ROSANNE DINGLI is the Western Australian author of According to Luke, Death in Malta, six collections of short stories, and a poetry book . Her publishers, BeWrite Books, will soon release her third novel Camera Obscura, another romantic thriller with literary, artistic and music references.
Authors and happiness
by Rosanne Dingli
I recently wrote a blog on authors and depression that received an unusual number of responses, and my site received a record number of hits. This topic resounds with artists of all kinds, because they seem to think of themselves as prey to depression, or fits of moodiness, or ‘feeling blue’.
Whether artists are more subject to feeling depressed than other people is not clear: but they certainly have the means with which to make it concrete. They have the means to make it public. They have tools of expression. None of us are strangers to pictures such as The Scream, by Edvard Munch, or Sorrow by Vincent van Gogh, both of which intensely visualize what we all can feel sometimes. People are more likely to identify with a heartfelt piece of writing, perhaps, than with visualisations of this kind. Or rather, writers are more likely to express themselves about feelings of depression than people who have no artistic outlet.
In his article about authors and depression, Colin Rowsell writes, “For those of us drawn to writing, or the creative life in general, the odds are high that depression in some form is going to be part of the deal.” (http://maantren.blogspot.com/2009/03/writing-and-depression-kiwiburger.html) A quick search online will reveal how much has been written about melancholia and the writer.
But what about authors and happiness? There is much less to be found on this topic. One needs to do more than just a rapid superficial search. One needs to dig to find happiness. I had to persevere. The good news is that I did find it. Eventually.
Authors do experience happiness, but they are less likely to write about it in the same way as they write about despair, melancholia or depression. When authors are happy (whatever they think that is) they work! They are creative, and they do not stop to write about themselves, but delve into what they do best. They write fiction. They compose clever essays on their topics of choice. They seek to fashion out of their euphoria some sort of product that concerns them less than it does the characters they create, or the audience for whom they write.
A happy author is perhaps less introspective than a depressed one. Great novels and fantastic works of non-fiction such as travelogues, biographies and chronicles can be written when authors are free of gloomy moods. The lightness of spirit that accompanies a productive writing spurt is sensed quite tangibly in some writing, and we can see from many biographies that elation and euphoria accompanied periods of great production in authors such as Woolf, Hemingway and Plath.
If one looks carefully, there are a number of blogs and essays about the happy writer, but many of them are directions about how to become happy, as if there is a presumption out there that the default state of many authors is sad. One cannot blame the writers of these blogs, since history has emphasized this in various famous diaries. Wilde, Verlaine, and Tennessee Williams are only three examples. And there are some famous scribblings by writers such as Darwin, Captain Cook and Che Guevara – not strictly speaking creative writers but authors of academic, polemical or exploratory works – which who also show this tendency: to work hard when feeling ebullient, and to be introspective in times of stress, sorrow or sadness.
A bit of self-examination will settle this for each of us. We might look in a mirror and demand of ourselves how we operate: do we really work best when we are on top of the world; and navel-gaze when we are despondent? Or can it be the other way around for some? It must be useful to know. Yes – self-knowledge is important for those to whom words and verbal expression is the way they portray life, the world, and the human condition. Words are very much the way we think: it is a challenge to explain (rather than simply express) sorrow or joy in any other way.
The next time you experience a good writing spurt – a surge of words that demands to be written – and a productive phase that leaves you breathless, ask yourself: ‘What was it exactly that made me write so much and so well?’
Was it happiness?