1. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    Writers and Suicide

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by KhalieLa, Mar 17, 2016.

    Writers are more likely than other groups to commit suicide, according to an article in The Atlantic. The study mentioned in the story, says the control group was, of course, accountants. Then all other occupations were compared for rates of suicide and it turns out writers kill themselves at twice the rate of other professions. Everyone can think of a number of great writers who killed themselves, so is that really news?

    The interesting part is that most studies agree that there is no difference in rates of mental illness between writers and other professions, so what could be the reason for the increased incidence of suicide? I think this article by the Huffington Post unknowing pointed to it.

    "Perceived failure has long been a motive for suicide. But doesn’t that apply to anyone who is unable to cope with unfulfilled dreams?"

    Perceived failure. How many times a day is an accountant told he's wrong or a failure? Then compare that number to the frequency with which a writer is told they are not living up to expectations.

    In most professions conversations go like this:
    Jim: I added 2 and 2; the result was 4.
    Bob: Okay, see you again tomorrow.

    Same conversation among writers would look like this:
    Jim: I added 2 and 2; the result was 4.
    Bob: I don't think that's right. I think the answer would be better stated as 4/1 because you were working with conversions yesterday. And I'd really like to see more emotion in your addition.
    Billy: The emotion was fine, but I don't like 4 at all and 4/1 is even more confusing. You need to restate your answer as 4.00. It must be clear to the reader that it's four and not a bit more.
    Amy: I think you've really failed at this addition bit, you need to scrap the whole section and focus on subtraction.
    Bob: I think Amy's on to something. This section about addition just didn't work for me. Since 2 minus 2 is zero that would be a much more compelling equation. I agree, you need to scrap this and start over.

    How do you cope with constant negative feedback? Do you believe this plays a role in the increased incidence of suicide among writers? Or do you believe it's all just hooey and the studies have got it all wrong?
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2016
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  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If you're going to engage in any artistic endeavor, I think you have to get to a point where you have developed a confidence in your own abilities and you're able to blow off negative criticism when necessary. That doesn't mean all negative criticism. Sometimes it is helpful, and you look at it and go "Oh, yeah, that's right." But you have to be able to analyse the criticism without taking it personally and decide whether or not to adjust what you're doing because of it. If you just can't handle negative feedback, then putting any kind of art out into the world seems to me to be a mistake.
     
  3. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I concur. I think it's because we devote so much time, energy, and passion into our work so that when we see a negative criticism -- any criticism, it feels like a nasty punch. A blow to our ego. This, as with any other artistic field, is an area where one needs to get a thick suit of metaphorical armor and try not to take things too personally. When you put your work out there, everyone else is entitled to praise or shred it as much as they want. Know how easy it is to shred the work of some other author? The same can be applied to you. So yes, I can see how some authors can become very depressed, especially if they quit their day job and decide that this is how they'll be making a living.
     
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  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yep. And you have to remember that no matter how good you are there are some people who will think your work sucks. I think Matisse is mostly shit, but he's was very famous and has a great many admirers. That's just how it goes.
     
  5. Fawky
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    Fawky Member

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    I think there's something to the facts mentioned by @Steerpike and @Link the Writer as well as I believe we are more attached to our work than other people are. Our writings are often our emotions put on paper, every inch of our mind being extracted into words. Being told that's not good enough can be very heavy to deal with mentally.
     
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  6. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Or having random people on the internet insult you. Once, a few years back, I read an article where someone called Paolini "That spod who wrote Eragon." Now, OK, the book series isn't really that great, but yeah, imagine being Paolini and reading that for the first time? I would've been crushed.

    Everything we put on the paper is from our heart basically, and to have someone say something like, "Eh, well it's a fine toilet paper replacement at least" must make it feel like someone stabbed you in the heart with a knife laced with salt and lemon juice. And the thing is, they get to have that opinion. It's their right, they get to like or not like your story.
     
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  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, lots of very good and extremely well-respected writers committed suicide. As far as I'm aware, most of these people didn't do it because they thought they were crap at writing. I think they must have had other problems which they found overwhelming.

    Perhaps being writers kept them from suicide for longer than if they hadn't been writers? Writing is a good way not only to let your thoughts and feelings out, in a tangible way, but also to make bridges of understanding between yourself and other people.

    I don't know. It's an interesting question.
     
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  8. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    True. I honestly think that while rejection can hurt you, it's just correlation. Correlation doesn't prove causation. Van Gogh killed himself, but I doubt it was only because no one liked his paintings -- he had a mental illness and while the painting did distract him for a time, and while the criticism likely helped provoke his suicidal urges, they didn't cause him to kill himself.
     
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  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Far from being not that great, it makes Twilight look like it was written by Dostoevsky. :D
     
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  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Interesting. I found this list:


    Below follows a list of ten famous authors who either committed or attempted suicide.
    • Jack London.
    • Kurt Vonnegut.
    • Hunter S. Thompson.
    • Sylvia Plath.
    • John Kennedy Toole.
    • Edgar Allan Poe.
    • Virginia Woolf.
    • Raymond Chandler.
    • David Foster Wallace
    • Ernest Hemingway
    Only one of them committed suicide because his writing didn't make it (in his lifetime) and that was John Kennedy Toole, author of A Confederacy of Dunces (which was eventually published after his death.) His MS was rejected because the plot wasn't compelling enough, apparently. He stopped writing, let himself go, and eventually died (I can't remember if he actually killed himself or died prematurely because of his lifestyle.)

