Many doctors have become writers of fiction, perhaps most notably Anton Chekhov, also a good number of philosophers, for instance Jean-Paul Sartre, but what about psychologists? Not so many perhaps, and not so famous in the world of fiction, at least not yet. At OnFiction, we know a few, and we are asking some of them to write posts for us about the relationship of their psychology to their writing of fiction. Anyone who is a psychologist who writes fiction, or a knows of such a person who might be good for us to approach, please get in touch with Keith Oatley (e-mail is in my Profile).
The first psychologist-novelist we have asked to write for us is Elaine Hatfield, a noted social psychologist whose best known work is on love and its social implications. Her first novel was Rosie, about a young psychologist, Rosie St Giles, who has a temporary teaching job at the University of Hawaii. She has a prestigious research grant on love which is singled out by a United States Senator as being a waste of tax-payers' money. Rosie is zippy and unusual as a protagonist, and the novel's other characters are interesting and recognizable. The novel is about the fortunes of Rosie and the US Senator who thinks his ridicule of Rosie's research will be a cheap way of winning votes. Hatfield's style is racy. Her mix of politics, the workings of academe, and sexual goings on (of which there are quite a few) works really well. An excellent read.
Creative Writing and PsychologyI’ve always been interested in creative writing. When I was 12, I was poet laureate of the Detroit Police Gazette—the Truborg. It has all been downhill from there. Nevertheless, when I started a serious creative writing career fifteen years ago, I was surprised to discover that creative writing and academic writing aren’t that far apart.
Firstly, psychologists probably have a head start as creative writers since we are intrigued by character and human foibles.
Secondly, in both careers you do best if you explore the topics that interest you. If you try to please the crowds, you are doomed.
Thirdly, therapists, scientists, and budding creative writers have to have realistic expectations as to the praise they will receive. It is easy to believe that if we are just brilliant enough, work hard enough, do everything right, we will reap the adulation of the crowds. That is expecting way too much. There is an old saying: “When we’re 20, we worry about what people think of us; when we’re 30, we don’t care what they think; by the time we’re 40, we realize they’re probably not thinking of us at all.” I would argue that if you can find a very few colleagues and readers who admire your writing, you should count yourself very lucky. As for the other 99%, I’m afraid we just have to take censure in stride.
In the interests of “truth in advertising,” I thought that I’d share a few of my favorite “awful” letters with you to remind us all what anyone who deals with agents, publishers, and the public can expect—on a good day.
1. Thanks, but this is way too good for us. We publish pointedly tasteless stuff.The point? My suspicion is that, in creative writing and psychology as in life, the prerequisites for “success” are not talent but independence, enthusiasm, endurance, and resilience. That—and a large dose of self-mocking humor. A thick skin might also help. The rewards of a successful career must be intrinsic: the pleasure of saying what you can’t help saying and doing what you can’t help doing. If one casts one’s fate to the adulation of colleagues or the crowds, then—good luck.
2. Thank you so very much for your submission “Holy Guacamole.” Your piece is well crafted, but cannot be used in The Blackstone Circular. Some of my subscribers are rich, while others are working class. They would be offended. Can you send me a positive point of view, either about them or about your own class of people?
3. We sorry fo’ say we nevah choose your submission to Hybolics. But dat no means ees junk. Jus cuz we nevah take yo’r stuff dis time, no sked cuz we kinda moody. Shoots den. Write on, brah.