclude I’ve got some multiple personality disorder. Seeing him each week and discussing “other people’s issues” might have my therapist thumbing through the back pages of his manual in an attempt to discover just how many times a brain can fracture and how many identities it can support.
Chances are, I’m adding a little zing to his day by not coming in with the same ol same ol “I’m just not feeling fulfilled and I think my kids hate me” routine.
That’s what I tell myself anyway.
But my point is—and I pray I have a point—I’m neck deep in the writing process again and it’s a time frame that usually puts me into a time warp. I bury myself so far down rabbit holes with research that I usually come out the other side and discover I’ve come up for air in the middle of a Chinese chicken coop.
It is incredibly easy for me to lose my “self” within the process and sharply disturbing to have phone calls like this one:
Daughter: Mom? Where have you been? Are you okay?
Me: Fine. What’s up?
Daughter: Seriously? I’ve phoned you four times in the last three hours and sent you eight texts. Did you not get any of my messages?
Me: Wait—I have a phone? Red flag. That would never happen in 18th century Scotland. Thanks for the anachronistic heads up.
Daughter: *sigh* I need to talk to you about whether or not I can come home for Thanksgiving.
Me: Wait—hold on—I totally forgot about the beef tallow on the stove. I’ve seriously got to get cracking on those tapers. I’m turning meat scraps into Christmas candles. God, the holidays are going to be fun this year.
Daughter: Never mind. *click*
If you’re going to be a successful writer, you really have to dive into your characters. You have to live their lives, have their problems, embrace fleas.
Well, at least for this book.
You have to apologize to your friends and family for being unreachable, unpredictable and for effusing the personal odor of barn animals.
And you also need a therapist. Someone who will help you dig deeply into the problems of “others,” someone who will help you discover the backstory and motivation of your characters,
and someone whose water cooler conversations will be highly sought after purely for the opportunity to shake their heads and mutter, “If only Freud could see us now.”
He’s my doyen, my muse, and my research assistant.
I owe him a lot.
He’s gotten, like, all of my royalties.
Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.