Monday, November 03, 2008

Back on the Blog Chain: Angst and Creativity

Yes, I'm back on the Blog Chain (think, "Back on the Chain Gang") again. This time, Archy picked the topic: Some people argue that creative people need “angst” to produce good work. Do you? What emotions drive you as a writer? Archy said while there may be some overlap between "creativity" genes and "mental illness" genes, mental illness may make it difficult to be creative. Michelle argued that strong emotions are easiest to tap into. I come after Michelle, but as there are others posting after me, I'm not exactly the tiebreaker.

As a sidenote, whenever I hear "angst," I'm reminded of Evard Munch's The Scream:

One of my classmates in grad school had a blow-up doll of the Screamer (I kid you not), and her license plate was "ANGST." G., I hope your life is less angst-full now, wherever you are.

Anyway, when I read Archy's post, I was reminded of my patron muse, John Lennon. John had a traumatic childhood. John's father was a seaman, and while he was away, John's mother became involved with another man. When John was five, his father returned and attempted to make him choose between his parents; John initially chose his father but then returned to his mother, who turned him over to his aunt and uncle so they could raise him. John's mother sparked a love of music in him and gave him his first guitar, but she was killed in an accident when he was 17. All of this family drama remained inside of John for years, resurfacing after his primal scream therapy in his album Plastic Ono Band, particularly in the song "Mother."

John's emotions are so intense on that album that I find it hard to listen to it, even though it's good.

So, in John's case, his angst did fuel at least some of his work. In fact, Paul McCartney also lost his mother as a teenager, and this commonality helped establish the bond between them.

Does angst also inspire writers? Yes and no. Yes, in that I agree with Michelle that writers need to tap into strong emotions to bring their stories to life, and dark emotions like grief or anger tend to be powerful. Also, unlike painting or songs, which can be purely joyful, stories are all about conflict. Reading about someone who has no problems would be uninteresting, so writers often pile obstacles and raw emotions onto their characters. When I was just starting out as a writer, it was difficult for me to place characters in conflict, but I can do so now, even if I feel with them.

On the other hand, like Archy, I agree that too much angst in a person's life can be overwhelming and make it impossible for someone to write. However, moderate emotions can be sublimated into writing. For example, if I feel angry at someone, I might use that anger when writing a scene. This is a positive way to deal with emotions.

Ultimately, I think writers need to handle a variety of emotions when they write. Some of the darker emotions may drive the writing at times, but under all of them (for me, at least) is the desire to connect with someone else through writing, and that's a positive thing.

That's all I wanted to say on this topic, so I will extend the chain to Abi. I know she's feeling a little angsty about this topic, but I hope that will ultimately inspire her for her post.


Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I love how John Lennon is your muse! I was actually reading a review of a new biography about him the other day and thought of you!

I also like what you say about emotions driving the writing - but beneath that is the deeper desire to connect. That strikes me as being very true. Great job!

Archetype said...

Um...if this is a duplicate comment, ignore this one. I'm having some computer issues.

I'm so excited you talked about sublimation! "However, moderate emotions can be sublimated into writing. For example, if I feel angry at someone, I might use that anger when writing a scene. This is a positive way to deal with emotions."

Excellent points! And a great post (and not just the sublimation part) :-)

Anonymous said...


I think you're right about the songs and paintings being able to be all happy if they want, but writing needs to have conflict to be interesting. I think the difference is in length.

ACK! I have great angst -- I'm up tomorrow. WE'll it will either hinder or help. I guess it's a test. Oh, no! A test...more angst!


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Sandra. I think the angst for writers is trying to make that connection to their readers. However they get to it is the real test, whether they redirect their own anger, or can duplicate it in their writing. Great job! :)

celticqueen said...

Using your emotions in your writing really is a great way to deal with them. And I think it makes it a bit more real if you are expressing an emotion that you have dealt with at some point. Therapeutic for you and realistic for the reader :)

TerriRainer said...

I am pulling my hair out here!

By the time I post on a topic, I feel like the slow kid in class.

Great points, and just like with Michelle's post, I get it and agree (well, except for John muse runs more towards Josh Groban with Gerard Butler's face and bod...yeah, I'm shallow like that).

:) Terri

H. L. Dyer said...

I'm SO not surprised that John Lennon found his way into your post on this. :)

Great job, Sandra.

Mary Lindsey said...

I think it is neat that you are able to use your writing therapeutically as opposed to letting the emotion overtake you. Not a lot of people can do that consciously.

Nice post. Thanks for sharing your process.

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