Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A different diagnosis

You and I are, of course, completely sane. Furthermore, we are well-balanced human beings. Indeed you and I are so normal that we are abnormal in terms of our normality.

However, you may have noticed that other members of the writing community are not quite in the same boat. They exhibit, shall we say, certain disturbing symptoms. And you may have wondered, from time to time, as I do, What the hell is wrong with these people?

A few months ago I suggested that the answer might be that some writers are suffering from obsessive/compulsive disorder. But that does not seem to fit the bill in all cases. Fortunately, thanks to Dr Thomas Stuttaford, medical correspondent of the London Times, I am now able to offer a different diagnosis.

Stuttaford, by the way, is a formidable writer himself. He doesn't do fiction, of course, but he is mighty prolific. Scarcely a day goes by without a few paragraphs, and often a lengthy article. President Marmaduke of Boing-boing has a stroke at nine-thirty p.m., London time, and the next morning's paper will have a column telling us all about strokes, the likelihood of recovery, complicating factors in African presidents who have been using too much Viagra, and all like that.

What is more, come the weekend, Dr Stuttaford writes an advice column, with a female colleague, giving guidance for those with sexual problems. This often goes into extreme anatomical detail and is not for the squeamish, and it is advice which would have been absolutely unprintable, anywhere, when I was a young man. So be glad you live in changed times.

All of this is a formidable achievement in a man who must now be well into his seventies and has been treated for prostate cancer. I used to teach Dr Stuttaford's son thirty-five years ago, and the son must be approaching fifty by now.

Anyway, last week the good doctor was prompted by a recent court case to write his usual lengthy analysis of a condition known as narcissistic personality disorder.

People are said to suffer from a personality disorder if they have a persistent pattern of abnormal behaviour which is not severe enough for them to be classified as psychotic and does not constitute a psychiatric disease. Such individuals may well be outwardly successful in their work.

Having said that, people are not properly described as having a personality disorder if their symptoms are so minor that they do not affect their emotional relationships or their professional life.

Here, just to get you thoroughly worried, are the nine telltale symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder. Having one or two of these symptoms is not unusual, but those with five or more might be a bit difficult, shall we say, to live with.

  1. A grandiose sense of self-importance. The person expects to be recognised as rather special.
  2. The belief that the individual has unique problems.
  3. A need for excessive admiration.
  4. A sense of entitlement which is not justified by their attainments.
  5. The belief that, if only their hitherto unhonoured achievements and ability were recognised, their success would be unlimited.
  6. Reacting to criticism with inappropriate rage.
  7. A lack of empathy with other people's needs.
  8. Arrogance and haughtiness.
  9. Willingness to exploit other people to achieve their goals.

Does all this, perhaps, ring any bells? Hmm? Remind you of writers you might have met? Or read about?

And what, I wonder, is the appropriate form of treatment? On that, Dr Stuttaford is silent.


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Dee Jour said...

1. A grandiose sense of self-importance. The person expects to be recognised as rather special.

I was really put off by a 'really popular' online writing workshop for this reason alone when I came across a few people like this, mind you many of them never had lengthy biographies of themselves in terms of their publications but they would often describe themselves in third person (??).

2. The belief that the individual has unique problems.
The same person would post up their personal problems and expect other members to respond with sympathy frequently.

3. A need for excessive admiration.

Once again on this site, there was this particular person who was annoying beyond belief. He had his own room with some thirty or so members (yep, I was invited too) and he'd post up forum topics that focused on his sucessful submissions. It was like "Well I got accepted, you dudes haven't been."
Because he would only announce his achievement and that was it, expecting everyone to say 'awww'..'ahhh' but if others posted up about rejection, he offered little in return - like he'd never experienced rejection or if he did, it was the end of the world.
Others on there still would bitch about literary agents and 'how they know jack-shit'
4. A sense of entitlement which is not justified by their attainments.
I don't think anyone can belittle someone else or be arrogant if they've had two works accepted on a free online E zine, but yep it happens.
5. The belief that, if only their hitherto unhonoured achievements and ability were recognised, their success would be unlimited.

Everyone feels some level of frustration with rejection, it's normal but one moves beyond that if they write consistently and really get off their pedestal. But, there are many who (like the person I refer to above) feel they have been shortchanged, who even expect some kind of 'reason' from a publisher or agent.
6. Reacting to criticism with inappropriate rage.

I'll put myself in this category. I blew my stack at this person who reviewed in order to submit one of her own short stories. She happened on one of my more staid pieces and didn't review all short story elements and asked me dumb questions such as 'is there an audience for this?' and then she told me to 'lighten up' (insert US accent, she was from the US) when the theme was about death and it wasn't a 'humour, just for laughs piece'. So I felt she didn't really read it considering she summarised each event and then asked me the question. But I rarely react this way, I reacted because I had enough of the egos that were flying about on that site.

What I find is that there are so many people who rely on their 'one golden nugget' of a novel to be published. 'It has to be, because it's a good piece of work' they'll say, and they get so frustrated with agents, publishers and so on. They'll delegate blame, even if they are staring at one hundred rejections and they won't stop to ask themselves whether or not they have to reassess/reread their work (jeez, after all that time spent writing it? It would take so much time!)

There are many who don't realise that the best selling writers out there today aren't overnight successes. They too received rejection slips over the years and this doesn't mean these writers will walk in the same path as the best selling author. It's a bit like Chaos Theory rolled up with persistence.
But I've found that it's a hazard to immerse oneself with people (even online in workshops) that are too 'good' for everyone else. Every writer has a copy editor (in the end) who proofs anything, there is no perfection.

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