Great Terrors

Why Emotional Excess is Essential to Writing and Creativity

“Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.”

The third volume of Anaïs Nin’s diaries has been on heavy rotation in recent weeks, yielding Nin’s thoughtful and timeless meditations on life, mass movements, Paris vs. New York, what makes a great city, and the joy of handicraft.

The subsequent installment, The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947 (public library) is an equally rich treasure trove of wisdom on everything from life to love to the art of writing. In fact, Nin’s gift shines most powerfully when she addresses all of these subjects and more in just a few ripe sentences.

Anais Nin

Such is the case with the following exquisite letter of advice she sent to a seventeen-year-old aspiring author by the name of Leonard W., whom she had taken under her wing as creative mentor. Nin writes:

I like to live always at the beginnings of life, not at their end. We all lose some of our faith under the oppression of mad leaders, insane history, pathologic cruelties of daily life. I am by nature always beginning and believing and so I find your company more fruitful than that of, say, Edmund Wilson, who asserts his opinions, beliefs, and knowledge as the ultimate verity. Older people fall into rigid patterns. Curiosity, risk, exploration are forgotten by them. You have not yet discovered that you have a lot to give, and that the more you give the more riches you will find in yourself. It amazed me that you felt that each time you write a story you gave away one of your dreams and you felt the poorer for it. But then you have not thought that this dream is planted in others, others begin to live it too, it is shared, it is the beginning of friendship and love.

[…]

You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them. If it seems to you that I move in a world of certitudes, you, par contre, must benefit from the great privilege of youth, which is that you move in a world of mysteries. But both must be ruled by faith.

The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 4 is brimming with such poetic yet practical sagacity on the creative life and is a beautiful addition to other famous advice on writing like Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 rules for a great story, David Ogilvy’s 10 no-nonsense tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac’s 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck’s 6 pointers, and Susan Sontag’s synthesized learnings.

About creatornorthshoregirl

Patti (Lyons-Gooderham) Henderson is an innovative Director hosting a steady career in communications and entertainment. Patti's journey has included extensive research into her own genealogy; encouraging her curiosity and passion in finding story and motivation of character. She started in the world of journalism which took her to multiple countries in a variety of positions, eventually writing, assistant editing and field producing for MUCHMUSIC and MOVIETV. As a fiction Writer, her first feature script BENEATH THE SURFACE, won top prize from Praxis Screenwriters/I.A.T.S.E. script competition. With a thirst for learning the science of Film and TV making, she has worked for a multitude of productions in the capacity of Script Supervisor including RV, EIGHT BELOW, A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, FRINGE, LOST IN SPACE, XFILES to name a few and as an Editor for shorts, TV series and Features. Her growth in the industry continues with the addition of working in VFX, on and off set. Patti has been a maverick in filmmaking. With the support of Sony Canada, National Film Board of Canada and BC Film, she spearheaded and directed UP THE WALL that was the first new technology (digital video-35mm) project to be shot in Canada in 1997, that included title on picture, VFX and finished in three formats. She has Directed and Co-Produced branding videos, sizzle reels for factual/lifestyle programs, corporates and fundraising videos, as well as 11 projects for the VFS Portfolio Shorts Program. Her work has played at national and international festivals, and aired on various North American Networks. For CBC, she Directed and Edited SALMON ENCHANTED EVENING which, after being selected from over 350 scripts, was produced and nominated for seven LEO FILM AWARDS winning best editor and best sound design. Patti is an Alumnae of WOMEN IN THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR (WIDC), which chooses 8 women from across Canada to participate in the program at The Banff Centre each year. Her focus has, and always will be, storytelling. Her unique upbringing, combined with years of experience in the entertainment industry has helped to shape her into a vibrant Director with the ability, through passion, knowledge and experience, to elevate a wide range of scripts. Her latest work is writing a YA Novella series, with an eye on developing it into a TV series. She lives and works in the UK and Canada.
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