Biographies have always been a favorite of mine in non-fiction. From Judy Garland to Napoleon, I usually devour them in short order, though lately I’ve been reading novels. What I find fascinating about people’s lives is how they all started…just as people, like you and me.
The lives of writers I usually find interesting. Many of them have similar traits, such as alcoholism and depression (Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, Yates), or sometimes mental illness (Virginia Woolf, Joseph Conrad). Though many of these writers remain immortal by their work, some of them led very turbulent lives of isolation and loneliness inside.
Are all great writers depressed, alcoholic, drug abusing, or mentally ill? I doubt that. Why did so many great writers have these problems? Answer: People need not be writers to have those problems; they are common amongst society. But the ones that are writers channel their energy into their work.
Sometimes people criticize writers’ lifestyles, but to me, there’s the work they do and the lives they lead. One doesn’t directly coincide with the other. I’ve written before about an erotic novel author that gets ugly emails and letters because readers believe she lives in the world she writes. That’s to me an unfair assumption unless you happen to know the writer. Not all genres are for everyone, and some authors find success in genres they didn’t expect to.
What can new authors learn from the lives of great writers? We learn that nobody’s perfect, and they’d probably be the first to say so. We see they felt happiness, sadness, pain, and love, like the rest of us. We appreciate their ability to transmit their minds onto the page, and leave us their work that we continue to appreciate through the years.
When I look at the lives of great writers of the past, I look at my own life. I don’t hear voices. I’m not a substance abuser. I work at my job every day. I have migraine headaches. And I spend a lot of my time at home, writing in front of a computer, which would have been paper or a typewriter decades/centuries ago. Yes, writers do have some things in common in their lives.