Shakespeare by Anthony Burgess

Shakespeare by Anthony Burgess

The other day I came across Anthony Burgess’s book on Shakespeare. It’s wonderful, highly idiosyncratic, waspish and very entertaining. Just what you’d expect from a polymath like Burgess.

This quotation caught my eye:

“If everybody owes God a death, the hardworking artist owes fate an occasional physical or mental breakdown: he cannot build so many new worlds without damaging his own fabric.”

Interesting, isn’t it? It certainly rang bells for me. Not, I should hasten to add that I’m comparing myself to Shakespeare or Burgess. Frankly, a lot of the time I even struggle to identify myself as a hardworking artist. However, what I do know is that if I pay no attention to my physical and mental welfare and simply write, things start to happen. Things that I don’t like. So I try to keep an eye on myself and life being what it is, I’m sometimes more effective at doing this than at other times.

The queen of managing a healthy creative life is Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way. Her tools are deceptively simple and some of the best I’ve come across:

  • morning pages – writing 3 sides of A4 every morning as soon as you wake up;
  • the artist date – ‘a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside to nurturing … your inner artist.’

She is very good on being healthily creative. She is  very good on lots of things.

Here’s Burgess again:

“It was time for Shakespeare to turn his back on London – not perhaps for ever, but for longer and longer periods of rural peace which should imperceptibly merge into a sort of retirement. Sort of: no writer ever really retires.”

This was certainly true of Burgess, who kept working through his final illness and was writing on his deathbed. So if you’re intending to be in the writing game or ‘creating’ game for the long haul and there is no retirement, it might be a very good idea to get some healthy habits and  find out early on what works for you.

On the other hand, if the mere idea of a healthy artist fills you with ennui …

If the above leaves you cold, cold, cold and Julia Cameron is not to your taste …

If you yearn for a bit of catastrophic, dramatic, ‘acting out’ from creative types …

The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink

The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink

I’d highly recommend Olivia Laing’s book The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink? It should perhaps be called why male American writers drink but that quibble aside, it’s brilliant, very well written and fascinating in an utterly gruesome sort of way.  She writes about Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver. Great writers – great drinkers. Car crash lives. I loved the book; I also love my morning pages and artist dates.

What do you make of Burgess’s quote? Do you manage to build worlds without damaging your own fabric? Are you good at cheating fate? Any tips to share on mental health and the creative life? I’d be delighted if you left me a comment.


  1. This is an incredibly important post, Victoria. Mental health and artistry – the list goes on and on. Laing could equally have called her book – ‘Why painters drink’ … Bacon, Pollock etc.

    My view is that the veil between being an artist and being mad is very thin. Damaging one’s own fabric is absolutely it. I have always felt that I painted to escape mental ill-health, well not escape so much as to ward off or dilute. To provide me with something that had a stronger pull than depression.

    And as for Ms Cameron – our hero! I still talk about the effect of The Artist’s Way and, provided people can get over the Americanisms, people continue to find it useful. I am even thinking of teaching a workshop around her principles.

    And you still go on artists dates …

    Liked by 1 person

    • There was something about the quotation that rang all sorts of bells for me. It’s great when you have something stated so matter-of-factly. You can go – oh yes, of course, wear and tear… that’s part of it. I think you’d be a fantastic teacher of an ‘Artist’s Way’ workshop!

      Liked by 1 person

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