The Compulsive Writer Within

by Kelly on April 20, 2009 · 24 comments

in Creativity. Writing. Blogging

writing-as-therapy“The quality which makes a man want to write and be read is essentially a desire for self exposure – like one of those guys who has a compulsion to take his thing out and show it on the street.”

– James Jones, Author

I like to keep my thing in my pants, where it can stay out of trouble, but that doesn’t mean I don’t agree with Mr Jones and the flashing tendencies of writers.

Writers are funny creatures who thrive on dichotomy. We’re often brooders and over-thinkers with the added disadvantage of huge, fragile egos.

We injure easily and fancy ourselves as a lone duck, yet we feel compelled to expose our vulnerability and risk inevitable rejection all for the possibility of admiration and the thrill that comes from seeing our words – our emotions – in print.

Being a writer makes no sense.

The financial rewards for novelists are slim. All writers are rejected at some point. None of them take this well, but still some part of us perseveres. Craving attention, so sure that our stories must be told.

Are we delusional? Narcissistic? Unstable?

There are plenty of famous authors who are evidence to this fact. Dostoevski was addicted to gambling, while William S. Burroughs preferred opium.

Virgina Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson, Graham Greene and F. Scott Fitzgerald are just a few who attempted suicide (some successfully).

And Raymond Chandler, Truman Capote, Jack Kerouac and Dorothy Parker were proof that writing genius and alcoholism could be very close friends indeed.

It’s enough to make a budding novelist pack it in. I have a child to raise, a mortgage and travel habit to finance, relationships to maintain.

I don’t have time for an activity that sucks away the hours, has me living in a fantasy world and jeopardizes my sometimes tenuous grip on emotional stability.

Why do I persist?

Because I have no choice.

I write because I must. I write to keep the demons at bay. To give a voice to my fears and a home to the ugliness within. I write to channel my emotions and frustrations. To seek validation that I exist.

I know I’m not writing enough when I become depressed, argumentative, and generally too disagreeable to live with.

The upside is I am usually so depressed I cannot see I’ve stopped writing, so I don’t feel bad about it. The downside is inevitably MusicMan gets fed up with me being a basket case and challenges me to get back to my projects.

Usually this acts as a trigger, forcing me into a brief moment of clarity where I can see I’m spending far too much time thinking and brooding and not enough time transferring all those juicy emotions onto the page.

The trouble is, writing can make for an exhausting life – this ability to be transfixed with every emotion and behavioral defect of ourselves and others.

I often wish I didn’t feel so much and create so many other worlds in my head. I fantasize what it would be like to enjoy practical, grounding pursuits, like football or gardening.

I wish I could be a hardy, over-confident type – the kind of person who breezes through life, not noticing the hurdles waiting to trip them up. The kind of person who doesn’t see the people on the sidelines, hurling rocks at their head, or the changing shadows of relationships.

But then, would I still be a writer if it wasn’t for those incessant voices in my head?

Maybe I’d put all my years in copy writing to good use and be a successful internet marketer instead.

That’s not to say that all writers are neurotic, introspective hoarders of angst. No, I’m sure some are upbeat, uncomplicated souls who let life wash over them, never slowing them down.

I have never met a writer like this, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Maybe they just all hang out together, basking in their joviality, thumping proud chests and sharing stories of literary brilliance. Conspiring to keep the rest of us out of their confident circle.

Kind of like those successful internet marketers.


Flickr Photo by aindschie

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Ch-ch-ch-Changes! | Litopia Daily & Litopia After Dark
05.29.09 at 5:49 pm

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Evelyn Lim 04.20.09 at 5:35 pm

Your post made me laugh! Very well written!

I’ve often wondered why I am making my life so much busier than it already is. Am I a Narcissistic too?

Copywriting does pay better, without a doubt. I wonder why I never considered that path myself. I did try to venture out in internet marketing previously. But I stopped because I felt that I was unable to carry on with the hyped up sales tactics that are pervalent in that industry.

In any case, it does not really matter now. I hope to think that the words I write on my site can help the weary. It’s nice to be in delusion for once, I must say.

Stumbled and twittered!

Evelyn Lim’s last blog post..Confessions Of A Shopaholic Ego

2 Robin 04.20.09 at 5:50 pm

You are funny, Kelly. Writers have a need to expose their emotions – and then are sensitive about it – heh heh.

I’m thinking this applies to anyone who is putting themselves out and being creative in an area that is a challenge to them somehow – in my case it probably applied more to my creative teaching projects, than to writing (I don’t see myself as a writer) – how I longed to be one of those uncomplicated teachers who breezed through it.

Robin’s last blog post..Tomato Seeds And Delicious Fruit

3 Jenny Mannion 04.20.09 at 9:25 pm

Brilliant Kel!

