On Lord Byron, Vampires, and Big Headed Writers
If you run in the same Facebook circles I do, you’ve probably seen an image of Lord Byron with the words, “If I don’t write to empty my mind I go mad.” More than one writer, it seems, identifies with Lord Byron’s words.
I understand the sentiment to a certain extent but wonder if we writers fail to understand how Byron came to say such a thing. We write from an innate drive to tell a story, to unveil a mystery, to ask big questions, and to entertain and challenge readers.
Sometimes, however, we writers have a pesky habit of getting a bit too full of ourselves. Visit the blogs and websites of some writers and you will come across impassioned and often volatile conversations about the craft of writing. To read some, one would think we are developing cures for cancer or have been called to lead readers to the promised land of “good writing.” Let me be the first to confess I have been at the front of the line for such parades at times.
There’s more to say about this later, but perhaps we should stop and think about the poet Byron and his quote a little longer before making it our brand.
Just to refresh your memory; Byron is considered to be one of the greatest poets of the last few centuries. He is also often credited with being the inspiration and impetus for the popular mythos of the vampire. Years before Bram Stoker came on the scene, John Polidori spent the summer of 1816 with Lord Byron and then wrote, The Vampyre. Most believe Poliodori used Byron as his inspiration for the pale, decadent, and aristocratic image so common in the genre.
Along with being an accomplished writer, George Gordon Byron had a number of other less worthy accomplishments. His life was marred by aristocratic decadence, debt, and numerous affairs (including it was rumored with his half-sister). Modern researchers are confident Byron was decidedly bi-polar. When he died at the age of 36, Lady Caroline Lamb remarked that the poet was “Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know.”
Now back to that quote, “If I don’t write to empty my mind I go mad.” We writers are prone to present our stories as the byproduct of almost uncontrollable forces. Some talk about their muse that wakes them up with a new scene for their work in progress. Stephen King offers an earthier and less Greek goddess image when he speaks of his ideas coming from “the boys in the basement”.
Don’t get me wrong; I understand fully that feeling of being overwhelmed by a story or a character. Ask my wife. It took her a while, but she finally found a way to lovingly tell me to shut up about these mental convolutions and just write for goodness sake.
At the same time, it seems the idea we are on some kind of an urgent mission to get those words out of our heads and into other people’s heads is a bit overblown. I don’t know about you but I read because I like to read. And, I write because I want to and I can.
Writing isn’t my life. As a believer in Christ how can it be? In the same way your job, hobby, family, football team, political persuasion, etc. shouldn’t be your life either. Ask yourself this; when people read your stories, observe you at work, talk with you at school, do they perceive “if you don’t do that one thing you will go mad?”
Now before you think I don’t have the same off-the-chain thoughts that come to other writers consider the following bit of prose. I jotted them down at 3 AM months ago and for the life of me I still don’t know where they came from or where they belong.
Angels whispered at the far edge of the creosote flats, the persistent hum of their wings hinting at rescue from my darkness. And then in the acrid void they grew silent. Of course they must. After all, I once killed an angel.