For some reason, a certain amount of eccentricity is tolerated in artistic people. It’s weird and gross that Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear, but he was an artist. You know how artists are. Some authors famously did really weird things, and people just accept it. But being an author can potentially drive you crazy...as in, actually insane. After all, I’m pretty sure it’s happened before…
The Crazy Ones
If you believe that you must be mad in order to be a genius, there are some authors who were most certainly geniuses. Were they mad to begin with, or did being authors drive them insane?
- Jonathan Swift: According to those close to him, Jonathan Swift started to go mad later in life, around 1738. by 1742, he had to be restrained so he wouldn't harm himself. He attempted to tear out his own eyes during one episode.
- H. P. Lovecraft: The amazing imagination of H. P. Lovecraft may have been induced by insomnia. He had severe trouble sleeping due to night terrors, a rare sleep disorder. He suffered from depression, and later in life developed an illness that caused him chronic pain. That’s enough to drive anyone crazy.
- Jack Kerouac: An inspiration for writers everywhere, Jack Kerouac famously went out into the world to craft his stories. His unique writing style was purportedly fueled with alcohol and drugs. He was discharged from the Navy for a “schizoid personality.” Perhaps it made him ideally suited for life “On The Road.”
- Ernest Hemingway: Often heralded as one of the greatest authors ever, Hemingway is one of many authors who took his own life. His life was marked by bouts of depression and alcoholism despite the fact that he was successful and well-traveled.
- Kurt Vonnegut: People said that Kurt Vonnegut was mad, a diagnosis that seems supported by his suicide attempt. The reason people thought he was crazy was due to his habit of speaking his mind without much (if any) thought to the consequences.
Were they crazy? It’s said that poet Walt Whitman rode the streetcars of New York, shouting his poetry at passers-by. Truman Capote had all sorts of weird little rituals that had to be honored, or he just couldn’t write. But Hugh Hefner walks around everywhere in his bathrobe, and nobody acts like it’s weird when we all know it is.
I’ve always maintained that all writers are crazy. It’s crazy to tap into every single human emotion, feel it as deeply as possible and then spit it out all over the page. It’s crazy to re-live all your own experiences, from the worst to the best, over and over again so they can be shared with the world in several different ways. It’s crazy to create an entire person out of one’s own head, then create a complete world for it to live inside. Authors are murderers. They’re lovers. They critics and judges. They’re accomplices, and allies. They create storms, save lives, break hearts and entertain.
And sometimes, it’s going to get overwhelming. That’s when you may find yourself shouting poetry, and hopefully you won’t find yourself trying to rip out your own eyes. When the words become too heavy to carry, put them down for a little while. Walk away, take a break and don’t let it overwhelm you. Otherwise, being an author just may drive you crazy.