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The pain of writing

Updated on January 19, 2015

A way to cope with hurting

Mainly, the reason I've begun to write was exactly to try to cope with painful feelings. While reading some books, I've realized they were also the result of hurtful, dark experiences, and after getting into college I learned that the amount of authors who wrote to deal with their own complex minds and points of view was even bigger than I've thought.

Obviously, I also tend to read more books that are in line with this motivation of mine. By not being an optimisc, cheerful person, I just think stories with happy people and happy endings are boring. The way I see humanity is more rational and critical than merely emotional and I do believe we are a cruel, selfish, dangerous species. Therefore, I've decided not to waste my time with that dreamy happiness that can only happen in fantasy.

Usually, reading a book that can teach you something is what we look for. Maybe we find writers we share similar ideas and perspectives with, and that's what makes pessimistic, or extremely realistic, authors my favourites. I also love the sarcastic, transgressive or subversive ones, basically for the same reason.

If you think about some names, you'll almost automatically link them to disbelief, obscurity, nihilism, pain or sadness, sometimes even with mental illnesses — and how those apparently negative aspects have influenced the majority of their work. Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Heminghway, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, Sylvia Plath, Stephen King, Alan Moore... They were/are all masters of exploring "dark places".

Famous for her experiments with stream of consciousness, depicting emotions and thoughts in an innovative way, Woolf committed suicide at the age of 59, filling her overcoat's pockets with stones and walking into a river near her house.
Famous for her experiments with stream of consciousness, depicting emotions and thoughts in an innovative way, Woolf committed suicide at the age of 59, filling her overcoat's pockets with stones and walking into a river near her house. | Source


We've all heard it before: great artists are always mad, problematic people. There are numerous studies suggesting a relation between creativity and mental disorders, even though there isn't a proper tool to measure one's "creativity level" — how do you translate that into numbers?!

Another broadly spread idea is that artists are more likely to become alcohol or drug addicts. And this is another difficult thing to prove, if you consider that even the concept of what is an "artist" is fluid. It is, nevertheless, interesting to observe how a great number of famous artists succumb to addiction problems.

The book written by Olivia Laing, "The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking", for example, is an account of this relation between writers and alcoholism. Her acclaimed work studies six US writers, known for their abuse of alcohol: John Berryman, John Cheever, Raymond Carver, Tennessee Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway. According to her:

Writers, even the most socially gifted and established, must be outsiders of some sort, if only because their job is that of scrutiniser and witness.


On 1821, the autobiographical "Confessions of an English-Opium Eater", written by Thomas De Quincey, was published. Most of William S. Burroughs' novels were based on the fifteen years he spent on heroin addiction, including a confessional first novel named "Junkie" (in a 2013 edition, it was entitled "Junky"). Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg actively tried to explain how they felt while "high" through their writings, focusing on emotional estates, changed perceptions, and even physical effects. Stephen King also talks about his addiction to cocaine and alcohol on his "On Writing".


Researchers also say that writers and other artists are more likely to be depressed, mainly because of their vulnerable professions. Isolation and hours of reflection, sometimes digging deeper into your fears and insecurities, along with irregular earning, possible rejections from publishers, deadlines confronted by unexpected blocks; those are elements usually faced by authors that can have a dreadful effect, especially if writing is a person's only job (and, therefore, the only money provider).

According to psychotherapist and author Philip Kenney, on an interview given to Lit Reactor,

The problem writers face, I think, is that they are constitutionally very sensitive individuals. As such they are extremely vulnerable on two fronts: first, because of this sensitivity, they are susceptible to over-stimulation and emotional states of flooding that can overcome the capacity to regulate such strong affect. This can lead to major anxieties on the one hand or dissociative states on the other. Secondly, because of this pronounced sensitivity and perceptual attunement, artists internalize so much of the world, including the unwanted parts, that, again, the system is overloaded and anxiety is created that strains the ability of the self to manage. If an individual has a history of emotional hardship, or traumatic experience, that vulnerability is amplified and lasting impressions of the world and the self, colored by the trauma, are stored in the mind.

To that, crime and comedy writer Simon Brett, who have also suffered from depression, adds:

Drunkenness and depression have many symptoms in common, and for writers both seem to be occupational hazards. Both the depressive and the drunkard wake up feeling terrible, totally incapable of continuing life in any form. Both of them get through miserable mornings and maybe perk up a bit after some food at lunchtime - that is, if they can eat food. And both start to feel better in the evenings, when the influence of company or more alcohol make the continuity of life seem a possibility. Then both wake up in the small hours, feeling worse than ever.

A question to all the writers...

Have you ever suffered from depression or addiction?

See results


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    • FreakFran profile imageAUTHOR

      Francine Oliveira 

      3 years ago from Minas Gerais, Brasil

      Ceciloiiii, thank you very much for your comment!

      I agree with you! Writing is sometimes a way to express our perspectives, but we can get frustrated and upset when words fail us. If a person tends to hold on those upsetting moments, it's also dangerous, depending on her mental state. I write from a place of both depression and addiction, and writing for me can, at times, work as incredible therapy. But, well, when it makes me sad, is pretty much a weapon.

    • ceciloiiii profile image

      Cecil O'Dell 

      3 years ago from Morgantown, West Virginia

      Great article, Francine. I wouldn't say I suffer from depression or addiction, especially not under the clinical definitions. What I've found recently through writing is a means of expressing my own individual perspective, something pretty difficult to convey otherwise and when it builds up I can get pretty sad or upset of where I am in life. It helps me to express my frustration in many forms. Reading can do the same, but that ultimately depends on the author's vision for me.


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