• Do You Have to Be Angry to Write Well?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN News & Events     Comments 2 comments

    In Eric Bogosian’s Perforated Heart, the narrator, a novelist, writes in his journal “Isn’t anger the basis for all great art?”

    I’m not a big fan of absolutes, but I do think there’s a bit of truth somewhere inside that line. On Facebook we opened it up to the group. Is anger the basis for all great art? Or is that line a puddle of bullshit? Here’s what you guys had to say:

    Leah: “B.S.! I felt for years that I couldn’t possibly make good art because I had such a happy home life, but 1) There’s always pain at some point, no matter how good your life is, and 2) Comedy and satire, though they still need some drama to operate, don’t have to be angry at all. In fact, I can think of a lot of genres that don’t need anger. Pain is another thing.”

    Nate: “B.S., of course.”

    Heather: “Yeah, it’s pretty much B.S. I’m the most prolific I’ve ever been, and also the most content.”

    Leah: (After a comment about how satire usually comes from anger) ” I suppose I’ve only felt delighted while writing satire, so I don’t really pay attention to the anger that’s fueling it. But, if I think back through individual pieces, there’s no way they didn’t come from anger. And I think that’s part of the power of satire, anyway, if you look at something like the Daily Show. It allows you to relax and have the absurdities you’ve seen in daily life validated – something that comes from a real anger – without having to feel that sharp edge. (Though sometimes you do).”

    Heather: “You should totally feel delighted when writing! If you’re not, then you’re in the wrong career. Or you’re just burned out.”

    Darby: “BS. You’re telling me da Vinci painted the mona lisa out of anger? Furthermore Martin Amis just said on PBS yesterday he didn’t think it was possible to write a book out of anger, and I kind of agree.”

    Steven: “You can’t write without desire, and that seems to be what he was implying.”

    Laura: “Actually, I think trying to bang hot dudes or chicks is the basis for all great art.”

    Tom: “I think anger is a response to injustice when no more meaningful response is possible.”

    Daniel: “Perhaps the character who spoke those words is a fake, or an idiot who doesn’t understand art. Although I do sometimes write while angry, and although occasionally someone might hit a nerve with their angry-art, I think most great art comes from calm reflection.”

    Stephen: “I think that’s b.s., but it might help.”

    And here are a few Twitter responses:

    Renee: “I couldn’t agree less. Most of my best work has come from a place of very deep love. Nothing else can motivate me to write.”

    Steve: “I’d bet on loneliness or alienation, which are pretty much the same thing (& often the cause of anger, at that).”

    Brad: “Anger is just another shade of desire. Desire is what drives art.”


    Anything to add, readers? Do you write from an angry place or, like Daniel does, from a place of “calm reflection?” What role does “loneliness or alienation” play?


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    Somewhere in the middle. Calm reflection during which I stuff the bitter anger deeper and deeper and deeper. What could go wrong?

    Laura Roberts

    Passion drives people to create art. Sometimes passion is felt in the form of anger, and sometimes in the form of love. There are plenty of reasons to write that have nothing to do with either, but if we’re talking about ART, I think there has to be that passionate spark, accompanied by some clear-eyed rationality during the editing phase that helps to clean up the messy muse that inspired the writing and shapes it into something that makes sense to others. That being said, I still stand by my original suggestion that wanting to bang hot chicks or dudes… Read more »

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