Well, it’s official. Science has finally proven it: True creatives walk a fine line along the edge of crazy. Read this fascinating article in Scientific American about the link between specific mental illnesses and creativity.

In short, both creative genius and schizotypal disorders are caused by a lowering of the filters between different types of information (internal and external, one sense and another, one type of experience and others, etc.), allowing leak-through, which results in new and interesting… and sometimes totally cray-cray… combinations to emerge.

One example is when the brain interprets internal and external stimuli in the same way… so that, for instance, a schizophrenic “hears voices” that a normal person would interpret as their own internal monologue.

So, anyway. In totally unrelated news, I spent my entire writing hour this morning in conversation with my main character. Here’s a partial transcript:

Me: Jed, what do you want?

Jed: Um. I, I just, I wish everyone would get along.

Me: But Jed, what do YOU want?

Jed: For, I want, I want Nat to be happy.

Me: That’s what Nat wants. What do YOU want?

Jed: I want Nat and Cons to like each other.

Me: But what do you want for YOU?

Jed: I don’t know. I, uh. I guess, I don’t know.

Me: Do you want Nat to like you?

Jed: Yes, I guess so.

Me: Do you miss your  family?

Jed: Yes, but, I, uh, I wish Nat … I just want Nat to be happy.

Me: And to like you, right? Do you wish Nat would hug you more?

Jed (blushing): I guess so. Yeah. Can you… can I tell you something? You, uh, you can’t tell anyone… okay?

Me: Okay. I won’t.

And then he told me. You didn’t think I’d tell you what he said, did you? That’s just between us. I don’t spill other peoples’s secrets.

So anyway. I’m back. It feels good. The break was right, you were all right, I needed it. And my main character… well, he’ll be interesting now, because I’m interested in him. In fact, I’m slightly crazy about him.

This might be sorta what Jed looks like. Only, skinnier and with more hair. And he'd never have his picture taken with a blue backdrop because they don't have studios in the wild, silly.

Jed looks a bit like this. Only, skinnier and with more hair. And he’d never have his picture taken with a blue backdrop because they don’t have studios in captivity, silly. But those big eyes, the thoughtful quietness, the pensive innocence. All of that. It’s fitting that this picture comes from a site dedicated to finding missing children (see below).

On the Importance of Being a Writer, Having Gay Friends, and Other Non Sequiturs

I’m sitting at my desk eating soft-fried eggs and an apple. There’s a pile of little pills beside my glass of water. And a pen. And an empty cup. And a random cord of some sort, a fair amount of cat hair, some spent popcorn husks, and an old photograph. Some bits of paper. Watch batteries. Two half-crumpled one-dollar bills, and another cup with dried tea leaves in the bottom. A broken cell phone. And a pocket knife. My house is a wreck.

A few minutes ago, as I fished a clean pot from the back of the cupboard and pushed aside three dirty pots from the one stove eye that doesn’t have something currently spilled across it, and started to fry my eggs, I thought how nice it would be to be rich. We would pay someone to come into our house and clean it up, and I would twirl around the house grinning all the time because everything would be so very nice.

I would throw away those old egg flats under the sink, and haul away the recycling bin that is always full with exactly the same bottles and cans as the last time I looked at it six months ago (stop judging me, I raise chickens in my backyard). I would be so happy.

For some reason, Dale Carnegie popped into my head right about as the edges of my egg started to turn white. What he said (in my head) was this:

Having what you want is success. Wanting what you have is happiness. 

I know this is true and still. Look at my house. Who would want that?

And I did look at it. And what I saw was dishes stacked in the sink. And a dirty rag hanging where a clean tea towel ought to be. Sticky scum covering the few visible portions of the counter. Stacks of puzzles we picked up at a yard sale on a shelf, and more junk piled on top of that. There was a bird calling for attention from the other room, and a dog gulping down his breakfast, his collar jangling against the metal dish. And actually, it all did seem sort of glamorous. Do you see?

In my case, it’s glamorous because I’m a writer. It’s kinda cool to be so creative you don’t have time to think about your house, right? Besides. Everything is glamorous when you’re a writer.

Did your boyfriend break up with you? Great, now you can really empathize with your character when that happens to her.

Lose your wallet and somebody’s using your credit card? Terrific. It’s research for a suspense-detective story.

Somebody sending weird emails with your name in them to your spouse? Awesome. Start of a creepy thriller.

House a wreck? Perfect. Blog entry!!!

OH and, I’m adding this to my eccentric lab character, the gay guy with the bug eyes who is crushing on one of my main characters right now. He’s going to have a crazy messy house too. Of course. Because he’s so creative! (Okay, look, Carey roomed with a gay guy for a while in grad school, and he was messy. Hi Robert. Every bit as messy as we were. It IS possible to be gay AND messy. Stop stereotyping.)

Speaking of being gay, non sequitur:

Conclusion: I need to spend more time with my gay friends. It’s research. And it’s glamorous. And maybe one of them will organize my house.

The End


P.S. Also my house is messy because I’m interested in so many things. Would I really want to give up all that chaos?

P.P.S. Is your house a mess? Why not? Don’t you think you’d be more creative if it were?

P.P.P.S. What are you learning to embrace in your life that you haven’t always loved? How? Tell me. I need all the help I can get.

In Praise of Idleness

Here are some things I don’t do when I write: I don’t lie down (because it makes my tummy feel funny). I don’t go to dirty hotels (because that’s gross). I don’t fondle myself (because…just because).

However, some famous creatives rely on exactly these things to get their muses singing. The most interesting thing to me about the list of “Daily Routines of Famous Creatives” (from Farnam Street Blog, in a review of Mason Curry’s Daily Rituals), is the lack of any central theme, any unifying idea around what it takes to get the creative juices flowing. Apparently, it takes all kinds.

Here’s what I do:

I set the alarm on my phone for 5:30am, or two hours earlier than I otherwise would have in order to get to work on time. When it goes off, I dim the screen so it doesn’t burn my eyes, and I check my email. I play a phone game until my brain is working. Bathroom, then head to the home office to write.

I stretch a little if I remember to, because it’s supposed to be good for your circulation and your brain. But who can remember details like that when there’s writing to be done? Mostly I just check my blogs and my social networks, and head straight into my story for an hour. Sometimes I spend the whole time tapping away at the keys, and sometimes I spend half of it with my head on the desk or staring out the window as I try to untangle the next scene. I track my time and my word count in an Excel spreadsheet. It’s gratifying to watch those numbers rise.

After I write, I walk the dog. A nice brisk walk, around the lake three or four times, and I think about my characters, and the next scene, and how the plot is doing (sometimes it’s better than others). Then I come back and write in this blog, and then it’s time to dress for work. I’m pretty productive: I hit 70,000 words today, not quite two months in to the work. I think this story will top out around 120k before revisions.

But would I be even more productive with a new routine? Maybe I’ll try Rene Descartes’:

“Idleness was essential to good mental work, and he made sure not to overexert himself. After an early lunch, he would take a walk or meet friends for conversation; after supper, he dealt with his correspondence.”

Sounds nice. “Honey, I have to work tonight, so I won’t be able to cook dinner or clean the kitchen. Wouldn’t want to overexert myself. I have essential walks to take and friends to meet. See you later.”

What’s your daily routine? How do you make time for your creative pursuits, and what are the essential things you must do to get your creative juices flowing?

Find the right routine, and you could be this happy too