Ernest Hemingway killed himself when he thought he’d lost it. Robert E. Howard spoke of the same thing in letters before he put a bullet in his brain. Jack London drank himself into oblivion at least in part for the same reason. There are many other examples but these are ones I know something about.
All three of these men were writers, and all three believed their best years and best work lay behind them. Two of them killed themselves when that happened. The third might as well have. Whatever “it” was, their gift, their muse, their will, they all felt they’d lost it.
I do believe that artists, writers, painters, musicians, etc, can indeed ‘lose’ it. Whatever powered the majesty of their imaginations and creativity can disappear. I certainly don’t suggest that such folks should kill themselves, but I wonder if they should…quit. Should they stop writing, stop painting, hang it up? I wonder, will it happen to me? Will I lose it? Will I know it when it happens? Or has it already happened?
What causes creative people to lose it? I suspect there are many possible reasons. Age is one, and along with age, health issues. I find, myself, that I typically don’t seem able to concentrate for as sustained a period of time now as I did when I was younger. And physically, sitting four hours at a keyboard takes a bigger toll on me now than it used to. Ray Bradbury’s style has changed dramatically since he was younger. Does age have anything to do with it?
“Will” is another factor. Before you’re published, the drive to reach publication is intense. But once you’ve seen your name in print a few times, other motivations have to come to the fore. Those may be to produce bigger, more complex works, to increase your audience, or your markets. But what about Stephen King and Dean Koontz? What makes them keep writing? Both probably have enough money coming in without it, and both have seen their names in print, and on films, numerous times. Some will say that both King and Koontz have lost “it,” at least some quality that their work once possessed but which no longer does. But have they lost it, or merely changed their priorities? I’d love to hear them tell me, honestly, what they think about their own skills as creative writers, both now, and in the past.
I’m going to post a second part to this discussion in a couple of days, but for now I’d love to get your feedback on the topic. What is the “it” that some folks seem to lose? What causes them to lose it? And is it ever possible to get it back?