The REALITY of the tortured writer
Note: This post serves as a counterpoint to Sean’s Monday post, The Myth of the Tortured Writer.
“There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.” – Maya Angelou
“I am a great artist and I know it. The reason I am great is because of all the suffering I have done.” – Paul Gauguin
Unlike my partner Sean Platt, who practically farts sunshine, I am a bit old school in my writing, in that I wear my misery on my sleeve, dammit.
I am a tortured artist!
In other words, I am brooding, contemplative and insist on working in seclusion. If I didn’t think I’d look silly, I’d probably wear all black all the time because it would certainly match the mental cloud pressing down on me. It’s not that I sit and feel sorry for myself, cut myself while listening to emo music or have thoughts of suicide. It’s a different sort of torture — self torture.
It’s the never quite measuring up to the goals I have set for myself. Never being the writer I wish I could be. Not being able to tell a story to perfection.
And that falling short eats at my soul.
Sean says that writing is not a chore.
I beg to differ. Writing can be a damned difficult chore, though I will admit that it beats the hell out of busting your ass at manual labor or having a monsterous boss hovering over your shoulder berating you every weekday.
I will not say that writing is fun, though. It IS work. Though, when writing fiction, it IS fun in the early stages, when a story is still a blank canvas of possibilities. Oh, how the mind wanders over the expansive plains of fertile imagination! The feeling of turning thoughts into form is amazing, perhaps the closest thing to transcending our mortal limitations that I can imagine.
However, there comes a point when the story becomes limited by the choices you have made, when it is less fluid and it stops being joyous and more like a difficult puzzle which must be solved. During these times, I find it impossible to put down the pen in my mind. While doing routine tasks or interacting with others, my mind is almost always churning, chipping away at the problem, eager to resolve it.
It is during these times that I find myself most craving solitude and least willing to suffer those who would stop my work.
I’ve had many a friend complain that I don’t hang out more. Truth is, I don’t have much time for friends. While I enjoy unplugging and just having fun from time to time, there is work to be done. Art takes time and given that we only have a finite number of years on this planet, I MUST be incredibly selfish with my allotment.
There is a biography about the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein subtitled The Duty of Genius which details Wittgenstein’s belief that those who are geniuses, and he included artists in this category, have a duty, an obligation, to share their gift with the world. That duty supersedes all of their own desires.
I might have subtitled the book The Burden of Genius as many, like Wittgenstein, pursue their duty to the exclusion of living normal lives. This burden has driven many artists to painful existences and could be why so many turn to drugs or other vices. There is an almost mythic romantic quality about the tortured artist which I can relate. In some way, the more an author has suffered for their work, the more their work is seeped with their hopes and dreams.
I’m not so egotistical as to believe I am a genius by any means, though. While I do feel some sense of duty of sharing these stories in me, mostly the motives are selfish.
I see my art, ironically enough, as a way to connect with others. In pushing away those closest to me, I am seeking to strengthen a connection with people I may never meet.
I don’t think that a writer HAS to suffer for their art.
Instead, I think that art attracts people who are antisocial, never quite fit in and feel a need to express themselves via other avenues. I know that’s the case with me, anyway. Perhaps this stems from a need for self validation to prove myself worthy. Perhaps it is the pleasure derived from knowing that my work extends beyond myself, making connections with people I will never know, perhaps even inspiring someone to dream up their own worlds.
So while I am miserable during half the process, there is an immense joy in achieving those connections, even if we never realize them in a tangible way. It is somewhat akin to the pains of raising a child versus the rewards.
So thank you to all those who suffer for their art. You do not suffer in vain.
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