From Struggle Comes Creativity

struggle-picPhoto Credit: Struggle, Robert Demachy, 1904, gum bichromate photograph, originally appeared in Camera Work, No. 5, January 1904: Lexaxis7/Wikimedia Commons /PD US

“[W]e are writers and make art out of our struggle…” (Nin, letter to Henry Miller, p. 114)

Last month, I wrote in the transformative power of art. It’s not only trauma that art can exorcise but everyday pain and struggle.

In a letter to Henry Miller, Anais Nin laments about the way that pain and struggle becomes the fodder for her writing:

“It is true that I create over and over again the same difficulties for myself in order to struggle over and over again to master them; it is true that you have put yourself in critical, harrowing situations… over and over again, and have not won. But … the struggle against your own inclinations (self destructive or others) is the very stuff we live on and work with” (letter to Henry Miller, pp. 114-115).

The struggles and pains many writers experience shows up in their work in this repetitive way so they become almost like themes that inspire them. One of my favorite writers is Jane Bowles. Bowles’ body of work was very small in her lifetime but her writing touches me because her stories and play are about an emotional reality that came out of her relationship with her overpowering and overprotective mother and her desire for autonomy. Bowles struggled all her life to become an independent person and productive writer and this shows up in her work. Her only play, In The Summer House, included in My Sister’s Hand In Mine: The Collected Works of Jane Bowles reflects this kind of relationship between Gertrude Eastman Cuevas and her daughter Molly. One moment, Gertrude fauns over Molly “[a]ll my hopes were wrapped up in you…, all of them. You were my reason for going on, my one and only hope … my love” (Bowles, p. 209) while the next she laments “[s]ometimes I have the strangest feeling about you. It frightens me … I feel that you are plotting something” (p. 209). This paradoxal relationship drives the strange and horrific events in the play.

However, Nin rejects the romantic notion of obsessing over trauma and believes, as I do, trauma must be brought to some kind of closure:

“To move on is living. To be caught in a round cage, in a wheel, in that ‘inexorable constancy of the instincts,’ in the likeness, resemblance of our crises, does seem like death.” (Nin, letter to Henry Miller, p. 116; emphasis original)

For anyone, not just writers, obsessing over pain becomes counterproductive. It is death, as Nin states. But there is a healthier kind of obsession, one that transforms and works through pain and struggle by writing through story and character. Some writers chose to do this in autobiography or memoir but others, like myself, find that seeing struggle through the lens of a fictional world helps to gain perspective.

In my first blog post more than a year ago, I spoke of a novel I wrote during one of the most difficult periods in my life. It was my first experience in dealing with my own psychological reality  through fiction. My struggle against isolation and my own journey to emotional autonomy came through in story and in one character in particular. These are things I revisited when I decided to separate the novel into three novellas for my Waxwood series. The character I most identified with because her struggles came out of my own is the character of Gena Flax from The Claustrophobic Heart.

If you take a close look at the writings of your favorite authors, you’ll probably see the same themes over and over again in their work. This may be the writer’s attempt to work through pain and struggle, whether they are conscious of it or not.

Works Cited

Bowles, Jane. “In The Summer House.” My Sister’s Hand In Mine: The Collected Works of Jane Bowles, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976, pp. 203-296.

Stuhlmann, Gunther. A Literate Passion: Letters Of Anais Nin And Henry Miller 1932-1953. Harcourt, Brace, & Company, 1987. Kindle digital file.



4 thoughts on “From Struggle Comes Creativity

  1. I agree that you can often see the issues that an author is working out in her or his words, in the themes that continually come up. It’s been a long time since I read Henry Miller and Anais Nin, but your quotes and analysis remind me why they spoke to me. I’ll have to revisit.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act


    1. Hi Miry,
      Thank you for your comment. It’s very true that authors’ struggles and how they overcome them do find themselves into the themes of their work. I think this is even true with the fiction is more plot-driven.



  2. “[W]e are writers and make art out of our struggle…” I love this, and it is so very true. Another quote that has always stuck with me (and is not nearly as profound as your reflection, so forgive me) comes from the movie Raise Your Voice “Well, you’re an artist and artists feel things differently than regular people. Look at Patsy Cline or Billie Holiday. You can hear it in their voice. Or, Vincent van Gogh. Cut off his ear, but hey, he could paint.” What it comes down to is, ‘the struggle is real’ and artists are brilliant enough to use it to their advantage. 😉


    1. Hi JM,
      Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you liked the post and I love the quote you included. I think it’s absolutely true that writers and other artists feel things differently than other people do and it’s sometimes hard to get people to understand that. My family has always accused me of being hypersensitive. I used to see that as a negative but in the last few years I’ve come to see that I couldn’t be a writer without being hypersensitive, so it’s really one of the things that makes me a writer. So it’s a positive, not a negative!


      Liked by 1 person

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