One of the common tropes we writers contend with on a daily basis is the notion that because we’re creative types, we must live a tragic existence fraught with anxiety, self-loathing, and ear severing. Case in point, a few years back, upon finding out what I did for a living, someone asked me if all writers suffer from depression. “I heard they did,” he said. To which I responded, “No. Do all middle-age men have a waistline like a russet potato?”
Perhaps it was his insolent tone or boorish disposition that prompted my harsh reaction. After all, it was just a question and to the everyday Muggle, I can see how the brooding artist would be a popular stereotype. But, the truth is, however blithely ignorant this person was, he managed to hit a nerve – a raw, exposed, pulsating nerve. I am a writer and I do suffer from depression, as do many of my creative compatriots. However, I don’t let my proclivity for the melancholy define me as an artist nor as a person for that matter. In fact, I can say with 100% conviction that I am a better writer because of, not in spite of the challenges and adversity I’ve faced as a result of my inner emotional struggles.
Writers, myself included, live on an alternate plane of existence – immersed in the senses, highly intuitive, and brimming with emotion. By nature, we possess an acute level of perceptiveness for the world around us and, as a result, are able to tap into the deepest, innermost truths about the human condition. In his book, From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction, author Robert Oren Butler states, “Our personalities, our emotions, are expressed in response to the sensual cues around us. We look at the landscape and what we see out there is our deepest emotional inner selves. This is at the heart of a work of art.” (Butler, pg.16). Because we experience the world through our senses, we may be more prone to mood disorders. Not because of our work. Because of our brain’s natural interaction with its environment. But is that necessarily a bad thing?
Of course not.
Being intimately familiar with emotions such as sadness, misery, anger, and pain may help guide the writer through the creative process – to serve as an umbilical cord which provides sustenance to the story. At the very least, it allows for the creation of characters who are authentic, interesting, relatable, and infused with emotion – which is the heart of all works of fiction. It’s all about the experience as a chassis upon which a story is constructed and the writer is the architect. After all, storytelling is existential and facing the negative emotions, getting them down on paper, is not only empowering but therapeutic. As self-help author Napoleon Hill once said, “Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.”
Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of adversity. I’ve scraped the bottom of the abyss and faced more inner demons than I know what to do with. But through it all what I’ve learned is this: as artists, drawing upon these experiences, however painful, allows us to fully realize our true creative potential – the expression of our highest selves. Artists see the world through an emotional lens and know intuitively that behind the chaos is order. I know I am a better writer for having faced these challenges.