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4.03.2012

Sad Writer, Happy Writer, Drunk Writer, Better Writer


I have to admit that at one point I was very intrigued, even drawn to the image of the suffering writer. I blame it on Emily Dickinson. In 8th grade a read biography about her and her sad life--how she was always melancholia, how people around her was always dying. She was perhaps one of my first examples of "the writer": an artistic recluse who wears black and who's always horribly sad.

Or as A.L. Kennedy writes:
The myth of the suffering artist is part of the wider myth that sinking into abjection will somehow cleanse and elevate the poor and/or unconventional, eventually leading them on to glory. Those who are not led on to glory will be unworthy and deserve to fail.
There's a problem with it though:
The rather more personal problem I have with the myth of the suffering artist arises when I meet young and new writers and find they are intent upon suffering, rather than writing. It can seem that wearing black, moping, engineering car-crash relationships and generally being someone nobody wants to sit beside on the bus could be a shortcut to writing success. Surely, when so many writers seem bathed in fascinating disasters and have such wonderful scars, then scars and disasters would save us effort, focus and the development of our craft? Well, no. 
Here, Kennedy rejects such mythical images for something more concrete: writers must develop craft, which in itself is suffering enough.


Though I'd have to mention that writers (in particular poets) have a higher risk of depression and suicide. Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament is a great book exploring bipolar disorder and correlated creativity (though it is only correlation not causation). Additionally, Kennedy seems to have it her mind that writers seek out suffering. To some, this might be the case. Though for others, they might just be suffering (from mental illness) and also happen to be a great writer. As Redfield Jamison mentions in her book, (I'm paraphrasing) for every great thinker who's mentally ill, there's hundreds of more mentally ill people who can't possibly work. (Thus, by the end of the book, she highly recommends anyone suffering from bipolar disorder to see a doctor).


Now who wants to take a crack at the "alcoholic writer" myth? Is it a myth?


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