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Pain, Creativity, and Secret Notebook Excerpts

If you own (or used to own) a diary, have you ever looked through your past entries in an unsuspectingly good mood and found yourself offended by your own depressive writings? Don’t worry, you may not quite be the Negative Nancy that your diary paints you out to be, or a person who is perpetually bummed out. You don’t necessarily have to look back upon the works of your 15-year old self and cringe at your 67th “I’m am so alone” entry; as silly as you think they may sound now, these feelings were real at the point of time they were written, and every bit valid considering how circumstances were back then.

Some researchers have proposed a link between pain and creativity (think Virginia Woolf, or van Gogh), and perhaps this is true to some extent. We feel compelled to document our sadness and distress. That is, when we are happy and feeling on top of the world, we hardly ever to stop and question reasons for that being the case; in contrast, we seek incessantly for answers to “whys” when in grief — and not all of these can ever be found. Additionally, and perhaps an important mechanism driving the link between pain and creativity, we become hyper-sensitized to the pain of others and the sadness going on around us. You see the man without a home on the street and wonder about his story. You hear about the suicide of an old lady in the news and you hurt for the experiences that drove her to the point of ending her life. For many writers then, as for artists in general, doing what they do represents a temporary escape from reality.

As the 15-year old doom-saying diary version of yourself may not be a good representation of who you are though, there are several stereotypes of writers (and artists) which need to be dispelled; particularly, the longstanding myth about all writers being tortured souls, needing their pain to create. Undoubtedly, the number of books, songs, and paintings produced in grief or accompanied by sorrowful undertones exceeds that inspired by happiness. Angst comes with creative perks, and many writers have delivered their best works while in suffering. This is not a bad thing per se. It may simply mean that in good times, we are fully involved in the moment; given life’s inherently bumpy nature, there are periods during which we need to take time to withdraw, retreat, and heal in the unique way that suits us. Even typically happy, jovial and social people are not spared from downs among the ups of life.

In the recent movie Paterson (2016), the protagonist pens beautiful poems in a private notebook. Said notebook unfortunately gets torn to unsalvageable shreds by a pet dog by the name of Marvin before its contents were shared with the world. I don’t presently have a dog (yet); but in case this happens to my own secret notebook when I do in the future, here are a few pieces borne from personal and vicarious experiences – or a combination of the two. Without any inkling of their objective significance, I hope these short pieces would mean something to someone. To you, so you know that we are alone, together.

A man plays chess with himself
A single star lights the black sky
A farmhouse sits deserted
A dog waits, abandoned;

I guess I should count myself lucky
to be playing hide and seek
with a boy who doesn’t even know
he is playing.

Cures for Common Injuries
There are many things that can hurt you
Infinitely as many proposed remedies
Aloe vera on burns and
Peppermint for indigestion and
Ginger for nausea and
Cayenne for migraines

As for the things that can kill you like
For deadly mosquito stings
As for snake bites
As for a broken heart
You shut up and

Here Today
Yeah you can
pat yourself on the back because
you got her clothes off
well done

But don’t ever think
for one second
that you saw her naked

Don’t ever claim
for one moment that you
knew about the dreams
clenched in the fists of hands
you never held.

Pain, Creativity, and Secret Notebook Excerpts

Maryann Wei

Maryann is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Wollongong (New South Wales, Australia).

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APA Reference
Wei, M. (2018). Pain, Creativity, and Secret Notebook Excerpts. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 18 May 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.