Is writing just an elaborate form of therapy for the author?
Whilst listening to the writer and comedian Sarah Millican on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs this morning, I was fascinated to hear that Millican began writing in earnest after the painful and unexpected break-up of her first marriage in 2004. The reason for this was threefold; the writing helped her to escape from the unbearable situation in which she found herself, the fact that others laughed at the routines she based around the divorce made her feel she was not alone in her anguish, and finally, we must assume that the divorce created the opportunity for her to tour the country and do stand-up.
In the intervening decade, Millican has found great success with her career and now has a new husband, a fellow performer on the comedy-circuit. Sarah Millican’s story made me think. Many of the comments she made had a profound resonance for me. I started penning my first novel roughly two years ago and I am now beginning my seventh. I’ve often described my method of writing as borderline compulsive. From start to finish, it will take me about three months to write a book.
But this burst of creativity did not spring out of nowhere. Like Sarah Millican, the writing of my first novel was borne out of a very difficult period in my life. It was nobody’s fault and just one of those things that happens to plenty of people, but for a few months back then, the only thing I could manage to do in order to hold things together was to write. I suppose it was a form of escapism, but even if it was, it worked. not overnight, that’s for sure, but over the following months and year I began to recover, my novels giving me the respite I needed to achieve it.
Hearing Sarah Millican’s story, it made me wonder how many other people have been spurred to creativity whilst at their lowest ebb. Nowadays, I write my books for an entirely different reason and am perhaps more circumspect about them. But I would never have started this whole author business at all if it wasn’t for that temporary crisis in my life which of course, never feels temporary at the time.
It is one of the reasons why I feel particularly protective of my early books. Those stories and characters helped to lead me through the darkness. As an author, we can only hope that our books might strike a chord with someone going through a similarly testing time. In many ways, it is what the arts should be about. We are sharing our experiences of what it is to be human, through good times and bad.
I’m very glad that Sarah Millican decided to embark upon her career in comedy, she’s extremely good at it and it was obviously what she was always meant to do. But was it worth the trauma and upset which set her on that path in the first place? Who knows, it a question I really couldn’t answer myself. All we can do as writers and artists is move forward with our work, in the knowledge and hope that what we create now will be born out of joy rather than pain.