Anton’s Syndrome For Creative Writers

Anton’s Syndrome is a form of brain damage in the occipital lobe, wherein someone suffers blindness but does not know it. They believe they can see, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are blind. 

Say your uncle Willie suffered this condition, and you take him into a field, and in the middle of the field, there is an adult elephant, African, with big ears, eating leaves off a tree. You could ask Willie what he sees, and to cover his blindness, he might say, Not much. Just the road.

And even if you tell him that you’re in a field looking at an elephant, he would find someway to cover the truth about his blindness, say something like, Well obviously the elephant’s there. I didn’t think it was worth mentioning.

Of course this is a gross simplification, but there is evidence that the person who suffers from Anton’s Syndrome may not be lying to you about what they see. They may really be convinced that is what they see, convinced that they are not blind.

What a metaphor for bad writing!

Let’s apply this to fiction writers, someone like me, for example, although it would equally apply to poets. 

Let’s say I write a story, and I think it’s good, best story ever written. I submit it to journals and cannot believe I get rejections. What is wrong with these editors?

(When we were new writers, every time I got a rejection for a story, Andrés Montoya would say, They’re stupid!)

After about a year of sending the story out and receiving only rejections, and as I’m working on other stories, I forget about it, and then one day I’m wandering through the document graveyard on my computer and see the forgotten story. I open it, read it and think, What a shitty story! The worst story ever written.

This has happened to me from the time that I was a beginning writer and would crank out story after story thinking each one belonged in The New Yorker to me as a writer today. 

I’ve written stories that give me chills for their brilliance, only to read them later and get chills of how blind I was to think it was worth something.

If you’re a writer, sometimes the stories are going to come easy, sometimes a little harder, but often, when you’re in the “zone” and you’re writing, nothing else exists but that which you create, a reality bubble in an imaginary world. 

Everything is new and exciting, so of course you’re going to think it’s great.

What I’m saying is we can have a version of Anton’s Syndrome as writers, not seeing reality as it is, because we are only seeing from the inside of the creative process, not from the outside, and when we’re in there, things are sacred. Everything is brilliant.

But eventually we have to step outside of the reality of language and imagination and see what the story might be saying or how it might be read by others.  That’s where the craft comes in.

This isn’t an exact parallel. I mean, I’m using Anton’s Syndrome as metaphor, but I think it translates. 

But here’s the thing, unlike someone who unfortunately suffers from that disorder, writers who are committed to their work eventually see the truth of the piece they once thought was perfect, or they see more aspects of the truth, because the brilliance they saw before really was there.

Even if only one image from the entire story lasts, even if nothing from the story lasts, the glow of having been in that landscape is permanent and positive.

But it may not make good writing.

It’s possible that later on, in a week or month or year, I may see this post and ask myself, Why did I include this in my blog? It’s shit!

Sorry. The idea sounded good when it first occurred to me.

And frankly I just followed the language, and this is where it ended up.

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