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Monday, April 30, 2012

The "Dark Passenger" of Writers

Most of you Dexter fans recognize the reference in the post title, but for those who aren't familiar with the show, I'll fill you in with a few research-supported facts:
  • Writers have a higher mortality rate (Cassandro, 1998; Kaufman, 2003; Kaun, 1991; Ludwig, 1995)
  •  Fiction writers (and poets) have a higher suicidal rate compared to other writers (Preti & Miotto, 1999)
  • Writers have a shorter life span than other occupations (Cassandro, 1998; Kaun, 1991; Ludwig, 1995)
  • Writers have a higher rate of mental illness, with particular tendency toward bipolar and other affective disorders (Andreasen, 1987)
I included references for those who might not believe me be interested in further research. 

These findings beg the question WHY. There are a couple of reasons, but the biggest two are below:

1) Dysphoric Rumination

This is psychologese for thinking depressive thoughts over and over. The thoughts become absorbing, self-perpetuating and definitely tax the creative process. Writers, by virtue of our profession, have to go through the process of revision. If a writer has a tendency to pull from his or her own inner turmoil (and come on, who of us don't do this?) and write about it, then when going through the revision process, we are in essence ruminating on our distress and anguish. Makes sense, doesn't it?

The health benefits of writing (which will be discussed in a later post) are undermined when we creatively write about the troubles of our life. Don't get me wrong, our torment can make for fantastic, interesting stories. But it's no secret that the seminal masterpieces of many authors/poets were their last published work.

2) External Locus of Control

I did a post just a few short weeks ago about locus of control (along with a writer's quiz to determine if you have internal or external locus of control [LOC]). If a person has a high external LOC, they believe that external forces are primarily responsible for the circumstances in their life.

In a very real way, writers who score high with external LOC are like rats in a "Skinner box." They believe they have very little control, have lots of anxiety, not knowing when the use of their services will expire or whether they will receive positive reinforcement like a food pellet (publication, landing an agent, winning a contest) or a negative reinforcement like electric shock (editorial/agent rejection, bad review, no new contract).

Let's Analyze: Do you think these researchers are on to something? Do you feel that authors who draw from their own internal well of pain and suffering are at a disadvantage when it comes to the inevitable revision process? Have you ever thought about it?