I, too know I haven’t been writing enough when I get upset easily. It is a release and you touch on so many things I have experienced too – thanks for making me laugh instead of thinking myself as totally alone and neurotic. 😉

Writing used to be JUST an emotional release for me — had an argument with my spouse? I’d be writing furiously… upset over my illnesses and how sick I was? I’d burn holes in the page. Now I write to get out ALL my emotions. I actually learned from SARK how to write about the GOOD times and wonderful things in my life and this was a VERY important shift for me.

Thanks Kel — beautifully written, stumbled and thoroughly enjoyed. :-)


Jenny Mannion’s last blog post..The Person Responsible For Your Health, Wealth And Happiness

4 Music Man 04.20.09 at 9:43 pm


If you were not the way you were – your writing just wouldn’t be the same.

That’s what makes it so colourful

5 Kelly 04.20.09 at 11:08 pm

Copy writing does pay well and that is why it’s been a hard job to leave behind. But it also sucks the soul out of a writer and at some point you have to accept that’s too high a price to pay.

“I hope to think that the words I write on my site can help the weary” – they do, and that’s a great reason to write. x

I agree it does apply to all creative types. When I was a teacher, I also applied this creative mindset. And while I was always mindful to enjoy myself, I would often spend hours preparing innovative lesson plans that would keep my students entertained and involved in the educational process. if you do it right, teaching isn’t easy, but it’s very rewarding.


6 Kelly 04.20.09 at 11:12 pm

Writing is a powerful emotional release, but SARK is right it is beneficial to write about all our experiences and feelings – not just the bad ones. I still journal to clear my head, and in the past a lot of my writing came from a therapeutic place. All my poetry was written in misery, in fact. Maybe that’s why it’s so bloody average!

Thanks baby. That’s sweet of you to say. x


7 Dot 04.21.09 at 12:28 am

This sounds very heartfelt. I’ve never felt that way about fiction, which is probably why my two novels never got past the outline stage. It must be hard to feel compelled to write or suffer for not writing, but I guess all art comes from a need to express oneself and be heard (or seen or felt), so at least you have that to encourage you. Then again, many writers in the past had wives to take care of the day-to-day stuff, so they had much less to deal with than you have.

“I wish I could be a hardy, over-confident type – the kind of person who breezes through life, not noticing the hurdles waiting to trip them up.” That type of person also tends to be irresponsible and leave physical and emotional messes behind for other people to clean up. :-)

Dot’s last blog post..Spring Has Sprung

8 Positively Present 04.21.09 at 12:34 am

Great post! I think any writer could totally relate to this — at least, I could. Thanks!

Positively Present’s last blog post..stop worrying. no, seriously, stop it.

9 BC Doan 04.21.09 at 4:06 am

I like to read your post, not only it’s inspiring, but it also contain raw feelings that often described how I feel. It has a grip on my heart!

BC Doan’s last blog post..Images For the Third Week of April

10 Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching 04.21.09 at 6:15 am

Thanks for this post. It definitely resonated with my own feelings about writing — I’ve been querying agents about a manuscript I completed recently (which will be published, if I have to do it myself) and occasionally wondering why I’m being so masochistic, and this article helped me answer that question. :)

11 Sami 04.21.09 at 7:18 am

Great post Kelly. The quote by James Jones is too funny and too true!

Your words got me thinking. Whilst I haven’t previously considered myself a writer (my past life was in marketing and incidentally, I was an ordinary copy writer), I guess having a blog means I now technically am. This was further evidenced by the fact that the following resonated so much;

Writers are funny creatures who thrive on dichotomy. We’re often brooders and over-thinkers with the added disadvantage of huge, fragile egos.

We injure easily and fancy ourselves as a lone duck, yet we feel compelled to expose our vulnerability and risk inevitable rejection all for the possibility of admiration and the thrill that comes from seeing our words – our emotions – in print.

12 Vered - MomGrind 04.21.09 at 8:54 am

“I often wish I didn’t feel so much” – me too! I am slowly accepting that I’m a writer too (gasp), and while I don’t think I HAVE to write, I certainly have the complicated personality type that most writers are cursed with.

Vered – MomGrind’s last blog post..Cabo San Lucas

13 Stacey / Create a Balance 04.21.09 at 12:21 pm

Although I may have more free time if I did not have a writing practice, I think my life and my head would be extremely cluttered.

Stacey / Create a Balance’s last blog post..Shining Light – Sunday Thought For The Day

14 Lisa (mommymystic) 04.21.09 at 4:24 pm

But some of us need people showing us “the people on the sidelines, hurling rocks at [our] head, or the changing shadows of relationships” because we don’t see it ourselves, or at least can’t name it. The books I have read (fiction and non-fiction) have shaped my life and being – I can’t imagine who I’d be without them. Like others who have commented, I don’t really consider myself a writer, more of a thinker/teacher, but I appreciate writers for what they have brought into my awareness. So I for one am thankful that writers such as yourselves brave the angst!

