The Tortured Artist is a Myth

Writers are creatives. Creatives are constantly in turmoil. They put themselves in uncomfortable, contortionist emotional and mental pretzels as they piece together ideas to write a fully-fleshed Good Thing. We think a lot. We dredge up bad joo-joo in order to be creative. We’re weird. We isolate ourselves in order to observe. We drink. We’re depressed. We’re dead inside and simultaneously too emotional, too raw.

This is a post about the tortured artist.

Fuck. That. Shit.

I do not mean “tortured artist” as someone who is genuinely struggling or dealing with very real mental illness or substance abuse. That happens! We all need to take of ourselves! Does it happen more in artistic types? I’m not really sure. Have I had my own struggles with clinical depression? Yes. Do I have social anxiety disorder? Yep. Have they fueled some of my creativity? Yeah.

I mean “tortured artist” as someone who has turmoil and tortures themselves and others around them because that’s supposed to result in, like, better writing or something? Maybe it is a result of a real mental illness. Or maybe it’s because there’s this perpetual myth that gets passed around to budding writers that in order to write anything of worth, you must self-flaggelate yourself, be an unbearable person, take your pain and make it into Art–that anything less than that dishonors the creative work. You’re not taking it seriously enough. And whatever you write Must Have Meaning.


Look, I went to an arts college. I was already dealing with a lifelong case of social anxiety and pretty hefty and ongoing depression. There was something romantic to my idiot adolescent brain about writers who had lived big (or small) lives devoted to their work, mirroring the world around them, and thought big thoughts. They were tormented by their ideas, by the state of the world around them, they had Big Feelings and they lived crazy, romantic lives.

So I don’t think this Tortured Artist thing was something I necessarily picked up in college. But college was pretty rife with tortured (read: pretentious) artists.

But really, when you’ve been out of that environment for a decade, you realize…no, I don’t want to be tortured. Writing is supposed to be fun. Or at least, I began writing because I was always making up stories anyway. It was only later–around high school–that it became apparent that writing was my strongest form of communication, that it was not only fun but also challenging and good for my very up-and-down emotions.

So as I was trying to shed the tortured artist thing, I became super neurotic about writing. I’m not the best plotter and I don’t really like the chaos of being a pantser (chaos not being fun when you’re naturally anxious), so I tried to figure out a way to become a plotter. I worried about the research for a story and the structure and the plot and I paralyzed myself into not writing.

That’s a different kind of tortured artist thing.

I’m over it now. I’ve had an idea for a while and I don’t have everything about it worked out, but I am open to the story changing on me as I think it through. I’ve been writing bits and scenes of it, not even in order. I have three things I need to research for it–just three topics. I have no deadline. I have no one except me waiting for this story to emerge and be finished.


6 thoughts on “The Tortured Artist is a Myth

  1. Freeedommmm! :DWriting IS fun. There's nothing wrong with having fun. And why the hell not? I had a long talk with myself the other day about being mental. And it's like, sure, I'm going to be a crazy person sometimes. That's fine. But I write because I love stories. And I can write whatever the hell I want. I can write as fast or as slow as I want. The only thing I need to do is stop doing 30 things at once. That's how I burn out. Publishing and editing and writing simultaneously is exhausting. It's okay to set the story aside and do some publishing things. It's okay to veg out on Netflix for a week. It's okay. It'll keep me sane in fact. I got an ARC of my poetry book in on Monday, and I was so freaking happy. There was so much joy. And I'm like, THIS is why I write. Because it's so satisfying to create stories and poems and song lyrics or whatever. And sometimes I worry so much about the end product that I don't enjoy the process or even the satisfaction of finishing. And that's so crazy. So, I'm not going to do that anymore. I'm going to be free and have fun and enjoy telling these stories, because anything else is some damn nonsense.


  2. It's meant to be fun, so why not have fun? I mean, yeah, if you're publishing your stuff, it's fun but there's a bit of added expectations and pressure! I like having written better but the process shouldn't be torturous–and I'm kicking pretentious tortured artist shit to the curb.


  3. I'd never thought about the tortured artist, but we do torture ourselves quite a bit. Frustration at not being able to write, anxiety that the writing isn't right or good enough, fear at sending it out there…not to mention the craziness of every other aspect. How can writers not become mental?šŸ˜…


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