happiness writes white.

| Tuesday, December 15, 2009
First, some theme music.

There's an article that was floating around for a little while stating happy writers are crappy writers, which is a topic I always find interesting. It's not a new idea - the concept that "happiness writes white" (loosely speaking, happiness leaves a blank page while suffering/sadness brings great art) has been around for centuries. Here's another article from a few years back discussing this very topic in relation to great classical poets, composers and artists.

While I'm very hesitant to say that being a happy person automatically means you can't be a great artist, the idea does have some merit. The first article I posted states that a mild sad mood (mild, not severe) sharpens our critical thinking and makes us more persuasive writers. This seems to pertain more to persuasive essay-type writing, as opposed to fiction, but the stretch can be made. It's difficult to write a heartrending scene when we're feeling mega-chipper.

Suffering is a huge part of what shapes us. How could we know happiness if we did not suffer? Is happiness merely the absence of suffering? I don't think so. It's much like the general bad/good dichotomy - if there were no bad, the term "good" would be meaningless. It would just be. Perhaps it is so much more common to hear about suffering because everyone suffers in some way at some point in their existence. True, we put different values on suffering, (I've suffered so much more than X has!), but it's suffering nonetheless. We can all relate.

The beauty of fiction is that it's almost like acting - when writing a scene, we can place ourselves in the shoes of our character. We can create this immense obstacle for them to overcome, and then sit first-row to their emotional fallout. And there must be obstacles. That's what a story is, after all. You can't very well have a happy character wandering happily through their happy life where nothing ever comes up to challenge their happiness and expect the story to be interesting or relateable. So we give our characters obstacles, and stay with them every step of the way.

There is an almost romanticized image of the tortured, depressed, substance-abusing author/artist which I do feel has its faults and can be dangerous to us. I do not believe for one moment that artists must be self-destructive addicts in order to be great. However, there's no denying that people as a whole seem to value artists, at least in part, based on their suffering. What do we do when we hear about an author/musician who just sort of stumbled into their art and met little to no opposition along the way? We scoff. TSK, can you BELIEVE this person? They don't DESERVE what they have. This other person I know is SO MUCH BETTER than they are, and they've been struggling for YEARS to get published. They fought in a war. They lost a child. They stubbed their toe SUPER HARD the other day.

It's an interesting value judgment to make, I think. There is certainly an overwhelming sentiment that you will never appreciate something that came to you easily as much as you appreciate a difficult journey to your goal. That the true greats are the ones who lived tortured lives and died tragically and never knew the impact of their work. That sucks, frankly. I am all for creating beauty from tragedy, letting our pain bleed out onto the page as a sort of therapy, but heck if I'm going to abuse my body and psyche to obtain some abstract ideal of the tragic artist. No thank you.

Harnessing our emotions to make our writing gripping and complex is a great goal, and one I aim for. But I will not sacrifice my joys for my sorrows. They both shape my writing, not one alone. What use is trudging through the Swamps of Sadness if there's no Ivory Tower in the distance?


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