    All of the other writers suffered from depression throughout their lives. All of them were successful, some wildly so.
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Which is sad because it's such a good book.
     
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  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    No shit. I loved that book.

    He did actually commit suicide. Here's the bit from Wikipedia:

    John Kennedy Toole (/ˈtuːl/; December 17, 1937 – March 26, 1969) was an American novelist from New Orleans, Louisiana, whose posthumously published novel A Confederacy of Dunces won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. He also wrote The Neon Bible. Although several people in the literary world felt his writing skills were praiseworthy, Toole's novels were rejected during his lifetime. After suffering from paranoia and depression due in part to these failures, he committed suicide at the age of 31.
     
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  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981 ...thirteen years after he had died. Just goes to show how fashions in books change. Or how WRONG a fleebing agent can be!
     
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  14. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Yeah, at least Twilight didn't rip off Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, put it in a half-built world with flat caricatures and follow every single fantasy trope to the letter. I'll give Meyers that much.

    Still, I felt that Paolini enjoyed writing Eragon. The text just had this sense of...joy that sprang out at me when I first read it. Every word, I felt, he wrote it with oozing pleasure. So I'll give him that one as well.

    Exactly. The act of writing, or the act of critics tearing down the writing doesn't always drive you to suicide. It may amplify it, but it doesn't drive it.
     
  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Down with gatekeepers!
     
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  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Down with them indeed—if all they consider is whether a new book is just like the last one they sold. A real original, like A Confederacy of Dunces comes across their desk, and they miss it.
     
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  17. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    I think there is so much depression and suicide in writers because it is a personality trait. Creative people, especially the intelligent ones, tend to suffer from several different mental disorders like depression and bi-polar disorder. So then the underlying traits eventually take over and cause problems with addiction, and finally ending in suicide.
     
  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would definitely disagree that this is "most" professions. This could probably be a source for one of those long profession-by-profession jokes.

    Jim: I added 2 and 2; the result was 4.
    Bob: The requirements have changed. Divide 2 by 3, and return the result to ten decimal places.

    Jim: OK, I divided 2 by three. I...
    Bob: The requirements have changed. Divide 2 by 3 on weekdays; divide it by the square root of the date on weekends.

    Jim: I did that square root thing. It..
    Bob: You're not following the standard for calculating the square root of the date. We're talking about the date in UK format.

    Jim: I corrected the date thing. Now..
    Bob: Did you account for daylight savings time?

    Jim and Bob: We're done!
    Customer: We cancelled that project in January. Didn't you get the memo?
     
  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Ha ha! Great example, as usual, @ChickenFreak .

    Now maybe it's time for Jim and Bob to self-publish? :twisted: :twisted: :twisted:
     
  20. dedebird
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    I don't think that people commit suicide because of the constant hate they get on their work. I think that writing just pulls in lots of people with anxiety or depression because it helps them cope with the feelings they have such trouble with. When you feel that horrible it's feels amazing to let all of that out in your writing. No one is going to judge you for being a freak, because YOU'RE not the freak your characters are. It's also helpful to write characters you can relate to. It connects you to humanity in a way.
     
  21. JLT
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    Seeing Vonnegut's name there reminded me of something else: his mother committed suicide, and in several of his books he comments on how suicide seems to run in families. I wonder if writers become writers, in part, as a way of helping make sense of a world where suicide is constantly in the background of their lives.
     
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  22. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    I think a big part of it is, often mental illness, including depression is hereditary.

    http://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/science-news/2013/five-major-mental-disorders-share-genetic-roots.shtml
     
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  23. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    For those of us who have been deemed poor writers, there is even a class on how to write suscide notes, because you wouldn't want your last words to be shrugged off as bad prose. And just think, thanks to classes like this, your last work can be critiqued in perpetuity. How comforting is that?
    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/nyc-teacher-offers-suicide-note-writing-class-ease/story?id=19233917
     
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  24. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    In Hemingway's case, his depression was compounded by alcoholism and possible brain damage from concussions he suffered in several plane crashes he survived on safari in Africa. Doctors attempted to treat him with electroshock therapy, and that seems to have made matters worse. He wrote to a friend that he was trying to work on a novel but "it just wouldn't come any more."

    It must be hell to devote your life - very successfully - to an art you can't do anymore. Just a few days ago, rock keyboardist Keith Emerson committed suicide, and the speculation is that he did it because he had a degenerative nerve disease affecting his hands, and therefore rendered him unable to play anymore. The disease stole from him what he loved most in life. I think the same thing happened to Hemingway.
     
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  25. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Oh, that make total sense. Writing is a chaotic career. Don't rely on it. I can imagine a lot of people who had expectations of being J.K. Rowling would be very disappointed.
    EDIT: However, maybe it's mostly the ""creative people tend to take drugs and/or develop mental illnesses thing."
     

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