The Sensitive Writer: Some Thoughts on the Obvious

A few years ago, I purchased a book by Elaine Aron called The Highly Sensitive Person.  Based on the brief quiz in the front of the book, it sounded like the book was applicable to my life.  I will now confess that there are a lot of books that I buy that I don’t get to read right away, and this was one of them.  A couple weeks ago I finally started reading it.  Coincidentally, right after I started reading the book, there was a brief flurry of articles popping up in my newsfeed on Facebook about highly sensitive people, some posted by friends or former classmates that I never would have considered to have this trait.

In one of the chapters, Aron explained something that is probably obvious to most people–highly sensitive people (HSPs)are often creatively and artistically inclined.  In a way, she confirmed what I already knew to be true with my own writing.  Over the years, most of my best work has been written during depressive episodes.  It was always pain that inspired my writing and it was always the need for catharsis that drove me to write during my lowest moods.  This was no more obvious than when I spent an afternoon last week sorting through a box of my old short stories and poetry from high school (because let’s face it, high school was almost entirely one big depressive episode for me).

I had such mixed feelings as I read through those glimpses of teen angst.  Some of the writing was quite good for a 15 or 16-year-old.  At the same time, I saw my cries for help in those pages, over and over again.  Through my writing I began to remember the pain I felt back then.  I tell people all the time that I’ve blocked out most of my life before college, and it’s true.  In that sense, my old writing is similar to Dumbledore’s pensieve in the Harry Potter series:  it’s as if all of those old and painful memories were drained out into my writing.

The pensieve analogy is all the more appropriate as I consider my writing versus my moods.  Pain drives me to write–it’s like a compulsion to get the words out so that they can stop occupying a place in my mind.  Happiness and even contentment do not drive me to write in the same way.  In fact, I often find it impossible to work on my novel when I’m in a good mood.  I also notice as I work on the novel that I tend to skim over the good parts and draw out the bad stuff.  I’ve joked with people about being selfish about certain memories, but I suspect there’s more truth to that than I wanted to admit.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m subconsciously attempting to save those good memories out of fear that writing about them will cause them to disappear the same way the bad memories have in the past.

All of this brings me to a peculiar dilemma.  I really would like to start writing blogs more consistently again, and I’d certainly like to make considerably more progress on my novel, but I’ve been mostly happy lately.  I’m not saying I would rather be sad.  I’m only saying that I struggle to find the words when I still want to selfishly horde all of my good memories.

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