Using Those Skeletons

The Query Tracker Blog Chain topic this time was begun by Archetype and the blogger who preceded me was the ever-lovely Jessica Verday.

The topic is:

Some people argue that creative people need “angst” to produce good work. Do you? What emotions drive you as a writer?

This is a two part question. First of all, there is the assumption that angst is a necessary ingredient for art. I’m going to have to agree with that. My agreement is limited and conditional, however.

Let’s start with examples that support the artistic angst assertion (three bonus points for use of alliteration). Two tortured geniuses: Vincent Van Gogh and Edgar Allan Poe. It is sort of a chicken before the egg thing in my mind. Both of these guys epitomize  proposal that angst and art must mix. But do we think that angst is a necessary ingredient because of guys like this who happened to live tortured lives, or were they so amazing because of their suffering? Lots of lit on this very subject.

After Van Gogh lopped off part of his left ear (right ear in the portraits because he was looking in a mirror) after an argument with his friend, Gauguin, he painted not one, but two portraits of himself with the bandage. Why? And did the angst make his art better than it would have otherwise been?  Hard to say.

529px-vincent_willem_van_gogh_1063 van-gogh-self-portrait3

Now, Edgar Allan Poe was all about the angst. I think he is one of those folks Archy talked about where mental illness is related to creativity. He would be a good case in point to validate the art = angst theory.


One of my favorite angsty Poe poems:  


Take this kiss upon the brow!

And, in parting from you now,

Thus much let me avow–

You are not wrong, who deem

That my days have been a dream;

Yet if hope has flown away

In a night, or in a day,

In a vision, or in none,

Is it therefore the less gone?

All that we see or seem

Is but a dream within a dream.


I stand amid the roar

Of a surf-tormented shore,

And I hold within my hand

Grains of the golden sand–

How few! yet how they creep

Through my fingers to the deep,

While I weep–while I weep!

O God! can I not grasp

Them with a tighter clasp?

O God! can I not save

One from the pitiless wave?

Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?

So cool.  Gotta love that angst.  But it’s not my angst, is it?  Which brings me to the second question in the topic:  What emotions do I use when I write?

Well, as Leah Clifford so aptly said in her post on this topic, “EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.”  

Having been trained in Stanislavsky Method Acting, I’ve learned to isolate emotions from past experiences and use them constructively to infuse believability into my performance, or in this case, my writing.  

I have not met a single soul yet who has not endured suffering in one form or another.  If I get to know someone well enough, invariably I discover that there are skeletons in his/her closet, just like there are in my own.  


It is the trials that give us depth.  It is the way we apply these emotions outside the event that makes us creative–not the angst itself.  

Go on over and check out Kate Quinn’s post because she is next in the QT Blog Chain.  The other members are listed in the link on the right.  Wishing everyone an angst-free week.  


Explore posts in the same categories: QueryTracker Chain, The Writing Process

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9 Comments on “Using Those Skeletons”

  1. Carolyn Says:

    Oooh, bonus points for the Van Gogh paintings and Poe poem! And I know that Poe did in fact suffer from (surprise!) bipolar disorder. He was also the one who said, “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” The “insanity” was his manic phase, and the “sanity” was his depressive phase.

    Kay Redfield Jamison wrote a book called Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, in which she looks at some famous writers with that mad kind of creativity.

    And some more bonus points for showing us a skeleton in your closet. 😉

  2. Sandra Says:

    Great post! I agree that we have to use a full range of emotions when we write. Otherwise, we’d do nothing more than riff on Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther.

  3. H. L. Dyer Says:

    OOOooo!! Skeletons in the closet is perfect in every way. I think you should put skeletons in all your closets. 😉

    You get big smartypants bonus points on the Art & Literature Greats front, too. 🙂

    Love it!

  4. Terri Rainer Says:

    Okay, dork warning….

    I think that is a very good example of why Poe should have been a gansta rapper, he was just born in the wrong time and place.

    Yes, I said that.

    I often wonder how many writers out there at one time or another wanted to be an actor too, I know I did (years and years ago). I bet if not a writer/actor, there would be a writer/artist.

    I don’t think I ever thought about writing emotions in a way that an actor would portray them!

    Great post Mary!

    🙂 Terri

  5. Michelle Says:

    Love the poem! And love the discussion about isolating your emotions and using them in your art…makes a lot of sense as well – many of us say that we see our books as movies in our heads, and we are just writing the story as we see it. A big part of that is conveying the emotions we see played out. Excellent post!!

  6. That skeleton in your closest, actually looks pretty darn friendly.

    I think you are right that it is how we apply the emotions and not the angst itself that is necessary to creating.

    Lots of excellent ideas here – as always!

  7. Nice post! I like the way you talked about isolating your emotions and drawing upong them for your writing. And HA! a skeleton in your closet picture…excellent!


  8. ElanaJ Says:

    What a great post on lots of different things. I absolutely adore Vincent van Gogh and appreciate the angst of Poe. It’s true that when we look at the lives of others, we can feel their angst. That’s what we want to infuse into our words. Great insight, Mary. 😀

  9. Carolyn Says:

    Oh, how I wish I’d been an actor, Terri. Sometimes I think I missed my calling (though in reality I think the calling is teaching — but if you’re a good actor, you sometimes get paid a lot more than I get paid teaching…plus you meet lots of pretty-boy actors. Yes, I’m feeling shallow today.)

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