A reader asked a me a good question the other day. Certain types of creative people draw from their personal struggles to create, and the realness in their work comes from a bare and palpable honesty about pain and weakness and heartache. There would probably only be 5-10 decent country songs if some guys hadn’t cried tears into their beers and then written songs about it.
I have always written in the first person — I have no idea how to write fiction — so everything I write is at least partially autobiographical. I occasionally make truthful observations and give decent advice because I’d lived some life and wrestled with some problems myself.
The question was, “how do you balance stoicism with creativity?”
First of all, I don’t strictly consider myself a stoic.
When I was hanging around a lot of self-described misanthropes, many seemed to be playing a game of inverse virtue signaling — “whoever hates humanity the most, wins.” It was hollow and forced and “too cool for school.” This goth pantomime didn’t communicate superiority, it revealed a lot of disillusioned idealists and souls with festering wounds.
I get the same sense from self-proclaimed stoics – if not necessarily from their foundational texts. There seems to be a running contest to see who can appear to be the least “affected.” It strikes me sometimes as being a little fake, inhuman, and lacking balance.
So rather than stoicism proper, we’re talking about something more like emotional restraint, dignity, and the pragmatic filtering of thoughts and words to produce the best — not merely the most immediate — outcome.
Perhaps the answer about creating with your pain has to do with the timeline.
Early social media encouraged a real-time purging of every black mood and angry moment. This kind of catharsis was usually a net-negative, both for the person doing the purging and for everyone reading it. It was also addicting to broadcast every sad or angry thought or feeling. A lot of people still do it. It always looks like a desperate cry for attention and no one respects someone for doing this — though if they are attractive, many will offer a shoulder to cry on.
Instead of putting it out there in real time, process your pain and talk about it after you’ve overcome it. We often don’t understand what we are going through very well until after we’ve been through it anyway. When it’s all in the rearview mirror, you can present your suffering with insight instead of emotional panic. Or, maybe the real insight will be that you realize that you were just being a complete fucking idiot, and that no one needs to know about that.
As I mentioned in one of the comments to that post about friendship…
“Misery loves company, but no one looks up to misery. Misery is something to look down at.”
If you enjoyed this article on creativity and you want to become a better writer, check out this article by Ed Latimore: