The Myth of the Tortured Writer
I don’t know how far back the myth of the tortured writer would have to travel to find its father, but I do wonder about its birthright and question how much harm it has done in relation to the good. I know it’s a myth that kept me from spilling ink at least two decades too long.
I believe James Joyce is the hero in the legend of the writer who retired to a secluded upstairs room in his local tavern, only to descend sometime around midnight after shunning the sun, revealing he’d just finished the single most fruitful day of writing of his entire life. After spending the daylight wrestling with his inner demons, he had finally managed to lay down that one perfect sentence.
I was in high school the first time I heard that story, still young enough to mistake conceit for cool.
Writing isn’t a chore. It can be difficult, sure, but so are most things worth doing and nearly any skill worth sharpening. Architecture, engineering, medicine, law; bowling, juggling, running, magic; all are difficult, but no one refers to those at the top as tortured. Great writing takes skill, patience and dedication, but I’ve no idea why creative writing is considered such a harrowing endeavor. That type of thinking, and its somewhat viral spread, is precisely what kept me penned from the pen for so long; an idea I explored in greater detail during my Copyblogger debut late last year.
Writing should be fun. If it isn’t, perhaps it isn’t for you. I never understood the image of the pained and tortured writer, tearing clumps from their hairline as they face the impossible foe of filling the page, pulling sentences from their minds like ore from the deepest corners of a mineshaft.
My apologies to the world’s grand population of tortured writers, but to me this thinking is a bit arrogant – as though the brilliance of a writer’s words are worthy of such agony. Perhaps I am speaking specifically to the classic inebriated writer, wasting away as they eek through insurmountable emotional agony and too many adverbs. Sure writing is difficult, but so is driving a car or walking a dog… when you’re drunk.
Perhaps those writers should try to assemble a widget when wasted and see how well their digits can dance.
It seems as though complaining about the torture of writing allows writers to place themselves on a pedestal while encouraging younger generations to either throw in the towel or genuflect at their feet. Many in this class of writers seem to view themselves as stolid soldiers in an unending army of highly dysfunctional people – each an addict to a million pats upon their ego that they endlessly pursue like withdrawn lovers, forever doomed to disappointment when they fail to receive the endless accolades their minds have imagined.
I’m a writer. I write every day of the year. Even when I have no pending client work cluttering my desk, I never allow the sun to set without the jotted thoughts of my day, for the best moments of each earthly orbit should never be abandoned. Of course I carry my own quirks and struggles. Writing isn’t always as fluid as I like, clients aren’t always as easy as I hope, and my string of successes and mountains of money are no doubt a tad late to the party. But I would never call myself tortured. Writing is expression and I’ve found myself fortunate enough, midway through my third decade, to find the pleasure of doing it for a living.
Torture is most certainly not a prerequisite of genius. It is often the tortured souls who garner the attention, but for every one of them, there are a countless number of high functioning ordinary men and woman who succeed in living off the written word because they read, write, refuse to quit, and endlessly repeat.
Creativity is a garden that only grows with nutrients in the soil and sunlight in the sky. Ideas are seeds, eager to spread and germinate deep within a fertile mind. The best method to finding your best writer is to practice your craft. Complaints not included.
The Inkwell’s resident tortured artist (and scarred side of my silver dollar) apparently has a different opinion. We’ll probably hear him get all angry on Wednesday.
Community Inkwell Community Question: Am I being a curmudgeon, or is the myth of the tortured writer a tad ridiculous?
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