Lisa (mommymystic)’s last blog post..New Blogroll, Positive Reinforcement, and The Self

15 Kelly 04.23.09 at 4:50 pm

You’re right, traditionally it has been easier for males to make significant creative contributions because they had women to take care of them. On a whole, men still don’t have to choose between career/art/contribution and family, but you don’t have to look far to find women living this struggle everyday. Over my 5 years of motherhood, I have often wished I had a wife :)

@Positively Present
Thanks for your comment and welcome to SHE-POWER :)


16 Kelly 04.23.09 at 4:54 pm

Thank you. Feelings are what I try to evoke :)

Hi there, welcome to SHE-POWER. Glad I could shed some light on your struggles. Keep persevering with your manuscript. All the best with the publishing route.

I actually think copy writing is much more like story telling and creative writing than journalism is, but for some reason us marketers/ad types struggle to think of ourselves as “real” writers.


17 Kelly 04.23.09 at 5:00 pm

It’s be nice to take a break from the complicated sometimes, don’t you think? Like being able to switch it off and be unthinking for a bit – I’d like that a lot. And you are most definitely a writer Vered DeLeeuw. x

Yes, perfect adjective there – cluttered. Mental clutter is what drives me slowly mad when stop writing.

I love your comment, Lisa, because I know this is true in my brain. I know the angst has a reward and I know fiction can be powerful and change you – it has me – so of course it’s worth my time. But sometimes it’s very hard to feel it. Thanks for reminding me :)


18 Debbie 04.23.09 at 6:49 pm

Hi Kelly,

Thank you for this post today! Writers, I think, are brooding, over-analytical, incessant “artists” putting emotions and thoughts out there. It’s a method of releasing what we sometimes cannot understand…reaching for a way to express in hopes someone else may understand.

I like this.


Debbie’s last blog post..The Cause Of Dis-Ease

19 Corgi 04.24.09 at 12:47 am

Came here through StumbleUpon. Had to smile when I realized you were describing me to the last cell.

My favorite quote on this topic is by the brilliant Ray Bradbury from his book Zen in the Art of Writing:

“Not to write, for many of us, is to die. We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout. The smallest effort to win means, at the end of each day, a sort of victory.

Remember that pianist who said that if he did not practice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know.

A variation of this is true for writers. Not that your style, whatever it is, would melt out of shape in those few days. But what would happen is that the world would catch up with and try to sicken you. If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. For writing allows just the proper recipes of truth, life, reality as you are able to eat, drink, and digest without hyperventilating and flopping like a dead fish in your bed.”

20 Kelly 04.24.09 at 4:28 pm

Hi, nice to “meet” you. Thanks for stopping by. I think you’re onto something with the need to understand. I have tried over the years to release the need to understand the “WHYS” of life, but I think it’s an in-built part of my questioning nature, and writing definitely helps me cope with that. Hope to see you here again.

Glad I could write something that resonated with you. I haven’t read that book by Ray Bradbury and are not familiar with the quote. It definitely speaks to me though, especially “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you”. That is exactly how I feel a lot of the time. It’s why I don’t watch news and why I don’t need my fiction and films to be any more “meaningful” than imaginative, well told story telling. I’ll take imagination over reality any day.


21 Chris 04.25.09 at 8:13 am

I’ve been religiously working on my book and I’m 75% done but I just hit a wall and it’s been a week I can’t breakthrough the barrier. I decided to go back to my old friends that I have irresponsibly left and neglected. Low and behold, their posts have rejuvenated me, especially yours.

This post just reminded me why I’ve sacrificed so much for the sake of my novel!

Chris’s last blog post..His Moment

22 Natural 04.25.09 at 9:38 am

I like to keep my thing in my pants, where it can stay out of trouble, but that doesn’t mean I don’t agree with Mr Jones and the flashing tendencies of writers.

i loved that so much i read it 3 times.

writers are not narcissistic, but bipolar. i’ve learned that we are creative people.

i enjoyed reading this post. i know what you’re going through. press on.

Natural’s last blog post..My Two Left Feet

23 Kelly 04.27.09 at 11:33 pm

That’s so exciting you’ve made that much progress on your novel. It’s worth dropping out of the blogasphere for a bit to achieve something that big. I have missed you though so thanks for coming by to say “hi”, and all the best with finishing the novel. Can I read it when you’re done? The eye and emotional distance of another writer and editor is always a good thing.

Bipolar? Hadn’t thought of it that way, but you’re probably right. Thanks for the encouragement :)


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