In the previous four posts on this subject, I looked into the link between addiction and mental problems of writers and other creatives, and how those influence their literary creations. This is the last of a series of five “long reads”. The complete series is:
- 1 The Creative Process – Mad, bad and dangerous to know
- 2 The Creative Process – Unreliable authors and narrators
- 3 The Creative Process – The redemptive power of fiction
- 4 The Creative Process – Addict authors and their creations
Here is a summary of what I found out:
- Complete emotional identification with a role or fictional character, and repeatedly taking on new personas, is exciting at first, but can become mentally and emotionally destabilizing and enervating. (For both the writer and reader.)
- Readers and promoters prefer a high degree of authorial presence in fiction about characters who use drugs, drink or have mental illnesses, because the writing seems more authentic and speaks to the author’s personal experience and credentials.
- It is easier to depict what the writer personally feels and has experienced than to depict something alien to them and writing non-personally.
- Writing non-personally means the writer has to be a more skilled interpreter, observer, researcher and imitator.
- Some authors’ addictions define their entire œuvre.
- Writing is work in which the balance necessary to a “normal” life of physical and symbolic work has been removed. Alcohol is (wrongly) believed to rebalance it.
- Writing is a mental act that has to be made physical, and some think drinking or drugs help in this process (in other words, the process of sitting down, and writing).
- Writing is an exhausting occupation which requires mental resilience and fitness, like an athlete has physically.
- The “hard, lonely truth” is that it takes years of daily slog and sheer hard work to write a novel – regardless of subject.
- While drug and alcohol use in many instances just remain writers’s private pleasures, their abuse of them, and dependency on them, make them recognized mental illnesses, or psychopathologies.
- Previously, “madness” was thought to enhance creativity by promoting intense motivation and imagination, and by removing social and cultural constraints that favour conformity.
- However, modern research shows that a very large proportion of creative people exhibit no pathological symptoms, at least not to any measurable degree.
- Findings indicate that creative people to have such traits as defocused attention, divergent thinking, openness to experience, independence and nonconformity, called “creativity cluster” of traits.
- Addiction and mental illness do not enhance the exhibition of the creativity cluster. (Surely that must be obvious.)
- Fiction about addiction can allow readers to identify with a character’s pain.
- Readers might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with their own pain – in other words, empathize with them, thus reducing loneliness.
The best “performance-enhancing drugs” for writers, and other creative people, are not drugs at all, but:
- Intellectual stimulants – reading and researching
- Creativity catalysts – other excellent writers in the same genre or generation
- Exposure to beauty – music, art, performance, all the senses
- Work: Repetition. Discipline. “An unaesthetic sweat”.