In Creative Writing graduate school in the US, reading of the scandalous, chaotic and pain-filled private lives of the American poets whose luminous poetry I loved, I naively asked the professor if he thought one needed to be a good man or woman to be a good poet.
(We were studying the “prophetic” voice in poetry, and whether it can be mimicked or simulated. Whether you can sound like a “prophet” without being one. And, yes, it can, and knowing how easily passionate rhetoric can be produced without passion but with a few verbal and rhetorical tricks in your bag, makes me listen to preachers and prophets and some bloggers with slightly narrowed eyes, and a degree of scepticism).
“Hell, no!” he said. “Most of these poets are regular SOBs.”
I no longer wonder if one needs to be a good person to be a good writer. I can echo the professor. “Hell, no!”
But it’s not worth it! Not being a good person is not worth it. Sacrificing goodness for the sake of art is not worth it.
Being a good person when no one is watching (which is one definition of character) is worth it in the long run. And in, most cases, leads to more productivity in the long run.
And it is certainly conducive to that gentle state we scorn in youth, value more in middle age, and which is invaluable in old age: happiness.
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