One of the biggest cardinal sins any writer can commit, is becoming too emotionally dependant on artistic perfection.
I’ll admit, there is a certain ‘romance’ about being an eccentric artist; to be obsessed over your craft, and consumed by a desire to make the next ‘great work of art’. Everyone who is creative has had this thought at one point or another.
However, there is a signifigant flaw in this ideology. At what cost is an artist willing to be consumed by his or her depression? In his book On Writing, Stephen King explains how his addiction to drugs and alchohol consumed his life. His wife gave him an ultimatum. King made the wise choice, and decided to clean himself up. Not for his craft, but for his family, and his emotional health. No artist should punish themselves, or partake in mind-altering drug induced stupers to make ‘great art’.
A healthy writer is a good writer.
When I read the final letter author Virigina Woolf wrote to her husband, (before filling her coat pockets with stones, and drowing herself in the river) I find absolutely no ‘romance’ about being depressed.
“Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer.
I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V”
There is nothing beautiful about being unhealthy.
If you have let your craft consume your health, and depribe you of the things in life that make you happy, seek immediate remedy.
There have been many times where I thought my story would get the best of me. I suppose part of the writer’s craft is to worry about that sort of thing, but for me, there is a marginal difference between worrying about plot, and having a panic attack about it.
Don’t become lost in a sea of story structure. It’s very easy to become tangled in a web of ideas. One thing I’ve found, is that many story structure books neglect to tell you about the downside of ‘over-planning’. They don’t discuss the emotional impact of throwing your heart and soul onto the blank page.
Now, I’m sorry to tell you this writers, but I’m about to turn your lessons and understanding on the topic completely upside down.
Don’t worry about structure until you’ve written it.
I’ve had to learn this the hard way. I spent a good 6 years worrying about whether or not people would like my story. Whether or not I’ll ever ‘make it’ in this business. During this time, if I had spent my energy concentrating on fixing my grammar, or actually completing something, I would have saved myself years of emotional baggage.
I leave you now with two quotes that remind me not to be so hard on myself, and to concentrate on writing, rather than worrying.
“In order to write about life, first you must live it!” – Earnest Hemmingway
“Nothing is so fatiguiging as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” – William James
There is nothing worse than having never finished a project. Just pick up whatever story you’ve started and finish it. Don’t worry if it’s going to be good or bad. Just DO IT. GET IT DONE!
You’ll notice a very large weight lift from your soul.
Don’t be Virigina Woolf. She let the pressure of success and completing the next great work of art weigh her down like the stones in her coat pockets. She should have saught medical help, rather than take matters into her own hands.
If you suffer from mental illness in this way, pick up a phone, and call someone for help. There is no shame in doing this. All great writers have suffered this, but the greatest writers (in my opinion) are those who seek help when they need it most.
February 20, 2012 | Categories: Authors, Books, Screenwriting, Writing | Tags: creative recovery, Depressed Writers, Ernest Hemmingway, Mental illness and writing, On Writing, Stephen King, Viriginia Woolf, William James, Writing Tips and Tricks | 4 Comments »