The Difference between Being a Writer and a Schizophrenic

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Non-writers probably cannot relate to the obsession to write that overtakes an author. Some writers plot and plan everything. For me an idea, a character, or a first scene starts me off. Slowly the characters share with me their back story and as the story progresses I have no idea what will happen next.

Image courtesy of anat_tikker /

Image courtesy of anat_tikker /

It’s a wild roller-coaster ride, but I hold on tight. I can’t avoid it as the characters will taunt me until I set my fingers to the keyboard and write.

My characters pretty much hijack my life. They hold me hostage at gunpoint with an urgency to get their story on paper (or computer). There’s a desperation that underlies the tale.

So I write. Frantically. I leave gaps and highlight spots to go back to. I think about my characters first thing in the morning and I dream about them at night.

When life calls me to leave the house to do other things–serve at church, grocery shop, mow the lawn, editing work on other author’s stories–my characters are always there.

How is being a writer different from schizophrenia? Schizophrenia is a mental disorder where the sufferer often hears voices that are not there. They might see things that are not there. Feeling and smelling things is rarer. Sometimes those voices are mean and insulting. Sometimes they deceive and taunt the sufferer. The difference between a writer though and someone with this type of mental illness is multiple:

  • I can shut up my characters by writing what they tell me. When I get a story down on paper and it’s done, they leave me alone. I’m free to move on with my life. Voices for those struggling with mental illness are constant and rarely change. They don’t even have a story to tell. They are just there and serve no helpful purpose.
  • My character’s voices are generally nice. Since I write happily ever after stories, while they might suffer and struggle to get there, I love my characters and enjoy the time I spend with them. The become dear friends, but my time in their company is short. Schizophrenics can sense friendliness at times from their imaginary friends, but most often they are not. And they never really go away.
  • People generally want to know about my characters. They want to hear about the stories and hopefully will read them. Most people with schizophrenia are afraid to share their voices, and because the voices don’t tell a nice story, there’s nothing fun to share with others that anyone would really want to hear.
  • My characters never force me to do anything worse than write their stories. Sometimes people with mental illness are led to actions that are harmful to themselves or others. Usually those are isolated incidents and minimized with the help of medication. The terror that many live with though never really goes away. It’s only managed. Medication doesn’t help a writer but might actually make the voices louder. Probably why many great writers throughout history had substance abuse issues. They found those things helped them access the creativity and write in a more uninhibited way. (I am not advocating that!)
  • The one similarity though may be a tendency to be more moody. I deeply experience whatever my characters are going through. Depression is not uncommon among writers. Schizophrenics as well can become quite depressed as they experience emotions related to unreal events.

It is sometimes said that writing is the only acceptable form of schizophrenia. That’s really not true. For one, they are not the same and secondly, schizophrenics are acceptable human beings too. They just suffer from a terrible illness that can make relationships difficult to maintain. Trust is a challenge and reality is scary.

Hopefully my books do the opposite for those that read them, in spite of the wild ride I take to get that rough draft written.


3 thoughts on “The Difference between Being a Writer and a Schizophrenic

  1. That is an interesting perspective of how the writing life can mimic schizophrenic tendencies – probably even more so for writers who deal with darker subjects/content. I’m glad to be introduced to you, Susan. Now I have to go check out your friend “The Tuesday Prude” – sounds like someone with a sense of humor!

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