Do you write out of joy or sorrow?

By the Waters of Baylon
By the Waters of Babylon










Years ago, I had an Old Testament professor who said that throughout history the world’s greatest works of literature arose during periods of defeat and despair.

He looked like the front end of a ’52 Plymouth sedan, wore a one-inch wide neck tie and greased his hair next to his scalp with something that had the viscosity of thirty weight motor oil. He seldom smiled unless it was when he said something he thought was funny.

He was a waters of Babylon type guy.

I would leave his class and walk down to the hall where another professor told us that throughout history the world’s greatest works of literature arose when cultures were at their economic and military peaks, when people were happy, glad to be alive.

He always smiled, didn’t mind poking fun at himself, laughed easily.  He dressed like a Beau Brummel, loved to open the class room windows in the winter, moved about the room as he lectured.

He would have danced before the Lord at the dedication of Solomon’s temple.

Two diametrically opposed theories of creativity.

Which is correct?


Any good book is about despair and hope, victory and defeat, love and hate.

But what about the author’s own personality and mood?  What if the scene he is trying to write requires solemnity, quietness and he is in a smart-alec frame of mind?

What if something terrible has just happened to the writer, an illness, a death in the family?  Does he allow his writing to mimic his mood, or does he rise above his own drama and enter the drama on the page?


There are times when the writer must get out of his comfort zone and write things that don’t come easy.  He has to expand his horizons.  If he is sour-puss, he has to recognize that no one wants a steady diet of cynicism.  If he is light hearted, always a bowl of roses, that, too will begin to sound false.

Sincerity and genuineness are the keys to good writing. If the writer can’t put himself in the moment, whatever that moment requires, then his writing will sound hollow and contrived.

If he can open himself to a scene, allow it to overwhelm him, scratch it down on a page before the moment vanishes, then he can write in good times or bad, in the middle of summer, or the dead heart of winter.



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