I have been revisiting the idea that many fiction writers (and other artists) write to ‘unshackle’ their demon(s). When I say demons, I do not want you to envision red-horned minions of Lucifer, but instead, the random and sometimes very specific dark thoughts and feelings in general that pain, worry, anger, or cause extreme doubt in an individual. Most of my favorite writers seemingly write from the dark places within themselves, which has me wondering, is a writer’s muse really his or her demons?
Life Magazine* dedicated their Issue #18 to the correlation between writers and their inner struggles, appropriately titled, “Writers and Their Demons,” which investigated the common associations between fiction writers’ creativity and mental illness. The term ‘mental illness’ sounds harsh and maybe too fixed, but the term encompasses quite a broad range and severity of the thought processes that interfere with a person’s happiness and/or success.
The list of authors who have struggled with some form of mental illness is staggering and men and women are close equals in this arena: William Faulkner, Shirley Jackson, Raymond Carver, Stephen King, Jim Carroll, Elinor Wylie, Philip Dick, Sylvia Plath, John Steinbeck, Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway, Anne Sexton, and clearly, many more. The question that always arises is whether or not it is the writer or their environment that is to blame for their substance abuse, or perhaps a combination of both that fuels the funnel cloud of dejection.
Nancy Etchemendy, author of “The Power of Un,” and 1999 Bram Stoker recipient, wrote an article, “Writers and Depression,” for the Horror Writers Association** that focused on the increased risks of depression and substance abuse writers battle, again, part in due to the environment of isolation, lack of reward, and continual rejection that writers must undergo. She also talked about an article written by Kay Redfield Jamison, “Manic Depressive Illness and Creativity,” published in Scientific American in February 1995, who found that writers were ten times more likely to be depressed, and that suicide was eighteen times greater. That is alarming to say the least.
Undoubtedly, I struggle from time to time, but I remind myself it is not the depth of blackness I should fear, but how I respond to it. Still, I cannot help notice the peculiar parallels of what my muse alludes to and the vicinity of that to the well of my deepest, darkest fears. I question if those who write fiction are actually unable to suppress their demons and therefore turn to writing for release. What do you think? Are writers’ muses often not just their demons in disguise?