Today we have a YouTube podcast by one of my favorite living writers, Andrew Klavan. Skip all the political stuff at the beginning (unless you need a laugh, cause Klavan is funny). For this post, we are going straight to the Mailbag segment at the end of the show.
At 34:10, Klavan reads a question from a listener who says that he is writing a screenplay. The writing process has required him to open up some bad memories of his own, which though it resulted in good writing, has been hard on him and has slowed his progress. “How do you deal with this, Mr. Klavan?”
At 34:58, Klavan agrees that this is a problem. “Writing can really rip you to pieces, especially if you are an unsteady personality.” Later, he will end the segment by saying, “Especially if you’re a really good writer, you’re really gonna hurt yourself sometimes, and you have to take care of yourself and heal.”
So far so good, if so obvious. This is something that all writers know, even if we try not to talk about it a lot because it makes us sound like overly fragile artiste types. Still, it’s good to hear this confirmed by a professional who has written hard-boiled crime novels and screenplays and has even gotten paid for them.
But things are going to get wilder. Klavan starts elaborating on why writing can mess you up. He mentions that if you write a villain, you have to tap in to that evil place in yourself. Then, at 35:40, he adds, “When you create female characters, you have to go into feminine parts of yourself, which for men can be very upsetting. I think that’s why a lot of male writers are alcoholics, because they don’t like to face that part of themselves because it makes them feel that they’re not manly.”
Whoa! Wait! Stop, Mr. Klavan. Back up. This is fascinating, and I have so many questions.
First of all, do you think that female writers have a corresponding problem? And if not, why not?
Secondly. Klavan has just said that writing female characters can be so depressing that it drives men to alcoholism. Wow. Now my question is, are they depressed just because they are dismayed to find they are capable of thinking in a feminine way? In other words, are they upset only by the implied insult to their manliness? Or … is there something inherently upsetting and/or depressing about being a woman, and these male writers are experiencing that directly? My money’s on the second one. I can see that it would be a lot to handle for them, poor lambs. Being relatively unprepared for it and all.
In other words, it just more fun to be the average man than to be the average woman?
And I’m not blaming anyone for this. If there is some truth in it, I think it has a physical cause (female hormones). Dennis Prager has said that if the average man could suddenly be given a woman’s brain for a day, he’d be totally overwhelmed by everything that’s going on in there. Whereas if the average woman could be given a man’s brain, she would go, “This is terrific! I’m free!”
Anyway. If there is any truth in my theory, it would follow that it is less emotionally taxing for female writers to write male characters than the reverse.
Based on my limited experience, I think this is true. Perhaps it’s because, to a greater degree than men, women are already in the habit of putting ourselves in another person’s shoes. We have been given a natural tendency to do this. We need to do it, as mothers, so as to intuit the needs of our children, whether they are boys or girls. So, we get a head start on that being-depressed-by-other-people’s-emotions thing.
A couple of caveats. No, I am not saying that women make better writers than men, nor that women are automatically good at creating male characters (there are plenty of counter-examples to that idea). Just that women already tend to do, in our daily lives, a perhaps slightly less intense version of that part of the writing process that some male writers find so depressing.
What do you guys think of all this?