I wrote the first pages of the first draft of The Confessions of Adam after a stressful evening at a church leadership meeting. I recall very clearly how those paragraphs and that story I’d been thinking so much about fell onto the page, how my anxiety and stress fueled the creation of those initial bits of prose – how my frustration found release late that September evening.
Again I remember after a particularly difficult visit with my Alzheimer’s-addled mother I came home and dumped my bitterness and rage into a prose poem that boiled and popped like a pot of sour stew abandoned on the stove.
There is both solace in, as well as a fuel for, creativity when personal circumstances are most adverse. I know the quality of my work seems to benefit.
It is a well known phenomena that we do our best work when we’re under duress – or when tapping those vats of deep emotion stored up from the past. Put the other way, it seems that satisfaction with one’s station in life brings a lack of urgency that translates to subpar creative work. The creative edge is dulled when there is relative ease. There is some motor that is revved by adversity, a sobriety that generates higher craft.
But you don’t need to go looking for angst. There’s no role to play here – that of some uni-dimensional Angry or Troubled Artist. You’re human. That is enough. Your creative work is a place to park, to constructively respond to the challenges that come your way – that come our way as humans. It is a strange side benefit that with real conflict comes story. Mere mortals must bottle up their angst. We writers get to load up our sentences with this ammo and fire at will.