Book Update/Some Questions for you

I recently posted on Twitter that you might be a narcissist if you begin with the phrase “sorry for not having tweeted in so long.” In other words, if you see the absence of writing 140 characters worth of your thoughts as so egregious – that your readers will be insulted or offended or injured – to the point that it warrants an apology…well, you might want to consider if your self-esteem is a bit too high.

That said, I am now going to be completely and unabashedly hypocritical and apologize for not posting as much on this site. With the summer in full swing I’ve been attempting with varying degrees of success to be outdoors more often and less time watching babies get beaten up by balloons on YouTube. To wit:

In other news, the first draft of my book just came back from my editor today, so I need to start digging into that. She is a really great person to work with: polite, respectful of the work you put in, yet not hesitant to tell you what she thinks is off and needs to be edited down, expanded upon or simply cut out altogether. What I like most about her, however, is the fact that she poses her thoughts as questions for me to consider, rather than just saying “this is shit, get rid of it.” She makes me think about the book and its message, not just attempt to make it fit into the publishing world.

In her email today she gave me a few questions to think about going forward. I wanted to share those with you and welcome your emails/comments should you like to contribute. Not having read the actual book, you’ll need to focus more on what you know about me and my writing style and what I bring to this site, but your comments will still be more than welcome.

Here are her ideas, followed by some specific questions from me to you:

“The book is coming together very nicely. It’s really very powerful and touching throughout, peppered with lighter moments that most of us can relate to. You come across as very caring and approachable; a continual learner and a dedicated professional in an immensely challenging profession.

I’d like to ask you to think about a few things as we work together to further refine the ms for publication:

1) Is there enough balance between the serious stories and the more lighthearted ones? It’s a customary literary device to give the reader some comic relief after an especially harrowing episode.

2) I wondered if Sara, the widow, and Deb, the date rape victim, really fall under the umbrella term of “crazy.” You might clarify that because of their trauma, they have temporarily lost their “right minds,” or they’ve developed some behavior patterns outside of the “norm.” You handle this nicely in the conclusion, but an earlier acknowledgment could serve the book well.”

The book parallels this site very closely. Do you think ShrinkTalk gives a decent balance of humor/gravity? I know that sometimes I get hyper-preachy and go off on the field of psychology, but there’s not really any of that in the book. So that aside, when I write actual stories, do you get a sense that they alternate fairly well between light and heavy, or is it skewed?

Question 2 is perhaps more important. As a reader of this site, do you really, truly and earnestly, get me when I use the term “crazy,” or do I need to be clearer about what that means? I’m not concerned about someone picking up the book in the store, gasping at the title and saying, “why this boorish, attractive, not-yet-middle-aged man is simply making fun of the mentally ill. How dare he!” That’s fine and simply proof that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or the sexy man on the book jacket. No, what is more important to me is that even after reading the book (or this site), do you truly grasp the concept that “crazy” is just simply code for “in pain,” and that everyone falls under that umbrella, or do I not convey that message clearly?

If I’ve failed thus far at showing how this notion of “crazy” is simply part of the human condition, speak up now, otherwise this book is sure to miss the sweet spot and fail. And make no mistake, that will mean a deep depression for yours truly where I will not shave, shower, talk or eat. I will cry pretty much incessantly (which is just slightly more than I do now) and I’ll hazard a guess that writing as a serious endeavor will be done forever. You don’t want that now, do you?

I never thought I’d get the chance to write a book, so I have to make this one count, and you’re invited to make a small contribution to that if you are interested. Thanks in advance for any thoughts you might have. As always, feel free to use the comments thread or, if you’re a little shy, email me at RDobrenski@aol.com.

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25 Responses to “Book Update/Some Questions for you”

  1. Celestine says:

    I think generally you keep a fairly good balance between the serious and the humorous. And as someone who has been reading your blog for years, you don’t need to remind me that when you say crazy, you don’t mean “mentally ill”. IN FACT, most shrinks I’ve met I’d wager don’t use that term for mental illness. Because everybody has at least a little crazy in them. I don’t really consider crazy behavior to be because of pain, although it certainly can be the root of it. I think of it as more irrational, out of the ordinary, and under the influence of strong emotions behaviors.

    Also, I’d like to contribute that you’re completely crazy.

    One thing I would suggest is that while followers of your blog may be aware of your mindset on these things, new book readers who aren’t familiar with that man behind ShrinkTalk.net might need a bit more explanation to understand the point. Is the book going to have an introduction? Perhaps that would be the best place for reviewing your thoughts on the subject.

  2. CampMom says:

    I think you deliver a balance of fun, light-hearted stories along with your serious ones. It’s what we look forward to and why we all keep coming back.

