This week I have been in agony with my tooth. It all started with a piece of chicken and three emergency dental appointments later, is yet to end. On my Saturday off I have made the effort to do some writing. This morning consisted of editing a new short story and reading Mslexia little MS online for updates on current novel trends and everything writerly. My choice to try and do some writing was partly to do with being active, partly to do with escaping the pain. Which leads me to question, can physical pain make us more creative? Are we closer to the edge, our emotions and ideas more heightened with the tinge of pain behind them? Or is it simply a waste of our time when we should give in the pain and take to bed? Does being creative actually take us out of ourselves, away from the physical feelings therefor easing our distress? Many mental health studies have noted the importance of keeping active and being creative when faced with troubled times, if simply as a way of expression and distraction. Some of the most effective and successful work I have written has been under the tension of a stressful or painful time. Does that not make it easier for us to access the less pleasant emotions, to fully live the lives of our characters?
I know that difficult times can certainly put a strain on the flow of creativity. When you’re anxiously looking at the clock, or half listening for the phone to ring it’s difficult to fully let go and enter into the spirit of writing. And of course when you aren’t feeling yourself, your mood is low, therefore affecting your self confidence and perhaps making you more self critical. It’s often hard to stay focused too, when your mind keeps jumping from the words you’re creating to the area of your body that wants attention.
Last year I watched the ITV adaptation of The C Word (starring the fabulous Sheridan Smith) which was based on the story of Lisa Lynch, a talented writer and editor who developed breast cancer at the age of 28. I was so inspired by her story and her use of writing as a way of dealing with the horrific experience in a ‘warts and all’ style blog with razor sharp wit, I ordered the book straight away. I tweeted my reaction to the series (it was retweeted by her brother and the actor who played him) and told everyone I knew about her story. In truth, I connected with it. So maybe it’s not always about writing for yourself, although that’s what Lisa set out to do, it’s also about relaying truth, emotions and ideas to others. Sharing thoughts, knowing someone is listening even if they aren’t responding. For Lisa, people did respond. She gained a lot of support, she helped a lot of people and she felt better for writing through the pain. And, although sadly she passed away before the TV series aired, she has left a legacy behind which many are still to discover.
For me, I feel better just by writing something. Writing is a big part of my make up, and when I’m not doing that I don’t feel whole. It’s like a chemical reaction, as soon as my fingers tap the keys I feel happy, I feel right. I make sense of the world through words and images. Self expression. So I will continue to write though the pain, to distract, to discover and ultimately in tribute to the many others who have taken to their keyboard when times have been incredibly bleak. In my view, that’s what makes a great writer.