I used to think that the best writing sprouted from suffering. Whether being depressed makes you a good writer or being a writer eventually makes you depressed, I did not know, but I knew there seemed to be a link. We've all been told that if we don't have to be writers, don't, right?
The words I heard alongside “writer” were words like struggling, complicated, haunted, damaged, and poor. I didn't think that was all bad, necessarily. I thought it suggested a more authentic connection to life, required more soul searching, and that it yielded deeper truths, friendships, and experiences.
For a long time, my writing seemed to be proving this idea true. All my best work was the stuff of heartache. It was stronger, more vivid, insightful, and emotional, while the things I wrote during smoother parts of life felt flat and routine. Creating stories that shared pain, betrayal, and rage with the reader felt more intimate. Everyone is willing to share a happy moment with the world. It's much more meaningful to share the failures.
I thought I had it all figured out. The theory was put to the test when my life started to change. I came out, rather uneventfully, as a lesbian to my family. I married the love of my life. I got a job that paid more than enough. The only thing that wasn't going right was that I was having a hard time producing writing I liked. Again, I thought the theory of the tortured writer was proving true. I was too happy, surely that was it! I simply didn't have so much to say anymore. When I tried, it sounded watered down.
I attempted to pull myself out of it. I tried to read all the great authors, journaled, outlined, started new stories, abandoned them, read my older work, listened to music, discussed religion and philosophy, roamed the streets of downtown, anything and everything I thought might inspire me. It still felt flat. But surely you don't have to be the alcoholic writer stereotype to have something meaningful to say, right?
I tried to pinpoint a time that I was both happy and writing well. It brought me instantly to falling in love. Sure, during that time I mostly produced mushy poems, lyrics, and love letters, not novels, but they did have that quality I felt I had lost. They had strength.
Misery and falling in love. What about the two put me in a better state to produce quality writing? They do have something in common. They are consuming. When you feel them, you feel them with everything. The sensations are so powerful that the details are etched into our bones and a writer need only whisper of them to share the experience.
Maybe good writing has nothing to do with being happy or sad, but is more about being fully engaged in the moment, being engulfed by the beauty of whatever is happening now. It's about noticing the things that slip by when we forget the value of every second. It's about the intensity life can hold when the mind isn't shuffling through the past or organizing the future.
Often when I am reading and have to pause to admire the craftsmanship of a particularly beautiful passage, it is about something ordinary or even mundane. Many times it is that fact alone that stops me. I find it magical when a writer captures something so perfectly that he or she reveals to me something about it I would never have thought to note, but instantly recognize.
This is what happens when a writer is present. Engaged. Mindful. It is more than considering each of the five senses and jotting something down just because that is a habit we've developed. It's about breaking the illusion that anything is routine, normal, or dull. It is about not going into autopilot. Everything about experience, positive or negative, is a wonder.
Sometimes struggle and depression keep you in the moment. Sometimes love and joy do. But so can everything in between with a little, or maybe a lot of effort. A writer's life doesn't have to be great or terrible, it just has to be lived.
Nicole Disney is a literary and contemporary fiction writer with a love for exploring the dark and controversial corners of life. Her debut novel, Dissonance in A Minor, was published in 2013. Nicole lives in Denver, Colorado and is also a 911 call taker and police dispatcher, a career which provides her with many quirky characters and situations.