    As for “crazy”… each and every one of us carries our own cup of crazy – sometimes it is more full and overflowing, while at others it is just right without being close to spilling out.

    I agree with Celestine, that maybe some type ot intro at the beginning of the book could explain your position better.

    Best of luck!

  3. Samr says:

    Let me begin with a personal anecdote:

    My following this website from the start — as well as a healthy dose of independent research and trusted opinions — is what led me directly to finally seeking professional “help” for what I later learned was a rather severe case of PTSD. Initially, like probably many of the readers of your book, I was heavily resistant to the idea of shrinks and all that goes with it. But if the greatest indicator of success is tangible results, then I can point to my personal situation as an indicator that you have at least appropriately portrayed the idea of “crazy” to one person. My complete understanding of, essentially, the fact that “everyone is a little crazy,” is what directly led to getting the help I needed. That’s a tangible result.

    That being said, I understand what you mean by “crazy” because I remember when Tucker Max first promoted this as a Rudius website; there’s been a lot of stories in between then and it’s taken a long time and even more words to fully develop the “crazy” thing in my mind. You don’t have that luxury in a book. You only have so many words, and if people don’t “get it” early in the first chapter or two — if it is to be a heavy theme — then they’re likely to put the book back down, or worse, not recommend it to others.

    In my opinion, from my experiences with this website, with the idea of shrinks in general, and in my personal dealings with people who were — much like myself at the first signs of PTSD — resistant to the idea of “crazy” being a common and normal thing, it’s kind of a big pill to swallow (just like that long-ass sentence).

    My personal recommendation would be to almost aim for overkill, if you want to make “crazy” a theme. Establish it EARLY and RELATE IT TO THE COMMON PERSON that this is just a part of the human condition. Just because you get what it means, and readers of this website (who are a rather self-selecting group, so you’ll have biased opinions on this) get what it means, don’t assume the average reader will. The average reader has probably never heard of you, and is probably just like most people (unfortunately) out there: resistant to idea of mental therapy being the same as, say, physical therapy.

    In my opinion, you should drive the “crazy” point home with quick anecdotes of “ordinary” cases. Do that first thing, almost like a preface to the book. Just everyday, otherwise boring/ordinary stories of people you see (you’re a good writer with a self-deprecating sense of humor, so these stories won’t actually be boring).

    A few years ago I had a real bad and dramatic and unfortunately quite common medical predicament (brain tumor) that caused PTSD that quite literally brought my life to a stop. Looking at me or talking to me, you’d have no clue. I’m just using myself as an example because it’s easiest, but: I’m your “ordinary” person, I’m probably very similar to your target audience with the book, and I just happen to be “crazy.” I (again, just as an example) would be a good quick story to relate a foreign concept to your everyday person. And if they can get that relation — if they get that it doesn’t require extreme circumstances in order for “crazy” to “happen” to them — then they will get your book.

    Because if your target reader can intellectually and easily grasp that “crazy” is or at least can be a part of them, then they’d be crazy to put the book down, and even crazier not to tell a friend about it too.

  4. Dorothy says:

    Hi Rob,
    I agree with the readers above who said that you probably should have an intro early on to explain what you mean by crazy.
    I think your editor probably mentioned these 2 cases particularly because unfortunately our culture would often rather call women who have been raped or abused crazy, rather than put the responsibility where it belongs. I know you know this and I know respect for women is important to you, but your audience may not know this and they may be quick to misunderstand and close your book rapidly if victims or survivors are portrayed as crazy (it goes all the way back to Freud’s hysteria, right?) without a disclaimer of your understanding of these things and your position as a male therapist.
    I’m not saying you need to be politically correct (so please don’t hear me as that)… I’m saying that you have a chance to not fall into that trap and to establish your position as a therapist who understands these dynamics in the culture.

  5. Donika says:

    When are you sending me the revised manuscript? Also, this is my response to your cartoon: http://girlsareprettyforever.blogspot.com/2008/02/play-your-new-drums-as-loud-as-you-can.html

  6. NIk says:

    I think that you do a good job making the point that “crazy” is a human condition and does not effect only those that seek therapy.

    You often use funny anecdotes to illustrate this, and even in your more serious posts (ex. the woman that wanted to have her stomach stapled and you denied her) there is still a light heart-ed tone.

    The problem is that rape or the death of a loved one (especially if the husband was young, or they were newly married) are subjects that cannot be approached in the same manner. They also don’t quite fit with the “everyone is their own brew of sane” idea because an even has caused the trauma.

    I think that if you section the book right it could work out fine. By organizing it along the lines of “personal neuroses, interacting with others, situations/events that cause deviance from the norm, etc.” people would follow along just fine.

