Thursday, February 11, 2010

Damaged = Goods?

As much as it seems like an odd thing to admit, I think a small part of what has always driven me to write is the preconception of any writer as this damaged, broken being, one with vices and eccentricities and a sort of depressed misanthropy that can't be found among the members of other professions. I know this isn't really accurate. I'm sure there are plenty of writers out there who are normalish, well adjusted people - but to me, it seems there's some power in being damaged.

In an effort to provide some evidence of what we all know to be anecdotally considered true - that the majority of writers battle with some kind of addiction - I typed writers vice into a Google search. What came up were a number of articles, including the one excerpted below, which suggest that well over half of 19th and 20th Century writers were, if not alcoholics, at least well on their way there.
...of six Americans awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, four (Eugene O'Neill, Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner and Hemingway) were alcoholics, and a fifth (John Steinbeck) drank heavily.
See the rest of the article here.

I don't know. I'm not an alcoholic, not by a long way and I'm proud to say that I wrote all of Aigaion Girl completely sober - but then, I find myself wondering why I'm proud of that. I mean, don't most people do their jobs completely sober? Why is it unusual that I should have done so? But it is. Hopefully it won't always be, but of the books I've actually finished, A/G is the only one I've completed over the influence.

But alcoholism and addiction aren't really what this article is about - at least that's not how it started. I'm more interested in writers' demons and whether or not they are what drive us to write in the first place. Again, I can only speak from my perspective, but I think that maybe we're all a little... I don't know. Off. I don't think that people who see the way the world that everyone else does can write - or maybe they don't want to. We write the world the way it is, the way it was, the way it should be and any way it could be, because I think most writers perceive all of these possibilities simultaneously, and I think that maybe it's the stress of this quadruple+ perception that makes many writers miserable enough to be driven to drink.

I write the most, and the best, when I'm stuck - when I feel it necessary to escape my life and can't think of a better way to do it. The mirth and levity I feel toward the end of a project almost always lead to writers' block and I often have to wait until I'm ill-at-ease again (or, as I used to do, hit the sauce) for it to go away.

I'm not trying to make it sound like all writers are horrible, depressed alcoholic hermits and I'm certainly not condoning or encouraging substance abuse. I think, actually, that what I'm trying to do is convey my feelings of gratitude toward the universe that I was born with the ability to turn the sensations and feelings that should be entirely useless to anyone into something productive and, if I'm lucky, beautiful. That there are people who can take pain and confusion and misanthropy and turn it into art is inspiring.

As I've said, this is all from my own perspective. I really don't know how it is for other writers, but I would love to hear your thoughts.


The Jam said...

I don't know if I agree with you wholly, but there definitely is a trend, as shown in part by your example of the Nobel winners. I also know some successful authors that I'm sure love "the sauce" or any other substance past it.

That said, I also know many writers--myself included--that can't and don't write under the influence of anything. I find that it hinders the way I write, how organized I am, how efficient I am, etc., and I don't like that. My concepts become muffled and my writing absolutely suffers.

I don't agree that all authors are damaged goods, though. I've been published numerous times, albeit in minor circumstances, and am fairly well-adjusted. Hopefully once I have my first novel or book of poetry published, I don't suddenly become damaged. That would be rather disappointing! I do believe that writers are given a special gift in interpreting what they see and do, but I don't think it's damage that necessarily does that. I think it's just innate, and the experience along the way helps.

Athena said...

Hey! You Posted!

I have the same issues with alcohol hindering my efficiency and organisation, but I find it such a help with the creative process that it tends to balance out.

I don't think you have to worry about suddenly becoming damaged, though. I don't think being damaged is a product of writing, but I think a lot of the time it works the other way around.

It's good, though, that it isn't that way for you. It probably means there are whole throngs of undamaged writers out there.

Rhiannon said...

I've never written anything while drunk, but that's largely because I don't have your love of hard liquor, Bean. I like girly drinks, and on top of that I'm a ridiculous light weight and usually just pass right out after an hour or two. I'd be the worst alcoholic writer ever.

I dunno...I *know* I'm a little "off" from the rest of society. This doesn't bother me because I'm also of the opinion that 'normal' and 'normalcy' are culturally defined concepts that are, by their nature (and ours) unattainable. Everyone strives to be 'normal' because we're social animals. When they can't be 'normal'(because there's no such thing), their minds tend to explode and you end up with housewives addicted to painkillers because their husbands are diddling the maid. They never consider that *everyone* has demons in the closet, big or little, and getting all surprised about it never did anyone any good. best writing has always been done in a time of intense emotional agony, good or bad (there's two kinds, see), and I have always found trying to write in between those times generally produces tepid crap I wouldn't wish on a Harelquin reader. It can be fixed up for public consumption, and made better over time, but it's not the eureka!moment of inspiration that pure emotions can bring.

E said...

Fact. Emotions=better writing, because if you haven't experienced an emotion, you're not going to be very good at imagining what it's like. Which is probably why we get so many tortured geniuses.

I may be the exception here, but I really don't drink. Suffice it to say I have no idea if alcohol is conducive to creativity or not.

'Normal' is a median, not a mode.