I get that the whole, “woe, my angst is what drives me” thing is, well... your thing. You work very hard at presenting an image to the world of being dark, gothic, misunderstood, possessed by personal demons, driven by the ghosts of your past, and only able to create when you’re suffering. How much of that is true and how much is simply an image, I don’t know, and whilst I’ve speculated about it in the past, I don’t really care anymore. It’s what you do, it’s what you want the world to see; your reasons are your own, and I’m sure the presentation of this image satisfies something in you. That’s fine. I don’t read your books anymore, I don’t follow you on Twitter or Facebook, so I can ignore it as I’m sure you ignore the constant criticisms that come your way because of it.
But then I stumbled upon this:
And it made me very angry.
I am not a believer in the trope that Arte = Pain, that creation can only come through suffering, or that the only worthwhile writing authors can produce is rooted in angst and misery. I am not a proponent of bleeding on my keyboard. I am not a fan of the concept of the Muse. Yes, of course I believe writers should feel for their stories. Yes, I know that the act of writing is a hard one, and that sometimes we write something that hurts us or surprises us, or conjures up old wounds for us. But I do not believe we need those wounds in order to produce great books. I do not believe that the only good writer is an unhappy one.
And I do not like it when people who should understand the impact their words can have make cracks about mental illness. Creativity isn’t a mental illness and you don’t need one in order to be creative. More than that, mental illness – particularly psychosis, which you blithely joke about to your 25000+ followers – is serious, scary, life-changing, difficult to live with, difficult to treat, and incredibly misunderstood. Joking about medicating away the voices completely undermines and belittles the experiences of people who do live with those voices, and the long, painful path they walk to recovery – or even just balance. Equating the act of writing a book with managing a serious mental illness is, for me, not just immature and silly, but dangerous.
It spreads the message that Arte = Pain, one I believe to be potentially damaging. It adds to the idea that those crazy people with their voices are not worthy of real support in a society that is already too quick to throw tablets at people instead of trying to treat them. It tells writers who are just starting out that unless they suffer, they are not good enough to make it. Or that if they suffer and let it get in the way of their writing, they’re not good enough then either. The idea that we should embrace mental illness to fuel creativity is also dangerous, and again belittles exactly how serious these conditions can be.
Am I overreacting? Possibly. I have my reasons for being overly-sensitive to this kind of thing. But I don’t apologise for that because this is something I’m passionate about – both writing and the treatment and understanding of mental illness. Conflating one with the other, or saying you need one to feed the other, is aggravating to me to say the least. If I am a good writer, it’s not because I’ve suffered from depression. It’s because I’ve studied hard and worked my ass off, and continue to do so, to produce the best writing I can. If I am a bad writer, it’s also not because I’ve suffered from depression or failed to use it to my advantage.
And for those of us who do struggle with mental illness, take the meds, see the counsellors, and still produce awesome books, well, we’ve done that despite those voices, that pain, that doubt, that anxiety, not because of it.
Look, I’m writing this from a place of anger. I know I can’t speak for every writer or every person with a mental illness. But this is what I believe, and again, I won’t apologise for it. I’m sure I’m not the only person in the world who thinks some of the stuff you come out with is... misguided and I’m sure I won’t be the last. But when I see people chirping that statements like yours above are “the sign of a very talented writer,” I despair. I wish you, as an NYT bestseller would be more aware of the effect your words can have.