WRITERS & MADNESS
Recently, I received a text from a close friend who had gifted my novels to her grandmothers, one of whom said, "She must be extremely smart to be able to write a novel." And while I most certainly appreciated that gift, I was also relegated to the fact that in order to write a good story -- to be a writer -- one doesn't necessarily have to be "extremely smart;" instead, it helps if one is damaged.
J. Anthony Lukas said, "All writers, I think, are to one extent or another, damaged people. Writing is our way of repairing ourselves."
Naturally, most writers and readers would bring to mind the troubled lives of the Fitzgeralds. And, many years ago, when a distant relative compared the life my husband and I lived to the illustrious pair, I was both charmed and almost immediately alarmed. And yet, parts of the comparison were true, even if I didn't want them to be real. And, in looking back, I think my husband humored me, as was his practice.
Other writers who struggled with depression and addiction and, in the end, some form of destruction, such as Twain, Williams, Plath, Wallace, and others, knew all too well that the illness that Hemingway once referred to as "The Artist's Reward" would continue to plague them for most of their lives. Certainly not a coveted title, but nonetheless so very real. And I, for one, keep tossing the acknowledgment into the trash, only for it to ricochet and return -- over and over, like it's attached to an invisible spring mechanism.
Cody Delistraty, in 2014, penned an article titled "The Neurological Similarities Between Successful Writers and the Mentally Ill." " . . . writers think a lot and people who think a lot tend to be unhappy. Constant reflection takes a toll. Writing, editing, and revising also requires a near obsession with self-criticism, the leading quality for depressed patients."
One study conducted by Nancy Andreasen at the Iowa Writers' Workshop found that "80% of the residents displayed some form of depression." "One of the most important qualities [of depression] is persistence," she said. "Successful writers are like prizefighters who keep on getting hit but won't go down. They'll stick with it until it's right." https://thoughtcatalog.com/cody-delistraty/2014/03/the-neurological-similarities-between-successful-writers-and-the-mentally-ill/
And yet, it is essentially because of the damage that writers write. Just as no one wants to read a story about a flawless couple falling in love, marrying, never acquiring any emotional baggage, having four flawless children who produce numerous flawless children of their own, no writer would ever entertain the thought of writing such an offense. That in itself would be certain to open wide the doors to madness.
So, write on writers -- with all your beautiful, flawed insecurities -- embracing the words of Tennessee Williams: "A prayer for the wild at heart kept in cages." Write on from the inside of the cage, knowing -- always knowing -- that the restraints can be loosed, probably not entirely released, but certainly loosed.