creative gifts from mental illness?

I saw this picture online last week, and I wanted to post it on my blog and see what people thought of it.

I’m trying to decide what I myself think of it, especially as an obsessive-compulsive who is also a creative writer.  Do I believe that my creativity is tied up inexorably with my mental illness?  Would I be just as creative without OCD?  Do mental illnesses perpetuate the arts or stifle them, or does it depend on the person?

Before I went through cognitive-behavioral therapy, I used to wonder if I wouldn’t be as interesting without my OCD.  I don’t devote much time to thinking about that anymore, so this picture is really bringing up those old thoughts.  While I believe that OCD/mental illnesses can draw creativity out of a person, I don’t believe that it is the wellspring of it, by any means.  In many ways, my OCD hampered my creativity.  Now that it is under control, I feel much more creative freedom.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  Mine are obviously not yet sorted out!

the writing journey

I’m reading a novel right now, and one of the characters featured is the author H.G. Wells.  Since it is fiction, I don’t know if the following is true, but the book said that H.G. Wells was a writer who hated writing but who liked to have written.

I was thinking how sad that is.  But I suppose people do that sort of thing all the time, an exercise in delayed gratification.  I know a ton of people who hate exercise but liked to have exercised.  Actually, I am the same way with travel.  I don’t particularly love it, but I liked to have done it.

But writing.

I love it.  I love sitting down and opening up my document.  I love thinking of an objective and then stategizing the best way to achieve it.  I love landing on that perfect “lightning” word.

Don’t get me wrong.  It is hard.  Writing is an arduous process, difficult, sometimes painful.  It is not always exciting.  The rush and thrill of freewriting last perhaps a few months before you find yourself settling into the nitpicking task of editing.  It comes with criticism, difficult to swallow and frustrating as hell.  Your characters take on lives of their own, and they become as impossible to steer as headstrong toddlers.  You write yourself into a dark corner and have no idea how to find the way out of it.  You cry.  Sometimes you write brilliant, lyrical prose that everyone in your writing group hates and makes you cut.  You have to “kill your darlings” left and right.  It hurts your heart.

But I love it.  I love that whole process, painful and heartbreaking as it may be.  There is such true joy in the act of creation.  It is an adventure, a battle of wills against your characters (and sometimes yourself), and there is nothing I enjoy so much as returning night after night to my manuscript, trying to shape something lovely out of blank pages.

I love the process just as much as the product.  The journey is a joy.

characters beyond the books

I have to confess that I think about characters far beyond what actually appears in the written pages of books.  My favorite characters to think and dream about are those from Narnia.

Edmund.  To me, the most fascinating character in the whole series.  My favorite line of his is when he says, “But even a traitor may mend.  I have known one that did.”  And he looked very thoughtful, or so the book tells us.  I read layers and layers into that.  I love to think about Edmund returned to England after years spent as a king in Narnia, about that crazy heart change that occured.  I wonder what his parents thought of the change when they saw him again after the air raids were over, if they thought it was the Professor who had been a good influence, or that country air, or the opportunity to explore a big house.  I picture that Edmund was a quieter boy when he returned, and that when he spoke, it was often profound.  He had, after all, been an adult– and royalty– a warrior and known for his commitment to justice.

Susan.  I have dedicated much time to pondering “The Problem of Susan,” which we encounted in The Last Battle.  Where did things go wrong for Susan?  And how could she turn her back on it all when she had been present at the Stone Table?  I have struggled through it the best way I can– by writing, both a poem and a short story.

Aravis and Cor.  Because I have the heart of a thirteen-year-old teenybopper, I often wonder about the love story of the king and queen of Archenland.  All Lewis tells us is that they argued so much and made up so much that, when they got older, they got married so as to go on doing it more conveniently.  This is one of the few love stories in the Narnia series (the only other I can think of is Caspian and Ramandu’s daughter), so naturally, I am drawn to it.  I can’t help but think that Cor, in his quieter ways, thought that she would fall for his twin brother.  There is so much teenage angst in it that it almost makes me want to write fan fiction.  Almost.

Professor Kirke.  I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall listening to the conversation between the Pevensies and the professor after their long sojourn in Narnia.  Can you even imagine Digory’s great relief when he learned that they had witnessed the demise of Jadis, whose presence in Narnia can be traced directly back to the professor’s youth?  We obviously get no glimpse into this, since The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was written before The Magician’s Nephew.  Lewis was well aware that there were gaps and inconsistencies in his series, and even intended to go back and fix them, but it just never happened.

Anyway, you already knew I was a nerd.  Now you know that I’m kind of beyond hope of any rescue from it.  In fact, it’s Friday night, and I’m sitting alone in Dunn Bros, looking at Narnia fan art.  It’s all over for me. Haha!

deviantART by ~secrethope

(On a sidenote, there is a startling amount of Lucy-Tumnus pairing.  Um, gross.  Really, really gross.)

how to offend a book lover

Books matter to me.  So, so much.

So when my friend, who is halfway through The Book Thief, asked, “Now, who is Rudy again?” I about died.