    We that read your site will understand, but just impress upon the reader that reactions to trauma are normal as well and they’ll get it too. I assume the overall message of the book basically is that it’s all normal, even though we all fall outside of the norm.

  7. Rick McClelland says:

    Hey Rob. Been reading for yours and I’m excited to see the book.

    As for the first point your editor has, without actually seeing the book, it sounds to me like she feels that perhaps your book doesn’t have enough light hearted moments. Without seeing the actual stories, I obviously can’t say for sure, but it might be missing some of your light-hearted humor at parts. I think that may be why she said “It’s a customary literary device to give the reader some comic relief after an especially harrowing episode.” Perhaps you have a harrowing episode or two where afterwards, that humor is missing. She probably wants you to expand the humor to there. That’s what I got from that comment.

    I also think that the humor and the serious on your site is very slightly skewed towards the serious side of things, especially in some articles. I view this as a good thing though, and how it should be. The problem there is that I can’t speak for the average reader. It’s possible that this could entirely be the case with the book, in which case I would say that it’s fine. In the end, you have to review it and come to your own conclusion.

    As for her second point, I would certainly clarify it, though I’m not sure if I would write an introduction specifically for that purpose. I’d prefer to have it clarified throughout the narrative, different times in different ways, rather than just being thumped over the head with it in an introduction. I do agree with the people above though that say that the issue should be dealt with and clarified for the average reader, no matter how you choose to deal with it.

  8. Pete says:

    Your balance is fine. You might have a 70/30 ratio toward the serious, and it may not be “the formula”, but it is your voice, and it flows regardless. That said, if you need something lighter, consider including that first B-side piece, because it flowed well.

    Taken out of context, the editor’s comment about “crazy” might hold water, but by the time the reader has gotten to those chapters, they should have worked out your point that “we’re ALL (not) crazy”. You don’t need to hit them over the head with it.

  9. Justin says:

    I’ve read your blog regularly for about two years and I have never gotten the sense that you are making fun of the mentally ill. The message that “we’re all a little crazy” has been clear to me from the start. I might pick up on this quicker than most because I’ve worked in the mental health field for 3 years and have an archive of funny stories from my clients and they have a few about me as well. If we can’t laugh at ourselves and with our clients our days are going to be a lot more daunting. Psychologists have a sense of humor too, I don’t know how I would survive without one. The ability to find humor and infuse a lightheartedness view of the human expereince is extremely adaptive in my opinion.

    Keep up the good work.

  10. cici says:

    I must agree with Samr; you’ve really got to establish the theme and almost go for overkill. I don’t like overkill in books, and I do appreciate a subtle exploration, but you’re going to have the subtle exploration later in the chapters, and I’m sure you’ve got it. Just – especially with a message that relates to a date rape victim (!), you’ve really got to make sure that most all of your readers get it, because not all of your readers may be as good at reading between the lines or have that much of an attention span while reading.

    You do get the idea of ‘crazy’ across pretty well throughout the site, and helped me against my stigma of the mental health profession and perceptions of the mentally ill – it’s been helpful in just…demystifying everything, really. That said, real counselors are kind of strange people. Just wanted you to know.

    Also, I feel that even in your serious posts you manage to keep things relatively light-hearted with throwaway remarks, though I might be biased. Anyway, congratulations on your book deal, and keep on writing!

  11. Anonymous says:

    You always seem to put some humor in with the serious stuff to keep it balanced and I think this works really well for your web site. It keeps people wanting more and brings the back the next day to see if you have posted more.
    The thing is, the readers of your book won’t have a day or 2 to digest the heavy stuff before reading the next chapter. I know that when I found your site, you already had a body of work for me to catch up on. I found that I might read several of your posts all at once, but after hitting a heavy one I might not come back for a few days. So, I do think you need more humor in something meant to be read all at once than something you read in snippets spanning months.

    Without knowing anything about the 2 stories or how you approach them, I can understand how the editor might be sensitive to you straight up labeling raped women and widows as crazy without some softening of the word up front.

  12. Amber says:

    The only thing I can suggest is keep in mind that there will be people that pick up this book that have zero history with your blog. Those of us that have been reading your blog from the beginning know your writing, know the innuendos, we know the “crazy” and what it all means.

    In the end, you need to make the decision, your name is going to be on the book sugar.

  13. Jeff says:

    To echo Amber, you’re asking the wrong people. A lot of the people here are at the very least receptive to your ideas when it comes to this topic; they wouldn’t have been attracted to your writings enough to comment and support you if they weren’t. Why not leak a chapter and ask your fans to help you troll the waters for feedback by passing it along to people who are unfamiliar with your work?

