Writers I’ve talked to about ‘Inner Voices’ have been very generous; willing to disclose their experiences, their understanding of the phenomenon, and how, if at all, it informs their work. They might not have thought much about the questions I have asked, they may even have been irritated by them, but they have not inferred/assumed that I am questioning their sanity.
Yet it is held by many that there is a link between madness and creativity. I’m not entirely convinced though stories abound of writers battling mental ill-health though whether such a condition is a necessary prerequisite to creative endeavour is debatable.
I do think, however, that there is an expectation within our cultural framework (established and nurtured by anecdote, reportage, output, biography, autobiography and by writers themselves) that writers should see and experience things differently because they are creative.
“So you’re a writer?”
“And you hear voices?”
“So you should”
“So you’re an Estate Agent?”
“And you hear voices?”
“You need help”
The writer is “allowed” to hear voices, feel presences, be depressed, and exhibit behaviour that does not conform to the norm. This is not to dismiss those writers who experience mental distress but to argue that different social and occupational groupings have different levels of acceptance of these phenomena. As important, the writer is expected to express their inner world, use it in their writing to enlighten and entertain (which can be both therapeutic and joyful). The Estate Agent cannot, must not, and dare not express their inner world if that inner world is beset by ill-health. There is no opportunity for their everyday world will not accept it
The expectation/acceptance that writers are “different” arises not because of what they write but because they write. It is in that messy and shadowy world in which the writer lives as they begin to write, glimpse a scene, create character, develop story, grasp for description and slowly take up residence in The Idea, that voices may speak, shout, mumble and whisper, that they start to feel and sense the story emerge from the half-light, “see” what they’re writing about, and begin to understand who they are. And as the writing continues the writer invents and re-frames, lives with nuance, ambiguity, diversion, getting lost and that uncertain exploration of the emotions and states that creative writing generates.
If the estate agent was allowed to do this – live and write in that unstructured and half-understood world, write as they will, scribble and scrawl, mutter and pace, search and meander – they too would gain a greater understanding of who they are. They would have licence to talk to their voices, live with their visions, hang out with their feelings, troubled or not. There does not have to be an ending – a daily journal, an article, a recovery story or whatever – only the “writer” is obliged to edit, re-structure, and present a coherent finished work.
So is there a link between “madness” and creativity? The writer is “allowed” to explore emotional states, the dark and the light, the unbidden and the unknown. That is not “mad” that is being human and alive to who you are. Let the estate agent do the same but with no demand to produce something. No finished story, no structured narrative. For it is the act, not the subject matter, of writing that is important.