THE WRITER’S HIGH

It’s not an accident or random that the deeper you go into a metaphysical question, when you share your insights with others they ask you, What have you been smoking? 

Deep thought is somehow connected to getting high.  Why do we think this way?

The answer I think can be found in looking at a phenomenon everybody is familiar with: The Runner’s High.

What happens when you run or work out long enough, you can reach a certain point where endorphins are released along with some of those brain candies like dopamine and Endocannabinoids, those neurotransmitters that also spark when you use cannabis.

You get a good feeling, strength, invulnerability, exuberance, like you can’t feel any other way except using drugs.

I’m a runner, but I’ve never experienced Runner’s High.  

I run (or try to) five days a week just to keep healthy, but I have never ran so much and so long that I’ve gotten high. The best I can do is 30 minutes, and I run so slow that old men with wobbly legs and knobby zip pass me by.

Oh wait, I am an old man with wobbly legs.

I may not be athletic enough to have experienced the Runner’s High, but I’ve experienced the Thinker’s High.

But I like to call it the Writer’s High.

And it is just as a legitimate physiological experience as the Runner’s High.

Most writers have experienced the Thinker’s High.

Even if we’re not sitting on our butts writing a story or a poem, we understand that it takes free time in order to expand our creativity. We take walks. We have moments of silence. We sit by a window.

And sometimes, when we’re taking a walk, we go so deeply into an idea that we don’t even register where it is that we are, and I’m certain that at this time the same hormones and neurotransmitters can be released as in the Runner’s High.

The ideas are so stunning that we forget where we are, and when we become aware again we find ourselves on an intersection in the city or a crossroad in the country, and it’s like we’re in a brand-new landscape. We feel exhilaration, a rush of well-being that connects us to the sublime.

We feel a level of euphoria that we cannot get any other way, except for maybe drugs, at least the first couple of times.

This is the Thinker’s High.

The Writer’s High.

And writers are addicted to it.

Sometimes it happens when we’re deeply rooted in thought, but it can also happen when we’re completely absorbed in an ordinary moment. It could happen while washing dishes or cutting vegetables, watching as the knife goes chop-chop-chop.

These moments sustain us and keep us writing, because the high is incredible, and they are often responsible for our best work, our best ideas.

How do you induce the Runner’s High?

You run or exercise for a very long time, usually over 30 minutes, maybe an hour at the least, and keep doing it over and over again.

How do you induce the Writer’s High?

Write.

Take time to think, and thinking doesn’t mean a structure of thought to solve a problem, although it could; it means following your imagination, your daydream, keep going with it, wherever it takes you. Follow your language.  Follow your spirit.

You might write something so good that your friends will say, What were you smoking?!

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.