Sunday, March 17, 2013

announcing: the DSM-I for writers

You know the signs. You can't pull yourself away from your laptop. You're up to 937 words when you swore you'd hammer out 1000 today. You couldn't sleep if you tried, so you stay up late in order to finish. Maybe another cup of coffee will help. Perhaps a glass of wine. You feel pretty good about it when you read things over, so you celebrate a good day's work with another glass of wine and head off to bed all calm and happy.

But you can't sleep. And, first thing the next morning you delete all but 11 words of what you wrote.

"What was I thinking?" you ask yourself. "This is awful. Horrible. I'll never get it right. I quit!" It can drive you to tears.

So it goes in the bipolar world of the writer. One day is good; the next is bad. One day you get an acceptance, the next day--a rejection. You swear you've had it with writing. You're finished, done, kaput. And then the voices in your head start up again.

Perhaps it's a missing line of dialogue. A twist in the plot. The turn of a single word. Suddenly your fingers are flying across the keyboard again. And there's a smile on your face even though nobody is around to see it.

You tell yourself, "I must be crazy."

Maybe so.

This year the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) of Mental Disorders came out. This is the manual psychologists and psychiatrists use to nail your diagnosis so it can be coded for billing purposes, enabling your health care provider to earn just enough to put shoes on his/her children's feet. (I don't like using the DSM, if you get my drift.)

Unfortunately, like its predecessors, the fifth edition of the manual does not consider "Writing Disorders." And it probably should. If it did, it might look something like this:
  • Anxiety disorder: what happens in your head, chest, and gut just before you walk in to pitch your book to an agent; how you feel while waiting for your critique group to read and comment on your monthly submission

  • Depressive disorder: how it feels when you're stuck for days and nothing you write pleases you; the cumulative result of multiple rejections

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: an in-born trait that serves editors well, but results in sleep deprivation and social isolation for really good writers

  • Sleep disorder: insomnia that is the result of the obsessive-compulsive need to write late into the night

  • Eating disorder: the tendency to skip meals because of the obsessive-compulsive need to write through meals

  • Substance abuse disorder: caffeine, caffeine, caffeine...[

  • Attention Deficit Disorder: might explain why you have a drawer full of unfinished short stories, essays, poems, and a couple of novels-in-progress

Just sayin'.
"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle,
like a long bout of some painful illness.
One would never undertake such a thing
if one were not driven by some demon
whom one can neither resist nor understand."
--George Orwell--
ps.: Dear Old Man Winter,
              This winter was pathetic. You should be ashamed of yourself. It's time for you to pack up and head north. By next weekend.
              Thank you.


  1. I could never be a writer...the stress of either failure or success is too too much.

  2. Delores--success is getting a word on the page; Failure is not trying.

    Sue--...speaking from experience!