How to be a Poet


Being sad is the key to being a good writer.

Just kidding! Artists don’t need to be depressed. That’s a toxic myth, and my take isn’t fresh. Most people know that nowadays.

But it definitely helps. There’s a lot of content when you’re sad. The daily bruising, the apathy, and the bone-poking-through-skin honest to God pain makes for a wealth of content. It’s easy to write when the writing feels furious. It pours out of you like shit or vomit. Piss and vinegar. In the act of writing it down you feel like you’re purging some of the bullshit from your head. Usually it just leads to a one person echo chamber circle jerk of grotesque thoughts, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The point is, it’s easy to feel like writing when you are depressed, because it feels like every single day is tailor made by a higher power to be really fucking shitty for you specifically. This either leads to the “my pain is special and therefore needs to be acknowledged by society” route, or the less fun “my pain is universal and therefore relatable because existence is meaningless” one. So it’s pretty easy to write something down.

In dark moments I turn to the oft cited, possibly misattributed, “Credo” by good old Jack (Kerouac): “Remember above all things, Kid, that to write is not difficult, not painful… Remember, Kid, the ease, the grace, the glory, the greatness of your art; remember it, never forget.”

Maybe being happy is the key to being a good writer. Not that I suggest turning to Kerouac for inspiration on being happy. For a long time, I thought I did my best writing when I was really depressed. Then, after some intensive therapy (and two months away from my conservatory education, which on occasion is known to rot parts of your brain), I was kind of… better. Not entirely, and not forever, but for a while, I just felt better. Days stopped feeling like a shit parade of apathy, and I got a little better at taking care of my basic hygiene and sleep schedule. I stopped sitting down in the shower. I stopped feeling like a talking doll with dying batteries set to manic mode. Writing felt less like a voiding of the bile in my head and more like an act of creation, bringing something into existence that hadn’t been there before. Sometimes I struggled to match my old writing pace, but the work was so coherent. It was still all about me, of course, because twenty year olds are narcissists. But writing felt so honest, so freeing, that it fit into my happy little world.

The question is, how can you write when you are neither happy nor sad, simply present to the circumstances of your life, flossing regularly, consuming less alcohol, and you are just so sick of writing about yourself?

Writing about yourself when you’re depressed is easy because you are special. Writing about yourself when you are happy is easy because you’re so evolved, so unique, you’ve figured out the secret to life and you have something to say about it! But I’ve started to see the circumstances of my life as they are: sometimes good, sometimes bad, generally excellent compared to most of the world. And serializing it all just doesn’t seem so interesting anymore. Maybe everything I’ve written in defense of navel gazing is wrong. We need to stop exalting ourselves and bringing ourselves so low. Real life happens in the middle, I guess. I should quit before I keep sounding like a Yogi tea bag.

I can always just fall in love again. Then none of this will matter.