Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Creative Side of Angst

Once again time for the blog chain, and this round the chain was started by our resident uber-genius and all around wonderful gal, Archetype. The question she wants answered is:

Some people argue that creative people need “angst” to produce good work. Do you? What emotions drive you as a writer?

Do I think creative people need angst? …. No. Do I think many creative people have angst (at least more than the average person)? ….. Yes. Do I need angst? …. I have no idea.

Archy defined angst for us as “A feeling of anxiety or apprehension often accompanied by depression…[and]…going through deep emotional and possibly physical pain .” For you visual folk, this is how I see it:


No Angst:

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…I try to stay away from Archy’s couch as much as possible) :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.

Archy also asked “What emotions drive you 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 I heard a song that made me think of that one time where I was horribly hurt or heart broken and Ta-Da!!! Someone in my book is going to get shot (just kidding…well, sort of). 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.

I probably didn’t answer the question at all, but, you’ve gotten a further glimpse into my confused and jarbled mind :D I am sure Sandra will do a much better job so head on over to her blog to see her take on the whole angst-laden creative person issue.


Sandra said...

I agree that we as writers need to tap into emotions, and it does make sense that we tap into our negatives ones. They're the ones most likely to create conflict and story.

Archetype said...

Well, the pictures were great...and when I got to the funny one it was so unexpected it cracked me up.

You make a lot of good points, especially about how easy it is to relate to negative emotions, and how important "raw, unfiltered" emotion is to the writer.

And I wasn't feeling jarbled as I read it, so it must not have been jarbled as you wrote it, sorry. ;-)

celticqueen said...

Nuts, I'll have to try harder to jarble it next time ;-)

bloggingexperiments said...

**Would those be elk, Michelle?**

Great post. Tough topic. But I agree, emotions are essential -- all kinds.

I think this goes back to the posts on confidence when a writer's sensitivity was discussed. It almost seems as though the more sensitive you are, the more intense the emotion you feel, good or bad.

And the "I haz a happy" pic...too funny! :)


ElanaJ said...

Not jarbled for me either, but we're writers so we may not be the best judges...

Anyway, I think you're absolutely right. We need emotion to write, and the emotions you list (the negative ones) are angst-ish, especially for our characters. Whether we are experiencing that angst or not, I don't know, but we sure put them through it. :)

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Cool quotes and pictures!?! Someone is raising the bar. :)

Besides those things you really did make some great points, and I thought it was really interesting when you discussed how the emotions you are currently feeling influence your writing at that time.

TerriRainer said...

Jarbled? For those of us that agree it didn't SEEM jarbled, perhaps it's because we can relate.

It's great to hear that you have the same opinion about being able to write a sad scene better if you are, at the very least, listening to sad songs. I SO GET IT!

Great post!

:) Terri

H. L. Dyer said...

The next time I need some angst for my writing, I'm going to think of a family moving into their new home, only to discover there is no working plumbing. *snort*

I agree with the rest of the scooby gang. Not a smitch jarbled.

But I like the word "jarbled" anyway.

Mary Lindsey said...

I can totally relate to what you said about being able to more easily recall the negative emotions than the positive ones.

Good post, Michelle.

Archetype said...


I just noticed you called me the resident uber-genius. Thanks!!