Good Writers are the Saddest Ones

Dear readers,

This post is slightly different to the ones published thus far, but I am a little pensive as I write this, and I thought I’d share a little bit about how I began to write.

In his book, The Tao of Travel, Paul Theroux compiled excerpts from various travel novels throughout the ages, from thought-provoking to quirky recounts, each offering a distinct and unique perspective of the world around us — many of which resonated deeply inside of me, but that is for another story.

As was the case, Paul wrote brief introductions about these authors before each excerpt. I started to notice a trend: many of them had, to a certain extent, lived troubled lives, and that their best novels were often written during those trying years.

Henry Fielding, author of bestselling novel, Tom Jones, had, as Paul wrote, “suffered from asthma, liver disease, gout, and dropsy.”

Samuel Johnson had, at some point, suffered from what was probably Tourette’s, with gout and melancholia. Still, at age sixty-four, he willed himself to travel to the Western Isles of Scotland, which yielded one of his more notable travel novels, Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland.

I came to a chapter entirely dedicated to great travellers and writers, and their lengthy issues: “Specke shot himself… Nansen was suicidal and so was Meriwether Lewis… Tobias Smollett travelled to the Continent not long after his daughter died, and his grief shows in his rage.” The list goes on.

I still clearly remember how I felt moved to write. It was 2009, and I had just started life as a tertiary student at a local polytechnic. A year prior, in my haste, I enrolled into a course I knew nothing about, except that it sounded like fun. A month in, and I came to realise how out of depth I was; I had neither the aptitude nor the interest, and each day became more labourious. I am considerably introverted with only a few friends whom I could truly confide in. With precious little to cling on to, I started to write, and I didn’t care what I wrote; all I knew was that I was flushing out all my emotions. I started write short stories and poems, all of which were rather pessimistic, to say the least. Still, I wrote — it kept me intact.

Fast forward a few months, and I found myself writing a eulogy for a family friend. I couldn’t attend the funeral, so someone else read it for me. What I didn’t expect was the response that came after, that it was well-received by many. For the first time in a long time, I felt that I had finally done something right, that perhaps there was a place for me somewhere in this vast world. I started writing out of selfishness — I wanted to be told that I could do something well.

That was 8 years ago. Today, those reasons have changed. I have been extremely privileged to be able to see the world through the eyes of different cultures, and to be able to document stories of people’s lives. In more ways than one, it felt like I was living vicariously through them. No matter what I’ve written, however, the one constant is that my best pieces were often conceived whenever I was going through difficult times: breakups, uncertainties, illnesses, amongst others. Simply put, the more emotions I am overwhelmed with, the more I could unreservedly pour my heart out. Does it mean that I can only write well when I am in anguish? Perhaps not. But, if you were to ever come a cross a particularly strong piece, that is probably the case.

I am a little fragile, and I am terrible at hiding how I truly feel. Writing has been my outlet to vent, in a little place I can never find anywhere else. Does that mean I think I write amazingly well? I don’t rate myself; that is the reader’s job. All I know is that I’ve always meant for my stories to look like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.