Why writers are sociopaths

One of my favorite books about art is Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham. It’s an amazing novel that will resonate with writers on multiple levels.

My copy is dog-eared and slathered in orange highlighter. There were so many “Yes!” moments for me in the story watching the main character, Philip, explore what it means to be an artist—not only of writing or painting, but an artist of his own life.

Where do you mine for your writing?

For authenticity?

For beauty?

For originality?

What do you use to create those stories that slap people in the face?

This quote, spoken by Philip’s friend Clutton, is a perfect example.

“Oh, my dear fellow, if you want to be a gentleman you must give up being an artist. They’ve got nothing to do with one another. You hear of men painting pot-boilers to keep an aged mother – well it shows they’re excellent sons, but it’s no excuse for bad work. They’re only tradesmen. An artist would let his mother go to the workhouse. There’s a writer I know over here who told me that his wife died in childbirth. He was in love with her and he was mad with grief, but as he sat at the bedside watching her die he found himself making mental notes of how she looked and what she said and the things he was feeling. Gentlemanly, isn’t it?”

Of Human bondage

I think every writer develops the capacity to objectify people, events, and emotions.

We have to distance ourselves from them so that we can examine them – whether they are tragic, vulgar, absurd, joyful, wrathful – and render them in their truest light according to our perspective (or that of our characters).

The more I write, the more skilled I become at this distancing.

It’s kind of creepy.

Does this make artists predatory, opportunistic sociopaths?

Weeelll …

I admit, I do sometimes pursue misadventures in the same way the proverbial lawyer chases an ambulance, but I do it as a means to greater understanding and depth of experience.

For me it’s a form of delirious homage to all the mysteries, horrors, and delights of existence.

It allows me to ignore my ego’s emotional investment in a situation so that I can look at it simply as it is, and not what I believe it is or should be. (Let’s hope I’m not outing myself on some personality disorder here.)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Have at it!