The Not-So-Tortured Artist

Of course we’re all familiar with the supposed formula for artistic success. Largely, unhappiness. From the huge list of writers (male and female) who were alcoholics, to the artists who cut off their ears/fingers/genitalia(rap artists at least). The most tragic of these are of course, cases of suicide. As the terrible news of the treasured comic and actor Robin Williams emerged, it seemed to confirm that the brightest lights do indeed fly closest to the sun.

So where does that leave me; a generally pretty contented soul, who wants to be writer? The first issue would have to be about managing expectations. The most heartbreaking cases are most often those who are in fact geniuses. I would never assume to want to enter such lofty heights. I am also sure that there are many, in fact a greater proportion of, perfectly happy artists that manage to create wonderful art at the same time as leading secure and comfortable lives. Not that we’d hear about them much, as that wouldn’t make for such an interesting news topic.#nothavingsuchabaddayandjustgotmythirdnovelpublished. It just isn’t catchy.

Another link is that made between stress, depression and creativity. There are always tales of doctors who furiously scribble notes between appointments and come out with a novel of beauty, but for the vast majority of writers, getting words down on paper is a daily slog. It is not the beautiful act of creativity I believed would happen once I actually let myself start the process of writing. Interestingly enough, I had a minor melt down this week and suddenly discovered that when I came up for air I was ravenous to write. On the day I’d woken up feeling refreshed, had a nice cup of coffee and sat down with the whole day stretching ahead, I’d written barely 300 words. So far, not so good. However, the fact that depressed people are more often than not artistic (or vice versa) could simply be down to the fact that in order to be creative, you have to think. A lot. Spend too much time doing that, and you find yourself going over the difficult things in your life, the problems, the worries. Take time out to sit and ponder the sadness of this world and it’s not surprising that Wetherspoons is full of people drinking pints at 11am.

It may well be that misery leads to heightened artistic output. I would love for that not to be true, but it is a fact that I wrote a lot more poetry last year. And short stories. In the twisting of the soul comes the desire to express, to emote, to somehow capture the difficulties and hardships, measure out the time spent staring at the ceiling trying to go to sleep wondering what the hell you’re doing with your life. Someone told me recently that they pitied me for being in love and trying to write a book at the same time. To a certain extent, I can see her point. Not just because it is a state that lends itself more to gazing out of the window with an idiotic grin on your face than getting words on a page, but it also impacts on your time. You could be cuddling on a sofa somewhere rather than writing (or going for a run, or learning how to make jam, or some other constructive use of my time on earth). And hey, who doesn’t like cuddling? The flip side of this is that feeling valued by that special someone helps to give you the confidence that you’re not a complete waster being a student at the age of thirty-four, and maybe you might make a half decent writer. Or at least finish the book. Also, as far as having more time goes, when I was dating I often found I had barely an evening spare, so I guess I can’t use that excuse either.

Now that I’ve actually started devoting a lot of my time to writing, I find I am much more in tune with the times and the days I don’t, or can’t write. Apart from the pressure I’ve put on myself now I’ve actually started writing the novel I said I would for god knows how many years, it’s interesting to see the things that seem to help. For one, TV does not. Even if I allow myself a bit of Orange is the New Black while eating lunch, or a sneaky Arrested Development over dinner, I find that my brain has turned to mulch and I literally can’t form a sentence. Running helps. Although I imagined I would spend my miles working out plot holes and constructing metaphors, it’s surprising how much just turning your brain off and thinking about something physical (or ‘ooh, look at the dog’) can help to clear your mental palate to produce a few lines. Personally, reading is the ultimate booster. The only reason I scribbled down notes for this piece while eating lunch – without Netflix on for once – was because I read some great articles on the train. Although novels do help, and I read ravenously, it’s too easy to use them as an excuse to not write because you’re ‘researching.’ Often a short story or an essay gives me just enough of a flavour of good writing to encourage me to want to do my own, without it taking too much time out of my day. Which is good news, as I was beginning to think I’d have to live a single and lonely life on Fair Isle just to get to the last page.

Anyway, just because you’re currently happy, doesn’t mean you can’t dig around in the Misery Well you’ve accrued over the years to find that perfect sentence to accompany the loss of all earthly hope in your character. Which is always nice.