Good Writers Suffer

By Jessa

Illustration by Charlotte

When I was a young girl, I had the concrete view of what it would be like to live as a writer.

As nerdy as it may sound, growing up, authors were my rockstars. As far as I was concerned, Jane Austen was ten times more badass than Axl Rose and Sid Vicious combined – anybody could take a shitton of drugs and come out unscathed with a bestselling album, but it took courage to remain alone for the sake of art. Art. ACTUAL DAMN CLASSIC NOVELS. (As pretentious at that may sound, it was what I’d tell myself before I went to sleep. Jane Austen is love. Jane Austen is life.)

In my mind writing was glamorous. When I grew and lived as this person, this enigma of literature, I would stay up all night and drink red wine, gazing out over my city apartment. I’d waltz around life with a string of significantly older lovers whom I would use as writing material – one of whom I loved quite ardently, but was too bohemian to commit to. I’d use fountain pens and watch Japanese films with no subtitles. I would laugh and love and lose; living romantically, classically – a female Oscar Wilde with messier hair.

Unfortunately my appetite for older men has yet to be supressed; much to the despair of everyone around me – but all my other imaginings have yet to be proven. If my amazingly passionate English teacher taught me anything, it’s that writers were generally insane – in the best sense – and mostly ended up dying horribly, leaving behind wonderful works to be studied by uninspired students. Lana Del Rey does claim ‘I am fucking crazy… but I am free’ in her ‘Ride’ video with her quixotic visionary voice, but was does this mean in practical terms? Is she talking about clinical insanity? Is she talking about defying the constraints of society? Breaking boundaries for the sake of art? The limitations just aren’t clear.

With all the significantly deep knowledge and wisdom of my sixteen years, (*coughs*) I’d like to think I’ve grown a little. I’m not even sure how I feel about suffering for art or love or any of that crap anymore. All that anguish sounds like it requires a lot of effort, while you cry into your wine glass at 3am. I’m an ugly crier. And I don’t generally do effort.

The point is (if there even is one), do you have to suffer to be important? I honestly just don’t know. To be an admirable writer, must you be either happy or interesting? For a very long time, I felt like happy people didn’t make history. The ‘happy people’ of the past made babies. Then died. ‘Who remembers your name if you’re ordinary?’ I would tell myself, hurtling headfirst into a turbulent relationship without thinking twice.

I love to write, and that’s why I do it. The pen (or rather, the laptop) is my first love above anything – it’s how I can justify all the stupid shit I do. As far as it goes, every experience as an essayist is worth all the traumatising therapy as long as you can squeeze out a joke from it, or an amusing anecdote you can relay in an article.

I don’t know what anyone expects from this profession, particularly in this day and age with the internet and social media constantly revolving and revolutionising the world of work. I’m told regularly that choosing Arts is the dumbest thing I can do (thanks, Careers Officer at my school) yet it is the only thing I am honestly willing to devote my life to, as yuckily ostentatious as that sounds. I talk about art and love like I know what I’m saying but in truth I’ve spent my life borrowing other people’s opinions on the topic.

Living is by far the most admirable thing you can do, of course. To be happy is to win at life. Is writing a form of self-sacrifice? Should it ever be? Would Sylvia Plath have still been so wonderfully gifted at verse if she had not had a turbulent personal life? This article – like my thoughts – has just become a plethora of questions. As a writer – and more importantly, a person – should you expect to suffer to be great?

Well, if so, there’s no changing my mind now. I’ve been making my bed since I was a child – I better freaking lie on it.

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