Sunday Style: A Writer’s Happiness

In a writing workshop I attended a few months ago the instructor talked about how at a romance writers convention those gathered joked that there should be a bowl of Prozac or Zoloft anti-depressant pills in the center of the room for people to munch on as needed. The instructor said he thought this applied to all writer types, and probably all creative types. We’re a sensitive bunch and might be prone to more ups and downs than other, non-writer types.

Boy, do I think this is true. Consider some of the great writers who suffered from depression: Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy, John Keats, Victor Hugo (sorry, these are all men).

There’s a bit of temptation when I look at this list of names. If it (unhappiness, depression, angst) worked for these guys, maybe it can work for me? Not really. They may have had huge success, but in many ways, their ride through life was probably not all that pleasant due to depression or unhappiness.

In the end, unhappiness just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In this week’s Prosperous Writer, Christina Katz illustrates how unhappiness can wreck havoc in a writer’s life:

An unhappy person is not an open person. An unhappy person is not brave and adventuring. An unhappy person is busy nurturing his or her pain. The worst kind of unhappy person is the kind who is busy spreading his or her negativity around everywhere he or she goes. Naturally, no one would do this on purpose. But the most deeply unhappy people often are not aware of their own negativity and its impact on others…Because if you try to build a writing career on top of unhappiness, you are building it on sand. And it may stand in the short run, but in the long term, it’s going to sink.

What’s a creative writer to do, then? Just hunker down and get happy? Maybe hum the tune from Bobby McFerrin’s song — Don’t Worry, Be Happy? Sometimes feeling happy about life, or even just about writing, can be difficult. This is especially true when negative thoughts come in: I don’t have the time to write, people don’t appreciate my writing, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’ll never get published, etc.

Consistently I find one effective way to ward off those negative thoughts is by replacing them with their positive opposites: I have the time I need to write, my writing makes a difference, I am working towards my writing goals, I can and do get my work published. What a difference these positive words make! Not only would I prefer to spend time with this positive person , I’d much rather be the happy writer who sees the world through a positive lens .

“In every life we have some trouble. When you worry, you make it double,” Bobby McFerrin says. He’s right. I don’t think life is easy or always happy. If it were, it might not be as interesting. (And, there would be less to write about.) It’s what we do with those unhappy or “low moments” and our overall outlook on life that matters most.

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2 Responses to Sunday Style: A Writer’s Happiness

  1. Jesaka Long says:

    Love this rumination on happiness, Liz. There is such an image of the tortured writer and every once in a while I think maybe it would be easier to be “tortured,” to be freed of social conventions.

    But, then, I remember a class discussion where my instructor (published) said that the drinking, difficult author personality doesn’t fly in publishing today. You have to be responsible, , responsive, courteous and willing to do the hard work to help sell your book, writing, etc. Damn! ;->

  2. Liz says:

    Thanks for sharing those real-life points from the professor, Jesaka. They are further reminders of reasons why one needs to keep happiness on the mind!

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