How to Keep Your Edge While No Longer Fueling Negativity

Photo by Harry Cunningham on Unsplash

“You think that all that suffering you’re doing is making you a better artist. It isn’t. Drop that shit.”

This was roughly what I was told by an acting teacher after doing a particularly emotional scene. I was profoundly insulted, obviously. It wasn’t like I was an actor, anyway. I was just in the class to become a better storyteller.

That sentence has bounced around in my head for years after that experience. I am a “soulful” guy. My go-to negative emotion is existential dread. I’m deep! What a dick that guy was!

It’s hard to realize that sadness, nihilism, and suffering are about as addictive as drugs.

But he had opened me up to start seeing the problem everywhere. Would my art really suffer if I didn’t? After reflecting on it for years, I have concluded that he was absolutely right. There is no need to suffer for art. It’s a great big lie that artists tell ourselves to justify complaining about failure. It’s worse than useless. It’s toxic.

Awareness was only the first step. After becoming aware of my “suffering for my art” delusion, I had to actually overcome it. Here are some of the best ways of thinking about it that I have come across.

David Lynch Isn’t Dark Even Though His Art Is

You know, David Lynch of “Twin Peaks” and “Mulholland Drive?” The guy with the disturbing and twisted aesthetic? Well, turns out he is the sweetest most positive guy around.

“A lot of artists say: I don’t want to get a technique that makes me like everybody else and makes me calm and I lose my drive, my edge. I don’t have any more power of individuality any more.

Au contraire, you get more of you! More energy to do the things. There are billions of ideas and you find the ones you love. We start transcending that conduit widens out and you start enjoying things and love the doing.”

When I heard this, I immediately thought about my acting teacher and what he said to me. Suddenly, the jabbing comment had a little more context around it. If David Lynch didn’t need to suffer for his art, then who among us does, really?

Even going to dark places doesn’t mean we have to stay in those places or that they have to define our lives. True artists have a way of visiting the darkest of places, but they are not beholden to them, nor do they think those emotions “power their creativity.”

David even says directly that the more positive emotion you can feel, the more art you can bring into the world.

There is no risk of losing your edge if you stop suffering.

The Comfort of Suffering

It’s hard to realize that sadness, nihilism, and suffering are about as addictive as drugs.

At some point in our early life, something happened that brought us to a dark place. I know what happened to me (I’ve done enough therapy) and I bet you have an idea of what happened to you. Few of us get out of childhood without any wounds.

To soothe ourselves, we became addicted to the trappings around suffering: Complaining, receiving pity, wallowing, etc. Those gave us intense relief. I know they did for me, anyway.

The problem is, now that none of that is happening anymore, we don’t need to suffer anymore. However, we unconsciously cause our own suffering because we are addicted to the soothing aspects associated with them. This is why people self-sabotage.

I know that my greatest character flaw is an addiction to self-pity. It’s hard to admit, but there it is. I know that no matter how much work I do to get out of it, there will always be a part of me that is all-too-willing to dive back into that pool of suffering, just for that sweet, sweet fix of self-pity.

It integrates into every aspect of our lives — in the music we like, in the people we hang out with, and in the places we go.

Here is a hard truth: this is holding us back from creating our greatest art.

We don’t create because of this pattern. We create despite it. Imagine what we could be capable of if we overcame it.

Positivity Will Wreck Your (Current) Life

Naval Ravakant explains how positivity will destroy your current life.

As we discussed, our addiction to suffering is integrated into every aspect of our lives. If we want to shed it, we have to be willing to lose friends, change our taste in music, and our deeply held beliefs.

Going through these changes has been slow and painful for me. I have moved across the country, lost friends, changed relationships with family, and had to slowly let go of a lot of old music that was reenforcing my suffering (this was hard for me! I love music!)

But, despite my fears, I never lost my edge.

Actually, the opposite. Since I have gotten rid of the larger portions of negativity in my life, I have more time to create, what I create is better, and I am less attached to the outcomes. Also, it didn’t become “happy-go-lucky” or saccharine. I still can get dark. I just don’t need to be dark anymore.

I also no longer care as much about what people think about what I create, and what I consume.

I Like What I Like

An unexpected joy of losing the suffering in my life is the realization that I don’t have to pay attention to anything that makes me feel shitty.

Before, I would see a negative review for a book I loved, and I would assume that it meant that I was stupid, and that would be enough to send me into a negative spiral.

Now, I have actual, personal taste. I know why I like the things I like, and I understand and forgive things that I don’t like. I don’t linger there.

We have full permission to be excited about the art that we love. That doesn’t make us stupid. It makes us true artists. Artists are grown-ups who have somehow managed to hang on to being a child.

When people want to make us feel bad for what we like, it is just a sign that they are insecure and unsure about their place in the world. Don’t worry about them. Actually, I feel sorry for them.

Liking what you like doesn’t make you weak and complacent. It actually gives you a more powerful motivator to consume the things you enjoy.

Here are a few “embarrassing” things that I like: Pixar movies, Eragon (the book), Harry Potter, and Queer Eye. I no longer give a fuck what anyone thinks about that.

We Have Been Fooled By Romantic Depictions of Suffering

You all know the ones. The suffering artist. Van Gogh cut off his ear. Bukowski drank himself to death. Cobain killed himself.

These artists weren’t great because of these issues. They were great despite them. We shouldn’t learn the wrong lessons from them.

Where it comes from

The illusion is an understandable one. It’s easy to get cause and effect mixed up here.

Yes, early adversity can lead to becoming great at something. That’s why you should be thankful for all the adversity in your life.

However, as soon as we are conscious enough to do something to improve our situation, continued suffering is only a detriment. As soon as you realize you are suffering, you don’t have to suffer anymore.

Yes, Cobain suffered, and that helped him create wonderful things. But he could have come out of that darkness and into the light and remained a great artist. Willingly staying in the dark does not create good art. It only creates more darkness.

If you are reading this now, you don’t have to suffer anymore.

It’s not as easy as just stopping but you can do the work to grow your positivity with no fear that you will lose your edge. I promise you will keep it.

The world needs you to come into the light and tell us about your time in the dark. Do the work. Get better.

When you heal, you will be a better artist.

When you heal, you do the entire would a service.

Written by

Lost southern boy learning to be a storyteller in Los Angeles. Interested in writing together?

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