  14. katie says:

    Interesting question. I think that yes, your concept of “crazy” is pretty clear, but I do wonder if that’s because it’s also how I, and perhaps many of your other readers, use the term as well. I know those close to me cannot comprehend when I use the term “crazy” in reference to myself – even though I’m meaning, like you, someone in pain, with a bit (or a much larger amount) of mental illness as a big cause of that.

    I also wonder about using “crazy” for your examples of the rape victim and widow. There’s something that strikes me on a more…visceral… level that it’s not quite the same – a difference, perhaps, between mental illness-defined pain, and life-defined pain. The second just seems cruel to term “crazy,” somehow.

  15. ChaCha says:

    BTW, That’s a kick ass nightmarishly awesome embedded cartoon there, Dr. Rob! Good stuff!

  16. Kim says:

    Hi Rob –

    It’s about time you wrote something on your site! I thought you were hitting your writer’s block again … 🙂

    I do think you hit a good balance between the serious and humor notes. I think for someone who hasn’t read your blog / site or new to psychotherapy, in general, using the term “Crazy” might feel a little insensitive. I remember when my shrink used that term with me for the first time, I was a little taken aback just because that term can be so loaded with connotations. Maybe a short disclaimer in the Intro – could even be the Webster definition of “Crazy” and you can highlight which definition you mean, or at least, clarify. I actually think that a therapist that uses that term makes you seem a little more human.

    FYI … that embedded video? That’s some pretty “crazy” shit.

  17. Mike A says:

    Rob, I think you should call the book “In Pain”. That would be more eye-catching on bookshelves than simply, “Crazy”, and for all the reasons you mentioned in your post.

  18. Jesse says:

    Brief thoughts:

    1: Perhaps my favorite thing about reading your work is that you are very sneakily teaching something. There is a lesson weaved into each story linking, even if anecdotally, human experience and its inevitable humor to the practice and formal study of psychology. I would be disappointed if these connections were missing in the book.

    2: You’ve developed a somewhat niche readership of people with the sense of humor and general awareness to understand what you mean by crazy without any explicit explanation. You may want to be more explicit very early (intro or inside book jacket) in explaining how ‘craziness’ reflects on the human experience.

  19. KJ says:

    Hi Dr Rob,

    I’ve been slowly following your articles for the past year or two, and have generally refrained from comment; but now that you are publishing a book, I’ll like to share with you my perception of your definition of “crazy”.

    What I’ve taken home, in the general gist of your posts, is that one (if not the main) of the key defining points of whether to attend therapy/you are crazy, is whether one can function appropriately in life, whichever his/her lifestyle. Because of this, the chronically mentally ill, are to an extent “crazy”, even though they may be fully capable of other cognitive aspects (reading/writing/arguing etc.) yet unable to function in society.

  20. Rob Dobrenski says:

    KJ, thanks so much for being a reader and adding thoughts. This, though, is exactly, what I am NOT shooting for. Pretty much everyone I’ve ever written about, myself included, has been able to function, yet is still crazy. It’s simply being neurotic, quirkly, idiosyncratic and, most importantly, in pain.

  21. Catherine says:

    I think your writing is real and human and ultimately very kind. I never write comments on blogs yet here I am commenting away on yours!

    Your balance is good between funny and serious. While I understand the editor’s point, I don’t think you should go overboard with the funny.

    Also, I definitely think your notion of “crazy” comes across well. Your writing, despite your kind of scary twitter updates, displays your immense capacity to be compassionate to those in pain.

  22. Harry says:

    I’ll reply with a two-pronged approach (God, that sounded good)

    First of all, I’ve kept a moderate tab on the development of your book title, and I still think your very first title was best. “We’re All Crazy.” I don’t condemn your use of the word “crazy,” i.e. I don’t think it’s demeaning. I just don’t think it’s good enough as one word. “Crazy” stands alone. “We’re All Crazy” gives us something to think about – it’s a much, much better title.

    Second of all, your writing is great for almost every reason mentioned here – it’s informative without being long-winded, it’s enlightening without being pretentious, it’s inspiring without being desperate. You speak in a tone that’s educated, experienced, but above all else, accessible. People relate to you. You know more about psychology and psychiatry than most of your readers, yet you’re far more alike to us than you are different. You’re human. That’s why it’s so great. Can’t wait for the book.

  23. dawn says:

    I’ve read this post a few times over the past days, and have been thinking about what I want to say. First off, I guess I don’t see “crazy” in your overall theme of your blog. And what I do see is you showing the world that everyone is neurotic in their own way, has their own set of issues. There is no “normal.” Though, I do agree with the others that to use the term “crazy” throughout the book without explaining what you mean right off the bat, you may lose some people. Unless you already have entranced them in with your wit. Or you can just say “FUck them, I don’t want them as readers anyway!!” Keep it up..I’m so excited for you!!

  24. dawn says:

    Oh, and I completely agree with Harry!

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