Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.

Suffering for My Art

I don’t consider myself the long-suffering type. I didn’t figure it out until after my teenage years, but it’s much more fun to be happy than miserable (I was a slow learner, I guess). Regarding my writing “art,” I don’t think that suffering will make improvements (aside from butt-in-chair strife), so I don’t fret that trying to have a happy life will cause my stories to have less depth.

To make the most of my day, I often write while at lunch. The mall foodcourt is a great place for me to get creative. The skylights are awesome, and the white noise is perfect for me. It helps that I can watch people, but no one expects me to interact with them. (It’s okay if you think this is weird. It’s tough to explain.)

So there I was, delighted that I was getting through a tough scene that had been evading my efforts in previous weeks. I was writing longhand because a change of pace, writing slower than I type, helps me find the rhythm to get the words on the page. It was a serious scene, but as I said, I was delighted it was going well.

When I got a tap on my shoulder from a concerned older lady, I was quite confused (and annoyed, but I try to be polite to my elders). She asked me if I was okay and if there was anything she could do to help. Eventually the old lady explained that she and her friend were having lunch when the noticed me. They became worried that I looked so sad and distraught and wanted to make sure I was okay. Apparently I had this horrible expression on my face as I was writing. (So embarrassing!)

I told them I was a writer, and I was working on a book. At this news, the old lady stopped worrying about me, wished me luck with a good-natured pat on the hand, and left.

I was more confused than ever. Did being a writing make my horrible expressions and distraught mental state okay? They seemed to think it did. Do we as Americans think it is okay for our writers to be depressed? I don’t consider myself to be Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, or Ernest Hemingway, but it bothers me what we accept that creativity has to be tied to depression and mental illness. I don’t think that I should suffer for my art or that other people should either. In doing some light research, it seems to be a common opinion that creative minds have a tendency to become unwell. I consider myself to be a very creative person, so this attitude is rather disturbing.

What do you think? Are creativity and mental illness linked? Is the attitude Americans have towards creative minds okay? I’d love to hear some opinions.

7 comments on “Suffering for My Art

  1. consortiumofthecurious
    February 6, 2013

    I hope she just thought you were sad about something in the story… if not, well, some people just don’t understand the impulse to create. (Though they’re more than happy to partake…)

    • tracycembor
      February 6, 2013

      I hope she didn’t think I was writing my suicide note or something. She really was sweet to be concerned about me.

      Gosh yes, some people don’t understand why I want to write when I could watch hours of TV each night. I do enjoy a good TV show, but I don’t like to just watch “television.” I used to make up stories for my toy horses when I was in elementary school. It grew into writing stories about other things. I don’t think I could stop writing if I tried.

      • consortiumofthecurious
        February 6, 2013

        Ha! I feel you. (I would make mine up with Star Wars figures.) My fondest writing memory of that time period was this story we had to write in second grade. We got those lined papers and on the top was a pig’s head and then the bottom of the paper got pig’s feet. Then the teacher displayed them on the wall outside. Everyone’s was one sheet and there were all these cute little pigs for parent’s to go gaga over. Mine was at the end of the row, ten pages long.

        Sadly, that story was destroyed, but I guess I’ve always been a verbose kid. :)

        Yup, my poison is plotting. No way you could stop me! Glad to see we’re kindred spirits!

  2. tracycembor
    February 6, 2013

    My stories about my horses had all the characteristics of a soap opera – convoluted backstories, overdone plot twists, and a surprising number of horses who came back from the dead. I even did an evil twin story before I knew what tropes were.

    I enjoyed writing in school, but I hated it when I had to share with the other students. In high school I did a total rewrite of Perseus. I think it was over 10 pages long. My teacher loved it and made me read it in front of the class. Of course the guy I had a crush on was in that class. It was absolute torture. I could tell he was bored, so I started reading faster and skipping some sections. It probably didn’t make sense to anyone with all the missing parts. I was ready to cry by the time I was finished reading it.

  3. hsears5
    March 8, 2013

    I think it’s really interesting that “happy stories” are seen as less complex or less intricate. I am a recent college graduate and in many of my writing stories, I felt I had to struggle to find some sort of dark, convoluted elements to add to my stories..,that said, once I delved inward, I realized that I’ve always been somewhat morbid probably a little dark (too much CSI as a kid maybe?). Definitely not in a depressed, or harmful way—more in that I find dark humor entertaining and I think a healthy dose of blood and gore is incredibly fun to read and write (probably the result of my father only having daughters to watch gore films with).

    I often wonder what I look like when I write–when I really get going…probably a combination of an English major (which I am) trying to do a very complex math problem and/or a college student that is on some kind of upper trying to finish an assignment.

    I’m new to your blog (thanks to Freshly Pressed) and I’ve already read through several pages and am quite glad I found you!

    • tracycembor
      March 8, 2013

      Ooo, I do enjoy dark humor and dark fairytales, but I’m a wuss about the other scary stuff.

      Thanks for taking a look around. Glad you enjoyed the pages. :)

      • hsears5
        March 8, 2013

        I’m really excited to see where you go with Dreamless!

        I think humor is one of the harder things to get across in writing—for me, especially in fantasy/sci fi genres, but it’s definitely something I’m working on.

        You seem to do it well, however, so perhaps I will learn from example!

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Posting Schedule for 2014-15

Monday through Friday I will be posting about writing as business and craft, the science of creativity, all things steampunk, and progress on The Dreamless City.

Weekends are reserved for my Music Playlist.

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About the Author

Tracy Cembor attempts to juggle a preschooler and a baby, a full-time job, random geekery, and the writing life. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a steampunk urban fantasy novel. Come join the adventure.
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