Now, I deeply love this friend; she is brilliant and fun and cares so much about people and justice and mercy.  But come on.  Who is RUDY?  WHO IS RUDY STEINER??!  Why are you reading this book if you can’t remember one of the MAIN CHARACTERS?!!!  Where is the RESPECT?

Okay, done ranting.  I think.

I am not this way with all books– but there are certain, choice stories where I am quite literally offended if a friend doesn’t like them, almost as if I were the author.  When my friend Jessica read Narnia for the first time, I was upfront with her: “Please tell me you liked them.  I will actually be offended if you didn’t.”  She did.  Phew.

When my roommate told me that The Fault in Our Stars was “good, but not great,” I didn’t want to throw her off a cliff or anything.  When my sister couldn’t get into The Sky is Everywhere, I didn’t want to disown her.  I don’t have to worry about what I’d do to someone who didn’t like Stargirl because I have never met such a fool.

But The Chronicles of Narnia, The Book Thief, Peace Like a River … do not disrespect these stories.

Or else feel my wrath. 🙂

on the connection between reader and writer

“The best work is done with the heart breaking, or overflowing.”
Mignon McLaughlin, journalist and author (1913-1983)

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
Robert Frost, poet (1874-1963)

These quotes, which I have long loved, are moving from head knowledge to reality in my life.  Allow me to explain.

Draft one of Truest was written ferociously in a period of six months.  It was a typical first draft– write the easy parts, skim over (or completely ignore) the hard parts– and that is fine with me.  I am the kind of person who needs to write about seventeen drafts before it’s ready for the public.  I had a few friends read it, most of whom enjoyed it and made important recommendations (a special thank you to Kristin Luehr, who changed the whole course of the novel).

The next draft was hard.  It absolutely, completely broke my heart.  Ask my roommate.  For a period of about a week I was despondent, and for about three days in a row, I could not stop weeping.  Desiree would ask about my day, and I would just start to sob and say to her, “I don’t know what to do for them [Silas and West, my characters].  My heart is broken in two, and I’m stuck.  I don’t know how to fix the problem that I have gotten them into.”

I was depressed, grieving, and at a loss for what to do next.  My friend Kristin swept in again (she is a hero!) and reminded me that my characters lived in a world where Christ existed.  After that, the story’s ending started to fall into place.

When I had friends read this draft, most of them reported that they cried.  I will have to investigate further, but my expectation is that since my own heart was torn in two as I wrote, all that pain was able to flow out of it freely and unhindered and land directly in the pages of my story.

So yes, McLaughlin.  Yes, Frost.  I believe you now.  I really do.

OCD shared experiences

Last Wednesday, I was interviewed about my OCD in front of a group of around 100 students at the college where I work.  It was such a blessing to be able to share with them.  We talked about wanting to keep OCD a secret, about how OCD affected my relationships, about cognitive-behavioral therapy, about how long it took for me to find relief.

Afterward, I had a small group of students who hung around to ask questions and to connect with me.  One girl was crying, telling me her older sister had OCD and she hoped that her sister could “come as far” as I had.  Another told me that she had never had the chance to meet someone who struggled the same way as she did.  Another asked some great, probing questions about CBT.  Two days later, I had a mom email me and tell me that her daughter had come to my chapel talk and told her how great it was to hear from someone else who’d been diagnosed with scrupolosity.  I’ve scheduled or am scheduling several coffee dates with these newfound obsessive-compulsive friends.

The mom wrote:
I could tell it meant a lot to her the other night to hear that someone she knows, and is successful and enjoying her career, and has remained faithful amidst all the doubts scrupulosity brings is living an abundant life.  You are the first person she’s met that truly struggles as she does; someone who understands better than any councelor or psychologist or psychiatrist  OR MOM WHO HAD READ EVERY BOOK SHE CAN GET HER HANDS ON TO HELP HER DAUGHTER.

It’s sad, but it’s also true.  No one really gets an obsessive-compulsive like another obsessive-compulsive.  I am so grateful for every opportunity I have to connect with someone else who GETS IT.  We haved lived a nightmare together– while others only hear about it second-hand.  OCs truly share a unique experience of pain, struggle, and attack.

I hope that these new OCs I’ve connected with will also one day share my story of victory.  Please Jesus.

Books I Gave Up On


Flowers for Algernon … I tried reading it twice, and both times I couldn’t persuade myself to finish.  I think it’s Charlie’s changing personality.  I just lose interest in the book at the same point.  I’m not sure if I’m going to give it a third try or not.

The Forgotten Garden … just could not get into it.  Slow-going on the front end.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius … I was super into this one at the very beginning; in fact, I was full of writer’s envy, even though Eggers is maybe a tad pretentious.  But in the end, I just let this one fade for me, didn’t find time to finish it.  It has been on my nightstand for about 2-3 years now.  Should I start over?


Hush, Hush series … just didn’t seem grounded enough, didn’t know the characters well enough.

The Hunger Games … the author didn’t use “who” and “whom” properly, which drove me crazy, and I just wasn’t interested in the premise of the stories.

Shiver series … I actually kind of liked the first book of this series, but I didn’t feel like I got to know the characters well enough, and the holes in the premise of the heat/cold changing the werewolves were too gaping.

What do you think?  Am I missing out?  Are there books to which you think I need to give a second (or third) chance?