Thursday, May 29, 2014

Is Angst Necessary?

People often view creative types as angsty people. We have that visual of a tortured artist, or a writer holed up in some attic turret with a bottle of booze and a soul full of torment. While I'm sure this is sometimes the case, I know many more writers who are peppy soccer moms who just happen to be awesome at writing stories that fairly drip with angst.

So where does all that angst come from? Don't creative people need angst?

Well, in my opinion at least, no, I don't think they absolutely need it. However, do I think many creative people have angst (at least more than the average person)? Yes. Do I need angst? I have no idea. :-D

I do tend to be more inspired by angst. Depression and sadness seem to draw the creativity out of me more than other emotions. (What this says about me I really don’t want to know) :-D The good news is, I don’t necessarily need the angst to be my own. I get very inspired by other people’s angst as well, like a really good, angsty song or movie. I guess I’d have to say, no, I don’t think creative people have to have angst in order to produce good work. But, I do think it helps.

Robert Penn Warren said:
The writer’s fundamental attempt is to understand the meaning of his own experiences. If he can’t break through those issues that concern him deeply, he’s not going to be very good.

I think this is what I use in my work. I wouldn’t describe it as “angst,” but I do dissect my experiences in order to serve up the most intense parts of them. And the more “angsty” emotions do tend to be the strongest, the ones that stick with me the most. For example, I was ecstatic at my wedding. It was a wonderful day. And then when my son was born, the love and joy I felt looking into his newborn eyes was beyond description. 

But the experiences that are the easiest to delve into now, are the depressing ones, the sad, heartbreaking, emotional ones. I have a hard time feeling that exact euphoria I felt at the best moments of my life. But I can feel the pain and anguish and rage and heat and desire and all consuming love that I felt at the worst or most intense moments in my life at a moment’s notice – I just have to dip into the right memory. 

What I truly think you need to produce good work is emotion. Any kind of emotion. Not angst, necessarily. But raw, unfiltered emotion. 

 Edna Ferber said:
I think that to write well and convincingly, one must be somewhat poisoned by emotion. Dislike, displeasure, resentment, fault-finding, imagination, passionate remonstrance, a sense of injustice – they all make fine fuel.

Notice that these are almost all “negative” emotions. I just think negative emotions are easier to tap into – and they are probably easier to relate to as well. Not everyone has felt that rush you get when you first fall in love. But everyone, at some point in their life, has been sad or hurt or scared. There is a line in Pretty Woman that I have always thought was so true…when Vivian is asked why she doesn’t believe the compliments she gets, and she answers, “The bad stuff is easier to believe.” I think this is true in a writer’s work as well. I think that goes along with the saying “Too good to be true.” The bad stuff is just easier to believe, to convey, to tap into. 

Do I think all creative people need to dress in black and sit around brooding with a shot glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other?…no! Of course not! In fact, my writer friends are some of the funniest, happiest people I know. But I do think a writer or artist has to have some kind of emotional background to draw from. 

So, what emotions drive me as a writer? This one is easy….all of them. 

If you read a scene in one of my books that is particularly depressing – well, I was probably feeling depressed that day. Or, more likely, I purposely delved into those memories or played a song that will trigger the emotions I need so that I can tap into them. And if you read an especially funny scene, I was probably in a really good mood that day. 

Can I write a funny scene if I’m mad or depressed? – yes. But I guarantee you it will be funnier if I was in a good mood when I wrote it. Same with the opposite end of the spectrum. I can write a fairly convincing tear-jerker no matter what kind of mood I’m in – but it really helps if I’m bummed when my fingers hit the keys.

So what do you think? Do creative people have to have angst in their lives in order to create emotionally touching art?

5 comments:

  1. I think for me, it's that the negative emotions/memories are accompanied by a sense of urgency. An actual physical reaction to DO SOMETHING about them. Whereas, the warm fuzzy moments just make me get more comfortable in my chair, haha.

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    1. Very good point. The good times you get to sit back and enjoy where the bad ones force some action.

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  2. Unlike actors, writers are expected to master the emotions and driving force of an entire cast of characters. Without some experiences to draw from...the attempt might come across as a bit flat.

    That said, I’ll have to imagine the coordination it might take to shift into a 20 ton dragon, walking around with wings for the first time. It’s probably a bit like walking in snow shoes through a playroom filled with collectible Lego masterpieces set 2 inches apart from each other, with little kids yelling at me not to break anything...which is pretty much impossible and frustrating because I can’t really see where my back feet are, not to mention the tail.... I have to decide, as a dragon, do I care about the itsy bitsy things that keep screaming at me?

    (Ah, the joys of writing!!!)

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  3. Excellent post! And I agree with Toni--I think some of what I write is flat. Perhaps I need to tap my emotions more when I write--to make my characters feel what I feel. Is it me, or writers tend to exhibit more depressed/anxious feelings than the average joe? If it's true, I think it's a good thing, because it also means we're more intuitive.

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