Friday, April 3, 2015

The Myth of Suffering for Your Art

As I was writing the unschooling post and remembering back to a time when I ran wild and free for at least part of my life, I realized something important: I had things to write about back then. Back when my world was bright and sunny, when I couldn't even imagine what it was like to feel deeply depressed, I had plenty of things to write about. My mind was bursting with stories and songs and poems, and none of them came from conflict - they just came from me. My songs and poems were usually about sweet things. Some of my stories were about fun magical adventures. Some were realistic fiction about interpersonal conflicts that got resolved. The musical I wrote in second grade was sort of a classic children's good vs. evil story, and it was also really funny. I loved to write funny stories back then. I particularly loved to write silly mix-ups and misunderstandings. 

There's a common myth that artists have to suffer in order to create art. In the real world, there is a huge push to let bad things make you stronger. In the world of art, I've often heard people say things like, "But if this bad thing hadn't happened, you'd have nothing to write/paint/sing/etc. about." There's this idea that you need to have bad things in your life in order to inspire you to create art. I've seen people glamorize angst and depression as if they are creative tools.  If people want to say this about themselves and the bad things that have happened in their own lives, that's fine. After college, I actually tried to latch onto this belief that I had more things to write about because of what I had been through. There was just so much pressure to get over it and move on and just not think about the past anymore, that claiming that college had a positive effect on my writing was a good choice because it at least *didn't* involve getting over anything.  Channeling bad things into art was at least doing something about the bad things rather than accepting them and moving on, so I liked that. 

But deep down inside, I didn't really like it. I just wanted the bad things to have not happened, and I was not interested in deriving anything good out of my college experience. I didn't want to claim that I was creating better art from the experience because that just gave people the opportunity to say, "See, something good did come from the experience!" rather than just believing me when I say that it was a total wash. Even if I were creating better art from a bad experience, I would willingly give that up in order to have not had the bad experience in the first place. 


Writing the unschooling post and remembering how freely I used to write made me realize that nothing bad in my life has helped me to be a better writer. Bad things may have changed the topics I write about, but they do not make me a better writer. This blog is 484 pages long. Most of the blog is about stuff related to college. But that does not mean that I have a 484-page blog because of my college experience. I wrote that much because I'm a writer. If I hadn't had my college experience, I would still have a blog of the same length - it would just be focused on different things.


I have a one-track mind. When something big is going on with me, that's the only thing I think about. I am not willing to write stories about happy things when there are bad things going on in my life, so I write about the bad things. I write about whatever is important to me. I've never had writer's block. I've never felt like I had nothing to say. I had just as many things to write about when I was a free, happy kid on summer vacation as I do now, and those things made me feel much better.

I've heard the argument that something must be wrong in your real life for you to spend all that time in your head. That is just not true. Think about it: if a new amusement park opens in town and everyone goes flocking to it, does that mean that everything else in the town sucks? Or does it just mean that the amusement park is awesome? And conversely, if the only reason everyone goes to the amusement park is because the rest of the town sucks, then that doesn't say much for the actual quality of the amusement park. If you are drawn to a passion, you're drawn to it. It doesn't have to be the only option available to you because everything else is so horrible. I have always done the best creative work during the happiest times of my life. I'm way more likely to space out and start writing a fun story in my head at a fun event than I am when something really bad is happening. My brain just functions when I feel good. 

A couple months ago I had a very invalidating experience, and as a result, I stopped working on my validation book. I was about 70% finished, but haven't touched it for two months now. I do not think I will touch it until I have some external force that makes me feel really, really good about it. There are artists out there who would have used the invalidating experience as motivation, but I'm not one of them. I do things when I feel good, and I don't do things when I don't feel good. After writing the unschooling post, I can pretty much guarantee you that this blog and all of my writing would be much, much better if I hadn't had my college experience at all. Better because I function when I feel good. If you want to suffer for your art, that's fine, but I don't ever plan to suffer for mine. 

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