Many people seem to think it would be fun to live inside a writer’s head, because of all the clever things that whiz around in there, even when they are not writing.
“It must be great being you,” they’ll say, “because even if you’re at the most boring dinner party in the world, you can just sit back and tell yourself stories—in your mind!”
Such enthusiasm for the writer’s inner life reveals a profound misunderstanding of what writers actually do with their minds. This stems, I think, from a lack of understanding about what sort of person writes for a living, and what might happen at that dinner party if the writer in question opened their mouth and let everyone know what they were really thinking.
The tendency to romanticize the writer’s mind as a mystical fantasia of fascinating insights is quite common, and understandable, given that writers are such good-looking people. It is also highly unfortunate, since it fills people’s heads with all sorts of bizarre misconceptions.
For instance, people who do not write (let’s call them readers) tend to think that a writer’s job is to fill pages with magical streams of meaningful words. They have also been led to believe that writers are trying to create works that are beautiful and true, full of humanity and wisdom and lots of compelling verbs.
All of this is complete nonsense.
In fact, the writer’s true job has nothing to do with the act of “writing” as most people know it. No, the writer’s TRUE job is to PROTECT the rest of humanity from the tornado of crazy swirling around in his or her mind—to shield the unwitting public from the derangement and chaos of their inner thoughts, and, most especially, to hide the sick substance of their soul from the people they love and care about.
Properly understood, writing is not a form of self-expression, it’s a public service. Writers perform their civic duty by taking great care to package the outrageous abominations of their inner id into tidy, amusing tales that contain barely a whiff of the insanity behind them.
In truth, good writing has nothing to do with honesty, and everything to do with misdirection and subterfuge. Writers don’t set out to “tell a story,” their main goal is to cleanse the raw sewage of their thoughts enough so that they don’t get arrested. Every time they sit down to write, their biggest fear is that some of that sewage might leak out, prompting an unwanted call to the dreaded mind plumbers, who will come to the door in clean white coats waving orders to “fix” them.
Writers know all too well that if anyone ever found out what was really going on in their head, all hell would break loose. Consequently, writers spend most of their day trying as hard as they can to prevent these evil thoughts from escaping. To the casual reader, it may look as if their words are arranged in a pleasing order, but that’s only because the writer has worked very hard to make it look that way.
So next time you’re at a dinner party and find yourself sitting next to a writer who has nothing to add to the conversation, count yourself lucky. The last thing anyone wants is for a writer to open their mouth and say what’s actually on their mind. It may look like they’re doing nothing, just sitting there being bored, but the truth is they are working hard to protect you. It’s their job, and they take it seriously, so resist their charms and don’t encourage them to talk.
Otherwise, you’ll be sorry.