Every now and then, I drop in to Neil Gaiman’s site to see where he’s travelling and what he’s thinking about. A few days ago, Neil quoted from science fiction author Samuel R. Delaney’s letters:
“Writers are people who write. By and large, they are not happy people. They’re not good at relationships. Often they’re drunks. And writing — good writing — does not get easier and easier with practice. It gets harder and harder — so eventually the writer must stall out into silence.The silence that waits for every writer and that, inevitably, if only with death (if we’re lucky the two may happen at the same time: but they are still two, and their coincidence is rare), the writer must fall into, is angst-ridden and terrifying – and often drives us mad. ”
He seems to be of the opinion that good writing only comes from a deep dissatisfaction with one’s life. I have the tendency to become depressed, sure, but on the whole, I’m a pretty cheerful person. I love hanging out with people. I’ve been married, happily, to the same man for nearly 22 years, and that doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon. I have a teenaged son who likes me well enough. I have friends who enjoy my company. I’m an awful flirt. I drink rarely, and never alone. By Delaney’s definition, I’m not much like a writer.
Would my writing reach new levels of brilliance if I started drinking? Would I become legendary if I let myself sink into depression? Would I reach the NYT bestseller lists if only I self-medicated with spray paint in a paper bag? I don’t think so. I know what actual depression, the kind only doctors can fix, feels like, and there was no creativity during that time. I work best when things are going well. The happier I am, the more words spill out all over the paper. But the silence Delaney mentioned…boy, do I feel that silence lurking. It’s the sound of ideas going wrong, the hollow echo of a well of words drying up. It’s the stalking cat on a branch above me, waiting to pounce when I give up on a story because I just can’t think of where it should go next. It’s the shadow in an alley, threatening to swallow me for not taking chances. It keeps me working, which keeps me happy.
Or maybe I’m crazy already, and I just don’t know it. 😀