Do you need to be a "tortured artist" to write well?

Whenever I’m having a particularly neurotic moment at work, I always jokingly say that I’m a writer, and it’s a requirement that I be at least a little screwed up.  If I ever got all my issues worked out, the other writers would probably throw me out of the club.  

I was reading Rebecca Denison’s guest post at Sojourn Music’s blog (I’m a member at Sojourn) on the role of lament in corporate liturgy.  Her song, “Crippled Soul,”  sprang from a time of particular sorrow.  It’s truly a lovely piece, and one that has spoken to me on several occasions.  

My glib joke about getting thrown out of the unofficial writers’ guild if I ever get all my stuff together covers over a very real fear.  What if I get all “whole and healed”–and then I have nothing more to write about?  Or possibly more accurately, what if my gift for words is some kind of cosmic trade-off for being broken and messed up?  If I ditch one, will the scales adjust, resulting in the quality of my writing tanking like the Titanic

I somehow think this is not an entirely uncommon fear.  

Everyone has heard stories of artists, writers, and musicians who could only ply their craft when either in the throes of deep personal tragedy or under the influence of mood-altering substances (which, I suppose, can generally lead to deep personal tragedy).  As former comic collectors, my husband and I really enjoy NBC’s Heroes.  The character of Isaac Mendez is a perfect example of this stereotype: “the tortured artist.”

But is the “tortured” part really necessary?  

Lately, I don’t think so.  

I think that good writing springs from a lot of things.  Intense, painful experiences and emotions can be one place to find inspiration–and there is a certain redemptive quality in doing so.  But joy, excitement and funny experiences can be an equally good inspiration.  Regardless of inspiration, writing is a craft that requires discipline, patience, and humor.  Those three things can be hard to muster up if you’re constantly mired in personal angst.  

  • If you’re a writer, think about some heavy experiences that would make good raw material for your work.  If you’re looking for some writing exercises, try drafting some one-page scenes or vignettes that are based on those moments.
  • Do you need to fully “go back there” to convey the experience with clarity and authenticity?  Is there some benefit to a certain level of emotional distance while writing about it?  Is the scene or vignette clearer when you position yourself as an observer?  
  • For times when you do lose yourself in the darker material of your writing, what are some good techniques for pulling yourself out of that space when you’re done writing?  What immediately and reliably lifts your mood?  Going for a walk?  Dancing?  A certain piece of music?  
img courtesy warleyross

1 Comment

  1. ·

    Have you ever considered adding more videos to your blog posts to keep the readers more entertained? I mean I just read through the entire article of yours and it was quite good but since I’m more of a visual learner.


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