They'll tell you not to compare your insides to other people's outsides. You won't listen. As a writer, it's hard not to envy Brandon Sanderson, the prolific and successful fantasy novelist. Forget the $41.7 million Kickstarter campaign and all the best-sellers that preceded it. I'm jealous of his ability to crank out so many books and, worse, keep cranking them out despite his success. (I'm looking at you, George R.R. Martin.) Sanderson has kids. He teaches writing at a university. He participates—avidly—in marketing, including social media. He even plays video games. (My Nintendo Switch is currently hidden where I can't find it.)
Where have all the good excuses gone?
Reading Sanderson's profile in Wired, I couldn't help doing what I always do when reading about prolific and successful writers: looking for their secret advantage. Famous parents? A superior education? Amphetamines? In this case, Sanderson's secret gift was unexpected but completely self-explanatory. He feels no pain:
Even though he writes for eight hours a day on a couch, he has no backaches. The hottest of hot sauces cause scarcely a sweat. At the dentist, he refuses novocaine for fillings.
Reading this, I wondered: Could Sanderson possess the rare genetic mutation that makes a person immune to pain? That link goes to a profile of an older Scottish woman thought to be only one of two on the planet with the condition. Yet you'll see striking similarities with Sanderson, all the way down to the tolerance for hot sauce.
Leprosy, with its characteristic numbness at the extremities, can have catastrophic consequences if not properly managed. This condition offers no apparent downsides whatsoever. The lack of pain applies to both physical and mental anguish. Without fear, anxiety, or discomfort, this woman seems to have lived an outrageously, infuriatingly happy and healthy life. For her, life really is just a bowl of cherries. Can you imagine?
I don't begrudge the woman her superpower. (Much.) She's out there on the moors, living her best life. Sanderson's luck, on the other hand, strikes closer to home. This is a writer who doesn't experience the pain of criticism or rejection. Sure, we say, "don't read the reviews" and "don't let the haters get to you," but come on. Of course we do! Is it possible that Sanderson is so prolific and successful because he can do naturally what we fail to do trying our hardest?
Turns out Sanderson doesn’t seem to feel pain of any kind, even emotional. On roller coasters, he’s dead-faced, while his wife is shrieking. “It’s sick and wrong,” she says, smiling. She likes to say she married an android. For his part, Sanderson actually, at this moment, looks pained. He might not feel, he says, but his characters do. They agonize and cry and rejoice and love. That’s one of the reasons he writes, he says: to feel human.
Maybe we can learn something here. Maybe the process of writing can be therapeutic, not traumatizing. A path to personal catharsis. Maybe.
Or maybe CRISPR technology will offer a Sanderson shot that kills creative agita for good. I'll be first in line. In the meantime, Sanderson's next book just dropped, and I'm going to read it. At the moment, a good read is the best analgesic I've got.