Virginia Woolf: A Snippet on Writing and Melancholy

I’m presently reading Virginia Woolf’s Diaries vol. 1, when I stumbled on the following  passage that I figured would be nice to quote and share. It’s about her husband, Leonard Woolf, having a melancholic day where he’s unable to write:

It’s a bad habit writing novels – it falsifies life, I think. However, after praising L’s writing very sincerely for 5 minutes, he says “Stop”; whereupon I stop, & theres no more to be said. When I analyse his mood, I attribute much of it to sheer lack of self confidence in his power of writing; as if he mightn’t be a writer, after all; & being a practical man, his melancholy sinks far deeper than the half assumed melancholy of self conscious people… There’s no arguing with him.

The Diary of Virginia Woolf vol. 1 1915-1919

How easy is it for writers to become melancholic, much less due to a lack of self confidence? I personally find it a daunting profession where one constantly battles one’s own self in terms of memory, beliefs, experience and abilities. I suppose it gives me a measure of joy to know that many greats also suffer. In the end though, one has to keep writing.



13 thoughts on “Virginia Woolf: A Snippet on Writing and Melancholy

  1. It’s a constant battle. Good enough is a moving target. Best is impossible to hit. 🙂 I just consider all the bad stuff I write necessary to get to the good stuff. It also helps to redefine success on a regular basis. Sometimes success is just getting 1000 words on a page to be edited away later.

    1. Oh don’t get me started on all the bad stuff… it took such a long time to be able to write less of it before getting to the good stuff. Then there’s always the relapses, of course… why we subject ourselves to such humiliation is astounding 😉

      Btw, how did it go with publishing your work through a publisher?

  2. I am just becoming exposed to Virginia Woolf and I absolutely love her writing. She’s becoming my idol of sorts. It’s true… most writers have a healthy dose of melancholy. It often aids in the writing process, but it can easily hinder it as well if we don’t channel it in the right way. Thanks for posting this!

    1. Yes, like all good things, the right balance is important. Maybe they’ll invent the right dosage of melancholy in a pill for writers 😀

  3. Hi Samir,
    It is a constant struggle. I am fighting to get words down, words out into the light of day, and work them to a point where I can share them. It’s different with blogging, which is like writer’s bon bons–too much fun, immediate gratification, but unless you are a paid professional blogger, it doesn’t move one any closer toward one’s major writing goals. Best wishes, and thanks for the little nudge. Now I am going to see if I can get a scene written!

    1. Agreed, Naomi. Blogging offers too much gratification compared to the stark realities of published writing. I hope you got that scene down…

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