I’m often asked how I made a transition from psychiatry to writing fiction. As residents in training, we had to present case histories. To me, each case seemed like a mini-biography or short story. Some were stranger than fiction, and it struck me that psychiatry–of all medical specialties– emphasized the human dimension of living life. Each patient has a compelling story. It’s unique, but taps into a shared commonality. Really, we’re all different and we’re all somewhat the same, aren’t we?
Above all, psychiatry appealed to me because it aligned itself with creativity and the arts.
When I co-authored nonfiction medical books, we illustrated issues with case histories. This took some creativity, whether a story was about a man who broke down because he’d had a heart attack, or a woman was struggling with breast cancer, or a young girl was jealous of her newborn brother.
But once I began writing fiction, I could use imagination.
So, in a sense, I was always telling stories, whether they were psychiatric, medical or pure fiction. (Is there any pure fiction?)
The freedom to make stuff up provides a strange feeling of pleasure. There’s little to match the exhiliration when a patient suddenly “gets it” (that ah ha moment) or the incredible sensation you get when a novel’s plot twist suddenly falls into place, and the story assumes a life of its own.
It’s really an exploration followed by discovery and may mean finding the hidden clues within one’s self. Some psychiatrists would say it’s the revelation of the unconscious or the getting of wisdom.
When all is said and done, the very process of writing fiction is really a bit of a mystery to me. But the transition to fiction came easily.