Love this article over at the Guardian about the “Myth of the Suffering Artist.” I have to say though, sometimes I get a little bummed out about the mystique of “we must suffer for our art.” Because I don’t. Suffer, that is. And everyone once in a while I wonder if I should. Haven’t you ever wanted to wallow in a little misery? Use tough times as inspiration? Or be scattered and have it explained away – “Oh she’s an artist.” That has never happened to me.
Have there been tough times? You bet. I didn’t make a living as a writer till I was 35. There were many years when the rent was paid on the first and we were not sure at all where the next month’s was coming from. But suffer? Like misery? Like shivering in rags by the grate? Like starvation and scabs? No. Not even close.
And as I sit here, I can’t say I’m really all that bummed out. Because I believe it’s a crutch to say misery= art. It can. But the blanket statement just doesn’t apply. It’s the same coin opposite side to say that artists must be inspired to create. If that was the case the large majority of us would be waiting around for a long, long time. You don’t wait, you do. You don’t hit yourself with a hammer for misery, you write about someone who is miserable. That’s the fun part, you don’t actually have to go there. That’s why I guess it always surprises me when people ask if what I write is based on my life, or someone I know, or a true story. Like they want my sad characters to come from some place of sadness. Like it makes the play better if the playwright is a basket case. Sorry. I make it all up.
This is my favourite part of the article:
“I meet young and new writers and find they are intent upon suffering, rather than writing. It can seem that wearing black, moping, engineering car-crash relationships and generally being someone nobody wants to sit beside on the bus could be a shortcut to writing success.”
I too meet young writers all the time, and they mostly want to know two things: how do you write, how do you get published. And my answer to the first is always the same. To be a writer, you must write. There is no shortcut, no rule, no guideline, no easy way out. It’s the pen on the page and the fingers on the keyboard. Every day. Sometimes it’s ugly and sometimes it’s great. And you get up the next day and you do it again. The only way to get better at something is to practice. I wish that writers saw themselves as athletes. No one denies that the athlete needs to practice and perform. You can’t have one element without the other. You can’t only do one. Both are necessary. If writers approached writing the same way, a lot more would get done. Can you imagine if we thought athletes had to suffer to be good at what they do? Or that they had to be miserable to succeed? Oh woe the suffering football player dressed in black and moping by the goal posts….