The Tortured Writer Trope

Writers are born. We spring wholesale from the womb brimming with chaotic inspiration waiting to be unleashed onto the page. Because the desire to write is innate, it can be frustrating and disheartening when life gets in the way of our ability to write. I say “life” because it need not just be a lack of time. Plenty of things interfere with the act of creation—physical illness, depression, work schedules, busy households, needy feral creatures pretending to be your children, etc.

The thing is that life gets in the way, but sometimes we create obstacles on our writing path by allowing ourselves to be seduced by imaginary concepts—the muse, the never-ending search for “inspiration”, and the ever so romanticized caricature of the tortured writer. It’s a popular trope in media—the crazed, desperate writer penning the great novel of their generation. Here’s the thing—it’s bullshit.

The tortured writer doesn’t exist. It’s a mythology created to make it easy for people to ignore mental illness. They spin fanciful tales of the writer who chain smokes and sits at a shabby little table with wadded up paper surrounding them waiting for “inspiration” to strike so they can rip the words out of their chest still bleeding and crying from their own pain so that the masses can be entertained. The trope would have you believe that an artist must suffer (and eventually die)—to create, to move us, to represent us.

The lighter side of the trope, no less damaging than the brooding, suicidal figure, is the writer who sits down every single day and accomplishes nothing. The process itself is the torture. They are the mercy of their fickle, deeply disturbed “muse”, and they have no choice but to participate in this sadomasochistic ritual with their imaginary friend. This person accomplishes nothing but it has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with their personal circumstances. This person isn’t carving out a place in their life to write—they’re making time to jerk-off to the idea of writing.

I struggle with clinical depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder every single day. I’ve been medicated for it for over twenty years. I remember when I was first diagnosed with depression and my doctor handed me a prescription. I balked so hard because I worried that being medicated would interfere with my creativity. I don’t know when I started believing that I had to suffer to write.

There came a point where I had to choose between what society was showing me and acknowledging that my brain was missing some much-needed chemicals that I needed to start getting at the fucking store. I started taking an anti-depressant.

I didn’t write less. I wasn’t less creative. I can’t say I haven’t encountered medications in the past that interfered with my ability to be productive. I just don’t respond well to everything, and that’s normal, y’all. If you’re suffering with depression or another chronic condition—find the treatment that works best for you but don’t be afraid of it. There is no trade-off.

Being sad isn’t the price you pay for being creative.

Keira Marcos

In my spare time, I write fanfiction and lead a cult of cock worshippers on the Internet. It's not the usual kind of hobby for a 40ish "domestic engineer" but we live in a modern world and I like fucking with people's expectations.

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