The Mad Tea Party — Pull Up A Chair.

Image courtesy of AllPosters.com, Mad Tea Party

Image courtesy of AllPosters.com, The World’s Largest Poster and Print Store.

Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter’s remark seemed to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English. `I don’t quite understand you,’ she said, as politely as she could.

`The Dormouse is asleep again,’ said the Hatter, and he poured a little hot tea upon its nose.

The Dormouse shook its head impatiently, and said, without opening its eyes, `Of course, of course; just what I was going to remark myself.’

`Have you guessed the riddle yet?’ the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.

`No, I give up,’ Alice replied: `what’s the answer?’

`I haven’t the slightest idea,’ said the Hatter.

`Nor I,’ said the March Hare.

At times it feels like being a writer means a guaranteed seat at the Mad Tea Party. When the words you committed to the page so proudly yesterday read like the Dormouse talking in its sleep today, and plot holes looming as large as sinkholes threaten to suck down your house and family, that’s when you know your coffee has been replaced with Mad Hatter tea.

See? There’s the March Hare, cocking his head and regarding you quite peculiarly. There’s the Mad Hatter, (to your dismay), happily eating your partial with butter and jam.

Enter those doubting moments, those crises of confidence as you look around the table, taking in the Dormouse asleep in his chair with his fuzzy chin resting in a tea cup. Hopefully my real readers won’t fall asleep like that, you think, or use one of my pages for a bib, like the March Hare.

Is some of it good? we plead with ourselves as we hover around the computer, afraid to read it back. Please let some of it be good! Or, if you’ve just finished a novel, wondering, Can I do it again, can I really pull this off? Maybe I’m just a big-old fraud and someone’s going to figure it out any second now!

You may be interested to know that many writers, from the struggling to the renowned, have their Mad Tea Party moments. The excerpts below are from the book, Writing In Flow: keys to enhanced creativity by Susan K. Perry.

Few writers, of course, are completely predictable in their psychological tenor, and time spent creating isn’t always euphoric. As novelist Hilma Wolitzer says, writing is a “sickening joy.” Aimee Liu told me, “I mean there’s a certain amount of anxiety that I’m just not going to be able to pull it off.” Likewise, novelist Susan Taylor Chehak describes her seesawing mood:

“I love what I do. I don’t think there’s anybody happier with what they do. I get to lie around and read novels, I get to teach classes and talk about books. You caught me on a good day, though. … I’m ready to jump out a window a lot of times. It comes and goes. There’s a time when it gets to be extremely lonely. If I’m in a difficult place and I can’t figure out how to get out of it, or it doesn’t feel like it’s going right, or I don’t feel good about what I’m doing, then it’s so lonely, because there’s no one to talk to about it. You can’t take your problem to anybody and say, what do you think I should do? Should I change this scene and put it later? That loneliness can really get to me. It’s really depressing.”

It’s why staying in touch with other writers is so important: they understand the writerly “tempests in teapots” (in keeping with the tea party theme) we may experience from time to time.

My own tempests are more of the sort Susan K. Perry describes when she quotes writer Bernard Cooper:

“I’m infinitely scared that the work is somehow bad in a way that I can’t see, or that I won’t be able to do it anymore, or I’m going to make an idiot out of myself. Believe me, there’s a whole slew of things I’m terrified of. But the images, that’s where the joy is for me. …

When I get back a self-addressed stamped envelope, I feel as though I’m going to faint as I open it, and it’s not so much because, chances are great there will be a rejection, but because I just don’t want somebody to have written something that will depress me, like, “Well, I really like the last piece but you just didn’t …” or something like that. It’s the sense of bracing myself. … And when it’s just a form rejection, it’s “thank you, oh thank you!” I’m so glad.”

These tempests are part of the writing process for many of us, and the heightened drama, when diverted and invested into our plots and scenes, can be a writer’s blessing in disguise.

The truth is, the writer who faces the page each day is sometimes brave, sometimes scared, and ofttimes both; there, art is born. It’s art that sustains us during our teapot tempests so we can fill those pages with words.

Splash: there goes the inner critic, thrown overboard.

Splash: there goes the doubting mind, walking the plank.

Splash: there goes a shaky moment as the tempest recedes, and all that’s left is yourself, the computer and a blinking cursor, the muse running late, but you’re not worried.

 It is exciting to wake up each morning with a Mad Tea Party in waiting. And that’s when you realize two notable things:

1) that the Dormouse does look kinda sweet using your manuscript as a pillow, and 

2) that you wouldn’t give up your place at the table for all the Starbucks in the world.

Image courtesy of AllPosters.com, Margaret O'Brien as Jane Eyre

Margaret O’Brien as Jane Eyre on set.

Image courtesy of AllPosters.com.

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16 Responses

  1. Classic post, my dear – one of the very best ever! I’m in the middle of my own mad hatter tea party moment, and suddenly I don’t feel so alone and have remembered to laugh at the absurdity and wonder of it all.

