Do writers need to be f-d up?

One of the reasons I stay so committed to this Artist’s Way path is that on me it has the long-term effect of a psychological declutter. Yes, I have setbacks, but for the most part this allows me to root out the core unhappiness that restricts rather than fuels my ability to write.  What I’ve learned about myself in my three years on this path is that at my core, I’m really happy. Irrationally happy. Happy despite all the crap that floats my way, and that I tap into that core of joy to see me through the toughest parts of life, like when my father was dying. I also learned that the store is finite and needs to be rebuilt and replenished, making basic activities like the artist’s date and creative time free from criticism deeply important.

I’ve also started dipping my foot back in the water of professional writing. Along with the usual maddening responses that happen when you dare show up as a new person somewhere, I’ve noticed some things about the way writers and artists think of themselves. A lot of writers pride themselves on how messed up they are.

I do know other professional writers in my day-to-day. I recently had a bizarrely honest conversation with a man whose talent and drive I totally respect; our lives are similar in that we were both nerds in high school, are madly in love with Doctor Who to this day and often suffered from a feeling of disconnection/I don’t belong. He is gunning for fame, while I am gunning for modest commercial success.  When we do get a chance to talk one on one, our conversations often take a bizarre, confessional turn.

In our last conversation, he mentioned someone he needed to schmooze, and I pointed out that generally I see through him. I also like him anyway, despite the schmoozing. I understand why he has to do it. From there, we both mentioned Neil Gaiman, as we both admire his work a great deal.  My friend’s observation: “You and I both know that to come up with that stuff, he must be fucked up beyond belief.”

I nodded my agreement, even though I didn’t – we were in a crowded bar, and he had schmoozing to commence. I didn’t want to argue that no, you don’t need to be fucked up in order to write. You can just put your crazy on the page, and let it make its own world, let it find its own way to sanity. I really believe that.

But I also write mostly nonfiction, and allowed pretentious grad students to scare me out of fiction writing years ago. I could be very wrong. I also recently read in a book I’m reviewing how Kafka, Hemingway and others actually created or reinforced their realities through their writing.  … and writing happy things generally doesn’t sell. This could, however, explain the success of Danielle Steele.

I don’t think I have to be a mess to write well. I think I can use writing to wrestle my demons to the ground and conquer them. I also don’t think my friend would understand this view.