Tortured Writer

The Tortured Writer is an archetype for a good reason. I have in my imagination a snap shot of a man (I suppose because I am man) looking up from his typewriter with an expression that says, “Why have you made me do this?” As if the world is demanding his art from him and he must wring it from his soul until he bleeds.

There is a romance to it all, of course, as perhaps writing is only this torturous because it is this important. Who doesn’t want to do something important? But you won’t get very far thinking your struggle is somehow more valuable to the world than your neighbor’s. Still, there is a reason we have come to view the writer’s struggle as unique, and it is worth considering as you do your work.

Unlike being a doctor, or a lawyer, or a teacher, or a chef, writing is an entirely inside-out job. There is no external crucible through which you can pass to arrive, officially, at Writer. Even MFA programs merely serve as a (hopefully) supportive environment for prospective writers to begin this solitary journey.

It is a journey that everyone must take eventually, but writers, and artists in general, often end up taking it earlier and unexpectedly. What began as something that was always enjoyable and for which the writer probably received praise as a young man or woman quickly turns into a journey toward the self. It doesn’t matter what you write, that is where you are headed. Because it will soon become apparent to the writer that in fact, despite all the classes and books and writing magazines in the world, in the end, no one can tell you what word to put on the page next except yourself.

Within all of us, I believe, is a tortured writer, that part of our selves that is periodically stunned at the degree to which we must go it alone. But the pleasure in writing is going it alone, that delicious discovery unique to you. We arrived at writing because we sought our most pleasurable means of this inevitable discovery. So if that tortured writer turns to you some days and asks, “Why have you made me do this?” take his or her hand and say, “Because you asked me to."

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