  2. Raising my mad tea cup to also clink with yours. Here’s to tempests in teapots and the mad-absurd moments that get us from one page to the next!

    And you’re definitely not alone. I have mad tea party moments left and right. Or is that write? Winks.

    Em

  3. The poster is arguably the best artistic rendition of the Tea Party part of Alice in Wonderland I’ve ever seen.

  4. Em,

    I agree with Uppington. Classic post! Makes me want to dig up my copy of Alice in Wonderland.

    I started feeling a lot better a while ago when I accepted the fact that these emotional ups and downs are just part of being a writer. And I also accepted the fact that sometimes the writing would flow like magic, and other times, it would be like pulling teeth.

    So now when I have a tough writing day, I do the best I can, and remind myself that as long as I show up and work, the Muse always returns and rewards. 🙂

  5. Dear Em, thank you for the invitation to the party. I’m having a ball. JG.

  6. Whoa, Em. This is a fantastic post!

    As you pointed out, everyone, even the most-loved, have moments of doubt, times when they’re extra-sensitive about the baby they created. It’s an intrinsic part of the creation process, this anxiety, the way death is a part of life. I think we’d be hard-pressed to find a single good author who feels utterly confident about what they’ve produced. Even if they believe it to be good, insecurity nags at the back of the mind regarding how it might be received. I think this is partly because it’s all subjective.

    One of the most important traits of successful writers who doubted is that they pushed past it and let others decide about their writing. Hence Elizabeth Gilbert’s massive success with Eat, Pray, Love, for example, a book she thought might very well be “crap.” (It was nothing of the sort!)

    This is you: in spite of your inevitable insecurity (inevitable, as I say, because it’s natural), you keep writing. You keep submitting. You don’t give up. Your tenacity is important!

  7. Whoops, I meant everyone HAS moments of doubt, not have.

  8. Lewis Carroll, one of my favorite authors and one of the few things Disney did not manage to screw up too badly.

  9. JTG — have to agree on the party poster. It’s a version I saw only one other time, and definitely not used as often as the actual book illustrations.

    I love the depiction of the non-human characters, while Alice sits in her chair looking like a big doll.

    Em

  10. Thanks, Tasha, and I so SO agree — show up for the writing, and the writing will show up for you.

    I admire the authors who approach it like a job, like any other job — you show up and do the work whether or not you’re in the mood, whether or not you feel like it — you show up, sit down and do what needs to be done.

    It may not be fruitful every time, or it might — but you still show up.

    Em

  11. Joseph Grinton — you’re welcome! : )

    Hmmmm, a Mad Ball. Sounds intriguing …

  12. Thanks for stressing that fact, Steph — that sometimes we make poor mirrors of our own work, so, it’s important to take that leap of faith and send the work out — do what scares us the most — and let objective people who love books and writing make up their own minds.

    {{{{{{{{{{ Steph }}}}}}}}}}} haven’t hugged ya’ in a bit! It was great to see you here. : )

    Yup, I’m still plugging along down Query Road, wherever it may lead! Have a bunch of fulls and partials out there, which is a thrill in itself.

    I was telling my husband yesterday that this has been, by far, one of the most thrilling years I’ve had in a long time.

    I still remember how, before I’d even written The Girl Next Door, I told you I was going to write “the next book” and see what happened, when the first novel had no requests (need to shorten it, and write a new query. One day). And now, here I am with that next novel. Good old TGND.

    Getting a little further each time? I’ll take it. Learning *so much* and working my a** off? I’ll take that, too. It’s all been worth it, and as always, if not TGND, then “the next book”.

    I’m incredibly stubborn that way. : )

    Em

  13. Ralfast — I so agree! You gotta love Alice in Wonderland. I think it’s pure genius.

    Em

  14. Just wanted to thank everyone for your patience on my replies back. Spent the last month nursing a very sick horse, along with carrying the brunt of the ranchwork while my husband worked extra hours.

    Add the extreme heat (112-116 degrees!) and I’ve been lucky to think straight on top of the rest.

    Thanks for reading and commenting. Y’all ROCK!

    Em

  15. Em, you haven’t posted in a while and I’ve thought of you. I hope you and all the animals are okay, and that the weather is becoming cooler for you.

    Update me when you have the chance…

    Steph

  16. Hey Steph. Thanks for thinking of me. : )

    Let’s see: it’s still hot as Hades out there, but beginning to cool toward Autumn. I took a summer hiatus due to a heavy workload irl, and am now back to blogging.

    Sadly, we had a tornado-force microburst wind come through the ranch, crushing the sanc. dogs’ steel kennels and loosing 4 dogs into the desert. In the end, one dog was lost, (the blue-eyed dog, Boo Boo, up there in my avatar) and nine days later, we found her remains. She went up a small mountain and fell. It appears her death was instantaneous.

    So, we’ve been very sad here, the last few weeks, as we say goodbye to a dog we loved and adjust to the empty spots she used to occupy. We’re so grateful, however, to have the closure, to have found her remains, and that we could bring her home and bury her in the garden.

    Em

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