So here’s a question for you: can you be a great writer without tragedy in your life? I suppose the question applies to anyone in the arts – does a tragic life equal artistic greatness? And does it matter if the tragic life is beyond or within the artist’s control?

I had this conversation recently stemming from the fact that I have lived a pretty tragedy-free life. Sure there have been events and a couple of years of deep, dark, unhappiness. There has been moments of financial distress, which is similar but not the same as poverty. There has been unexpected death. There has been intense humiliation.

But tragedy? Not really. I’m a middle class gal who had a relatively comfortable, ignorant of ills, childhood. I have a university degree. A fantastically happy marriage. A work life I love. Yep, not a lot of tragedy.

So does that exclude me from the club of greatness? Some would suggest, and have, that yes indeed I will never be a great writer because of my lack of tragic bones. And I’m not a hundred percent sure I disagree. I’m not…. sure. What makes a writer, or a piece of writing great? Some of me says it’s a cop out to say that life makes a writer. We are born with our creativity, I believe that. Creativity isn’t something you can pick up like riding a bike. The ability to mold creativity into a career? That’s not a given and there are many cases of someone with less talent and more drive being more successful than someone in the opposite position.

What do you think? Who are the great writers and what have their lives been like?

About the author

Lindsay Price


  • For comparison I am also a visual artist and have created some of my darkest and most solemn work during the brightest and most optimistic times in my life. Somehow I can remain detached.

    As a writer, however, some of my best work and my most prolific writing period came during those darker times. I’m not sure any of this lends credence to your discussion, but it has always fascinated me….especially since most creative people tend to respond to emotional stimulus in their lives–good or bad. To each his own, I guess.

  • Such a great question. I, unfortunately, am a case for neither one or the other. I am a writer, freshly published, but that doesn’t make me a “great” writer. But if you want to take my life as a case in point, I’m the opposite of what Wayne said.
    I have always been creative, always been moved to dabble, but it wasn’t until I was miserable in life that I felt compelled to write. When dark things happen, I truly get release from writing. And dark things happen in my stories. Darker than what have happened in my life, but the way those characters feel more closely expresses what I’m longing to express and can’t.
    For me, pain=art
    I think it was Oscar WIlde who wrote that everything beautiful has something tragic somewhere in it.