I was recently reading Cakes and Ale, a novel by W. Somerset Maugham. Towards the end there is a scene when the narrator is visiting an old friend and, when she picks up the telephone to speak with somebody else, he begins to ponder on what it means to live the life of a writer, and if that writer is famous then perhaps he might be plagued by ...
"...secretaries of institutes who ask him to lecture...women who want to marry him and women who want to divorce him ... youths who want his autograph, actors who want parts and strangers who want a loan ... gushing ladies who want advice on their matrimonial affairs and earnest young men who want advice on their compositions ... agents, publishers, managers, bores, admirers, critics, and his own conscience. But he has one compensation. Whenever he has anything on his mind, whether it be a harassing reflection, grief at the death of a friend, unrequited live, wounded pride, anger at the treachery of someone to whom he has shown kindness, in short any emotion or any perplexing though, he has only to put it down in black and white, using it as a them of a story or the decoration of an essay, to forget all about it. He is the only free man."
So, Somerset Maugham's narrator, who, I'm sure, was directly conveying the thoughts of the author himself, sees the act of writing as therapy - a way of healing the soul that very few others are blessed to have.
However, shortly after reading that, I happened to glance at my Twitter feed and saw this quote from Edna O'Brien...
"Writing is the product of a deeply disturbed psyche, and by no means therapeutic."
What do you think? How does writing affect your private thoughts? Does it help, or does it only raise old ghosts and painful memories that would be better left alone?
Here is a blogpost from Karyn Reeves who was reading A Penguin A Week in which she discusses Cakes and Ale. For my part, I very much enjoyed the work of W. Somerset Maugham; far more than I expected to. Very clever and well-structured story telling. Very good analysis of character. Enjoyable. Also heartbreaking.