Can we kill the tortured artist please

When I was a child I told an adult that I wanted to be an author, and in response they told me that only people who had suffered before they turned ten could write good books.

This worried me.

See, I was about eleven or twelve at the time, and I hadn’t done much suffering. Not only were both my parents still alive, they weren’t even divorced. In fact, they weren’t just together, they were good together. They role-modelled a healthy, functional relationship founded on mutual respect. To this day, I have never heard them speak to each other in a hurtful way. And although my siblings and I sometimes annoyed each other in the way siblings do, I knew it would be a reach to claim they caused me suffering.

So I hoped desperately that the bullying I experienced at school and the complete social failure that followed would be enough and that the universe would not begrudge my career choice simply because this had started a few months after my tenth birthday rather than before it.

It was a silly thing to worry about, but it felt very real at the time.


The reason I struggled to launch this blog and to write an announcement post on Silence Killed the Dinosaurs was that every time I tried to tell my story of writing, I would find myself getting caught up in my miscarriages. And now when I try and write a blog post—just a normal, standard blog post—I’m still tangled. So let’s get it out of the way, and then maybe I will have brain space for other things.


Over the last four years I have had four miscarriages. It was traumatic, both physically and emotionally. It is still traumatic. It has sent me to hospital five times: three times for day-surgery, one time for medicine-based treatment, once to the ER for gushing blood and fist-sized clots. The last time I was in hospital, I started sobbing as they put me under. I felt so silly for it, but I just couldn’t stop. They moment I woke up, I was crying again. The nurses called my husband and got him to come into recovery and sit with me because they didn’t know how else to help.

I think, by anyone’s standards, this counts as suffering.

Before all this drama began, I had just started writing my novel seriously. In many ways, having something to write, having another world for my mind to inhabit, has helped me survive this trauma. But the trauma has not helped me write.

For me, writing has always been a game. It is fun. It is somewhere I can let my brain run like a dog off the leash (so long as I am willing to go around after it and scoop up its poop). It is also hard and frustrating and never perfect the first time or maybe ever dammit, but even then, it still comes from playfulness. The more of that I have, the more ideas I have, the more expression I have, the more I can write.

Conversely, the less of that I have, the fewer ideas I have, the less expression I have, the less I can write. And suffering does not make me feel playful. It makes me doubt myself, makes me waste time forcing myself to get started, makes me stare emptily at the wall. Having miscarriages has slowed down every aspect of my life, but especially writing.

And I feel guilty about that.

Here I am, all this juicy suffering handed to me on a platter, just waiting for me to turn it into something wonderful. After all, that’s what writers and artists do, right? That’s what I’ve always been told.

If someone tried to sell me the Tortured Artist Myth now, I would not buy it, would not even take it for free. But it’s too late. I accepted it a long time ago and held it tight for too many years. It’s a hard thing to let go, but I want it gone.

Because here’s the thing.

Even if there was an alternate version of me who was spurred on by horrible things, who could spin sadness into hilarity and pain into beauty, I don’t think that would make it worth it. I think that version of me would still wish all the blood-soaked heartbreak undone, even if I had to give back the creative mastery along with it.

My happiness is worth something to me. I am more than what I can produce. And so are you.

(Also I use humour as a defense mechanism when I feel vulnerable)

My psychologist tells me I am avoidant.

The latest reason she has told me this is because I wrote a novel.

And, look, I’m not a professional psychologist, but surely the correct response to that is, you have been very persistent and worked hard and it has paid off, amazing, here is a certificate stating you are inner-demon free, which you may trade in at any point for a fun hat to wear and a swimming pool of cash to recline in while anyone who has ever doubted you even in very small ways about totally different things all line up along the edge to apologise and tell you how great you are.

I’m being flippant.

I have great respect for my psychologist, and she didn’t tell me I was being avoidant for having written a novel but for, once it started to look frighteningly finished, ignoring it for months in favour of a new project.

I said, look. There are steps. This is a process. It can take a lot of time. And actually, the novel still needs some polishing, so it’s not finished finished. Also, I’m still waiting on some reader feedback. Plus I need to double-check some things with my sword guy*. Also, before I do anything official, it is necessary that I start a Proper Writer Blog so I can complain about writing, procrastinate and meet other writers so we can all complain about writing and procrastinate together.

And she calmly complimented me on having a list of things to get done and asked if I planned to start working through it any time soon … and was that really the most accurate use of the word necessary? And I have to say, she had me there.

I kept the Proper Writer Blog on my list anyway.

So, ta da.

(In my defence, other people are very scary).

* while it is 100% factual for me to state that I have a sword guy, it would also be 100% factual for me to state that I have a cousin who does medieval sword-fighting as a hobby and was nice enough to bring his swords up to my place one afternoon and let me swish them around a bit. But one of those statements makes me look a lot cooler than the other.