Should Writers be Suffering More?

Flaubert didn’t have to work for a living. Nor did Proust. Nor did Tolstoy.

Whereas Dostoevsky struggled. The Czarist government put him in front of a firing squad in Siberia at one point, and pretended they were going to execute him — no wonder the guy got a bit intense sometimes. Dostoevsky always had bills to pay, and as George Steiner points out in Tolstoy or Doestoevsky: An Essay in the Old Criticism, this economic gulf between the two writers makes it understandable that Dostoevsky’s prose is less polished than Tolstoy’s — he simply didn’t have the time to write as many drafts — although by way of compensation, depending on your taste, Doestoevsky can take us further into the darker reaches of the human mind. Solzhenitsyn had it even worse — the gulag, exile to Vermont (well maybe that part doesn’t sound so bad), then the final indignity of having his TV show in Russia cancelled because the ratings weren’t high enough.

What would be your ideal balance? A traumatic childhood that will inspire you for the rest of your life and make you rich, like Dickens? Having an office job and drawing perverse inspiration from it for your writing, like Kafka? Turning your back on privilege and seeking out the gritty and the nitty-gritty, like Orwell? Would you prefer to experience wretched suffering in moderation or in immoderation? Your answers on a postcard please.
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