What I am about to describe to you probably will neither shock nor amaze you.
Instead, my hope is that you will feel understood. Maybe even appreciated, for the first time in a long time, or ever.
I will start by admitting that I am not normal. I do not go about my day the way I assume “normal” people do. I am part of a group of people often singled out and isolated from the rest. We call ourselves writers.
Writers tend to experience varying degrees of the same symptom: They seem completely unable to ignore an idea when it shows up to play.
It tends to look a little something like this:
I will physically walk away from my desk to let the dog out/make lunch/switch my laundry, but it’s almost like I don’t actually leave my desk. Full sentences of text will actually wrap themselves around my brain and squeeze until I return to my dumping ground to set them free.
This means I have to run them through my head — sometimes even saying them out loud — over and over again until they are in some physical form and not dependent on my faulty memory to survive.
I will be in the middle of something completely unrelated to writing and will have to stop my task completely in order to write something down before the words consume me.
I have been fully engaged in conversation with someone and have said, holding up a hand, “Hang on just a second” — pulled out my phone (rude, I know, I hate when people do it to me too), jotted down a note, put it back, apologized — “I’m sorry, an idea happened. Continue.”
Some people explain it like an itch. It may go away eventually if you do not scratch it, but it often becomes an urge so intense that you cannot help yourself.
Others might call it a sort of hunger. The longer you wait to fulfill your need to put an idea down on paper, the more intensely you experience that need.
There are days I feel as though my creative process could psychologically be classified as a mental disorder — and I’m not saying that because there’d be anything wrong, in the general sense, if it were.
The comparison, though, is almost too close. The way my ideas burst through the noise is disruptive, all-consuming, and aggressive. An idea emerges, and I cannot think about anything else. A thought occurs, and it knocks repeatedly at the back of my mind until I answer its call.
I bought myself a dry erase desk (mostly) because I cannot pay attention during a video conference if I don’t have an easily accessible means of writing things down the moment they come to me.
There are solutions to these compulsions, ways to cope with the mental exhaustion they often create. But they don’t offer the explanation we’ve all been searching for: Why are we like this? Why do writers feel such intense urges to write? Why do musicians hunger so deeply to compose? Why do artists sketch? Why do dancers move?
It’s an easy out to say “because we’re built this way.” But it’s likely the best answer we have without getting all science-y (though you know, I do love the science-y).
Our brains are, supposedly, different. And each of our individual minds are different. Creativity requires a bit of logic, but it does not behave logically. It is spontaneous, it is unpredictable, and it is untrustworthy. Almost as if it has its own switch that turns on only when it feels like it, sometimes burning bright and other times operating at a gentle glow.
Sometimes the ideas it births are too awful to even mention. Other times, they are — at least to the eyes of their beholders — brilliant.
If you’ve ever wondered why writing is so hard — why being a writer is so hard — it’s because the act of writing does its best to go against every parameter we attempt to put in place for it. It loathes structure, it hates being woken up when it does not wish to rise, it does not want to follow your rules, your plan, or your preferences.
And that is why, all this time, I have insisted ideas are like children. We cannot stop them from being children. We can only adapt to their erratic ways and learn to thrive despite the chaos.
To be fair, you can eventually teach a child how to behave properly — at least I hope so, at the very least you can try — and I’m not sure the same can be said about a novel or a blog post or a song.
But the only way to expect any kind of progress as a writer is to expect that it’s going to be weird. All the time. You’re not going to understand it or even like, but you still have to accept it, work with it, and let it take you where it will.
You can learn to ride the waves, though. I’m sure of it. People will roll their eyes, you’ll get frustrated, you’ll wonder if not being normal is as OK as I’ve claimed it to be. But if you’re lucky, you’ll still somehow manage to write a Really Good Thing anyway despite all the weird. And that’s an accomplishment definitely worth celebrating.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.