Angst in Writing– Back on the Chain Gang

Blog Chain time again!

This chain’s topic was selected by Carolyn over on Archetype Writing. If you didn’t find your way here from Leah Clifford’s blog, you should check out her post.

The topic is:

Some people argue that creative people need “angst” to produce good work. Do you? What emotions drive you as a writer?

Is angst necessary for good writing?

Well, when I was in high school, my writer friends and I certainly thought so. The word “Angst” became a sort of mantra among us, emerging as a guttural grunt to be shouted when appropriate. And I certainly wrote angsty things during that time… poetry mostly.


A smash
Through the glass
Would leave my
Tied with pretty
Red ribbons

A walk
With a train
Would leave me
At last

His key
In the lock
Leaves me
And shaking.

But I don’t think good writing is angsty all that often. And I don’t think of angst as something a writer must acquire in order to write well.

I think of it more like research, I guess.

As a writer, I think it’s important to experience as much as possible. Actually, scratch that… as a HUMAN BEING, I think it’s important to experience as much as possible. I’ve always tried to learn whatever I can. When I was 13, I made my young cousins show me their piano lessons, so I could teach myself. I learned sign language and translated for the Children’s Theater productions when I was in high school. Calligraphy, hula dancing, coding for electronic books, medicine, palm-reading, law, Spanish folk songs… all these things widen my personal experiences and make my writing richer.

It’s the same way with emotional experiences. The more personal extremes you’ve experienced, the more genuinely you can empathize and express those sentiments for your characters. Every emotion– including angst– is valid and useful in writing.

So, no… I don’t think a writer needs to suffer for their art, per se. I don’t think making yourself miserable or melancholy is going to improve your work. But I do think a writer needs to be OUT THERE, taking risks, making themselves emotionally vulnerable and just plain embracing the rich up-and-downs of life. The benefits for the writing is just a bonus. 🙂

Next up on the chain is the fabulous Jessica Verday, so tune in tomorrow and see what she has to say about this topic.


10 Responses

  1. Heather, I am amazed at you. Every time you post, I learn something new. You have more layers than anyone I know–and that is a good thing. I think I might be your opposite. I don’t really like learning new things. I would probably never learn Spanish folk songs if I wasn’t forced to do so. (I was actually. I taught music for a number of years and it was in the core curriculum. Go figure.)

    Great post about just experiencing life and then writing about it. 😀

  2. Excellent post! I totally agree – you’ve gotta experience life if you wanna write about it. I love learning new things…I love being in school (I just about started a second masters degree just cause I am actually really missing the whole learning process right now). It is a joy for me to learn and experience new stuff – and it does help in my writing. Once again a great post!

  3. Isn’t there a entirely separate category for high school angst? But really, this is an excellent post. I think it is essential to get out and be a part of life. Let’s face it, people and the situations they get themselves into…priceless research!


  4. Oh too funny – the first thing this topic made me think of was angsty high school poetry as well!

    Love what you wrote about experiencing life to be able to write about it. It is kind of terrible, but whenever something bad happens to me, there is always a tiny part of me at the back of my head thinking, “this would make a great story.”

  5. Another person who wanted to comment on how experiences enrich your writing. Of course, everyone else has beaten me to it….

    So, does your next novel feature a hula-dancing palm-reader who sings Spanish folk songs?

  6. Sandra! I told you that IN PRIVATE!

    Now you’ve totally spoilered my WIP. I’ll have to scrap it and start something else.


  7. I can’t believe you have two-timed me and told someone else about your hula-dancing, Spanish folk song singing, palm-reader in your WIP. Gah!

    I love the poem, BTW, Onion Girl.

  8. I love the poem. How angsty!

    I also like learning new things. I nearly went and got a master’s after I finished my doctorate because…okay, partly because I hoped I’d meet some boys that way. I saw the same 27 people in my doctoral program, and we were mostly girls.

    You caught me.

    Your post also made me think about how The Writer in me perks up when I have an emotional response I’ve never had before. I’ve been truly hysterical a grand total of once in my life, and the whole time it was happening, The Writer was taking copious mental notes. Ah, the joys of being a writer…

  9. Can you say over-achiever?

    Holy smoke batman, I’m impressed!

    I do agree that you can’t write if you haven’t lived, it’s just apparent SOME of us take that to an all new level.

    Great post!

    🙂 Terri

  10. I still really like that poem. Man, those were the days!

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