A no-longer-secret is my fear that I write well only when miserable. A disconcerting notion not entirely without grounds.
In the Spring of my Junior year, during a creative fiction class with an exceptional teacher, I wrote the two best pieces I ever had. One, a short story, depicted a shy daughter’s struggle to align with her volatile family. The second story detailed a sexual encounter, initiated by a scorned woman, that quickly turns sour. These pieces were not a struggle to write. The words virtually fled my fingertips. I couldn’t create quickly enough. The content was brutal in a way that surprised me. But the concepts were interesting. I was proud to send the finished product to my brother, eager to share with my best friend.
These stories were also written during the worst year of my life.
The previous summer I had returned, melancholy, home. Having unsuccessfully applied to what felt like hundreds of internships, fellowships, and menial positions, I was going home to work at a restaurant and a small film production office. While lucky to have both opportunities, I hadn’t earned them. Our close family friend, essentially a second mother, had gotten the positions for me. I was embarrassed and felt incompetent.
Being home, however, was not a tragedy. I loved my family, I felt close to them — this could be good.
A few weeks into June, my mother and I went on a wonderful bike ride together. We didn’t know that would be the last fully joyful moment of the summer. When we returned to the car, jovial from the endorphin-spurred time together, my sister Sophie called. She had been diagnosed with Crohn’s. Unsure what that meant, we drove home in a panic to research the disease. We didn’t know, even after, what havoc this would wreak on my sister. My sweet sister, who I felt so close to, who was always dealt the shitty cards.
It should have been me, I thought. I knew.
In my self-centered, unhappy state, I was eager to leave at the end of the summer. I was headed to Prague for a semester at film school. Everyone said it would be the best semester of my college career.
To be brief — it wasn’t. Not at all. I was lonely, terrified for my sister, and missing my family. I was only too aware of what a selfish shit I’d been all summer, struggling to comprehend what was going on. To fill what felt like a hole inside me, I ate. Constantly and to excess.
Unsurprisingly, the first semester back at college was bloated and unhappy.
But I had my stories. I excelled in all of my classes, but especially Creative Writing. Every vile, ugly, miserable feeling I had I thrusted onto the page. I wrote incessantly. I revised and revised. My peers critiqued my excessive use of modifiers. But I felt compelled, by my over-full heart, to argue that a character was never simply “interested.” Instead, he would be “miserably and foolishly interested.” Writing served as a rich distraction in which I invested.
The strategy worked. Fiction felt real. My emotional state drew me to a place in which I could create rich misogynist characters and bottomless, neurotic collegiates. At least something good had come of Junior year. I knew I wanted to be a writer.
A few weeks ago I wrote a short story. I hadn’t been doing anything creative, busy with post-graduate life, and felt compelled to the page. The story was utter shit. Embarrassing, really. I deleted it quickly, horrified by the clichés and elementary content. The story was child-like, and utterly boring.
I figured the story was awful because I am happy. Very happy. My family is doing well. Sophie’s pregnant with her first baby. My health is in check. I no longer feel lonely. I feel like myself, a place it took a long time to come to. Yet my first attempt at writing went poorly.
How could this be?
It must be I can only write well when unhappy.
I refuse to accept that. While a difficult period in my life spurred creative inspiration, I will not let go of writing. It was too important to me then to let go of now. One must have an outlet, a space in which to pour forth.
My father, a retired English professor, writes every day — nearly. He writes poems and novels and he thinks everything he creates is terrific.
It will be awhile before I hold such high regard for my work, but that’s what I’ll aim for. Until then, I’ll write every day, no matter what my mood.
Lily Sloss is a 23 year old writer. She loves dancing, Michael, and her new home in Brooklyn. She's currently working as a literary assistant and life coach (nanny) for two wonderful little women.