Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Angst of the Writer

I was re-reading some of my old short stories the other day. During the 1990s, I had reasonable success in getting some of them published. The small press was booming in the UK in those days, and there were a lot of markets for short horror fiction. Most of them were 'semi pro' magazines - paying half a pence a word if you were lucky, and a free copy of the magazine if you weren't. But still, if you were a horror writer there were a lot of places to submit your work.

A lot of the stories I had published were early works - things I wrote in my late teens and early twenties. Only when I look back in retrospect do I realise how horribly depressing they were.

The thing is, though, I've always used writing as a way of working through my issues. And I guess I've had a lot of issues. Certain themes recurred frequently in my writing: betrayal; loss; loneliness; isolation; a fatalistic outlook that we're all doomed to die miserable and alone. A lot of my early horror is more about psychological despair than a Big Bad - and it almost always ends with someone dying in pain and alone.

There are times when I sink into what feels like a deep dark pit, often for no apparent reason, and I wallow there a while. Sometimes it's days, sometimes it's weeks. During these times I get out of bed and carry on with my life but I often feel like I'm just going through the motions. And I try to avoid blogging at these times, because no one likes a whinger and it's not fair to inflict my misery on everyone else. The thing is, though, these feelings always pass, usually disappearing as quickly as they come. So I just ride it out and listen to Muse very loudly on my MP3 player until I feel like I've crawled out of the pit.

Sometimes I think writing is my salvation, because I've always used it to try and deal with these feelings. My grandmother, disapproving of what I wrote, used to ask me why I couldn't write any "happy" stories. I replied that there was no point. Happy feelings I want to hold onto. It's the feelings of misery and despair I try to exorcise, and that's why they end up in my stories.

The writing has kept me sane. If I didn't have it to help me work through these feelings of despair, I probably would have thrown myself under a bus years ago. On the other hand, if I didn't have these angsty periods I probably wouldn't be a writer, since just about all writers I know also experience these feelings, to a greater or lesser degree.

Is it better to have the angst and be a writer, or be completely sane and not be? That's an impossible question to answer, because I've never known life as anything other than an angsty writer.

On a slightly more positive note, I think I've worked through many of my issues, and that might be why I don't write such depressing short stories anymore. There's still plenty of death and despair in my writing, but my recently-published novels have at least featured some semblance of a happy ending in the sense that the main characters work through their issues and move on. It's one thing to be angsty when you're 18. It's another to still be angsty at 40. There are some lessons about life that should have been learned by the time you enter your fourth decade, and one of them is that there are some things you just have to let go.

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