Sometimes I think misery is a writer’s best friend. Pain, sadness, heartbreak, loneliness, anger, despair…and, hell, even a minor case of the blues–these are emotions that writers often channel into some of their best work. What do we do after our heart is broken? Sure, we scream or cry or drink or talk to our friends or break something or eat a gallon of ice cream and watch bad television, but we also write. Who among us hasn’t had their heart broken and then written some long, rambling letter, e-mail, blog or some other such thing detailing their pain and anger? We vent through words. Writing is cathartic. The best kind of release. Writing can lessen our pain. Writing can turn our anger into something beautiful.
Misery hurts. Writing heals.
I do my best work when I’m feeling down. Writing takes my mind far away from my problems, or turns my problems into fiction and I drift to imagined worlds instead of my shitty real world. During pain or crisis, the mind is working overtime, and writing comes all too easy. I always write better, faster, and with more clarity and urgency when I’m upset. I have to release my emotions, and I allow my fingers to do the job. I let it all pour out through my words.
Love can be a major problem for a writer. When you’re in the flowery grip of love, when you can’t stop smiling, when you can’t stop thinking about someone, when all you want to do is spend time with that special person who’s captured your heart, writing often takes a backseat. Love makes you want to spend every second with a person, and if you want to spend all your time with someone, you’re probably not going to be writing nearly as often as you should. Who’s going to turn down a nice picnic at the park with someone charming and lovely in favor of a few solitary hours pounding away at the keyboard? Now, surely love can be a source of wonderful writing, too, but you just might not have the time to write all that great stuff because you’re too busy making sweet, sweet love or thinking about making sweet, sweet love. Love can be as great a fog to the brain as depression.
I’m not advocating that we all remain miserable jerks all of our lives so we can write. I’m simply saying: a little pain and heartbreak is good for the writer’s soul. I’ve had my heartbroken a few times, and while I certainly wasn’t thrilled about it at the time, I used the pain to create some of my best work. If you’ve experienced hurt, the true, harsh, unbearable reality of emotional anguish, you’ll be much better equipped to translate that into your characters.
I’ve read many biographies of brilliant writers, and what most of them shared were long periods of sadness, solitude, and mental anguish. It shows in the work. These tormented creative souls delivered riveting, shocking, unforgettable, classic literature. I don’t think The Catcher in the Rye was written by a happy guy. I don’t think The Bell Jar was written by a cheerful, content woman. Think of your favorite novels. What are they conveying? Most likely, more than a sliver of pain. Every woman who’s ever broken my heart is somewhere in my stories.
Everyone should be happy. We should all experience the joy, fun, excitement and love that life has to offer. We should laugh and smell sweet things and eat wonderful food and make the people we care about smile every day. We should live life to its fullest and look at the bright side of things. We should find that special person and love them with all we have.
But! When we’re down, when life has conspired to ruin our day, when the person we care about says, “You know, I’m just not that into you,” when that apple you’ve been dying eat has a worm in it, when someone is rude to you on the street, when your hard work goes unappreciated, use those moments of unpleasantness to your advantage. Write. What comes out of you, might just be the best work you’ve ever done. Then, after you’ve properly vented, after you’ve spilled your soul into fiction or non-fiction, after that cathartic release: smile and be happy. Goods things will come. The pain will fade. The words will remain.