THE BLOG

Suicide Notes: Notable Writers Who Committed Suicide

12/06/2013 06:22 pm ET | Updated Feb 03, 2014

"What do you write?" Any writer will tell you that this is the first question asked when people find out what they do for a living. It's not like identifying yourself as a doctor because most doctors will indicate their specialty, such as "I'm a cardiologist," or "I'm a chiropractor." But when writers' tell people that they are a writer, they prepare to explain what kind of writing they do.

My writing career can't be pigeon-holed because I write both nonfiction and fiction books as well as articles. "I've written two novels and am working on my third. Oh, and I'm ghostwriting four books for clients," is my current explanation-in-a-box.

It's easy to forget that authors started writing out of their known genre as well. Stephen King submitted several short stories to publications and tacked the rejection slips to his wall for several years before selling his book (and later the movie), Carrie. His book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft intertwines his biography with advice for writers that many wannabe writers pay hundreds of dollars to learn in workshops. Very few people knew that lawyer turned author, David Baldacci, was writing a novel until he had already signed a contract with a publisher. He was a closet writer who spent much of his childhood and "free" time while in law school writing stories. Later, he penned Absolute Power late at night and on weekends. Even now his work is published in several different genres...there is no pigeon-holing David's work.

Every writer's story about their struggles, their early days, and when they broke through varies. Sadly, some became bigger than life authors after their lives ended. Sylvia Plath's work shadowed her husband's, Ted Hughes, until after the event of her suicide. Sylvia's suicide brings up an interesting reality -- Wikipedia has a link that lists hundreds of seasoned writers who committed suicide. One of them, Jean Amery, penned a book titled, On Suicide: A Discourse on Voluntary Death. In 1978 he followed his own advice and suicided. Evidently the philosophies on the pages he wrote were validated in his mind to the point of taking his own life.

In reading about the lives and deaths of the writers in this category, the reasons for suicide were evident -- medical or mental. I suppose that would be true of anyone who suicides, yet in reading the biographies of these writers, many of them felt that they set themselves free when they died. Some were unable to continue writing due to their medical or mental restraints; therefore, perhaps, they felt their lives were not worth living beyond that point, as evident in the letters they left behind. (I now wonder if any writer who has suicided did not leave a written note?)

My first novel, Whispers from the Heart, portrays a high school English teacher who copes with the suicidal death of one of her students. She uses journal writing in the classroom as a tool for the students to heal and try to understand why someone with so much life ahead of them would cut it short deliberately. This is a question rarely answered by the people left behind to grieve. It becomes about coping more than understanding.

In Sylvia Plath's case, she fought clinical depression for several years, but before ending her life, she realized and admitted to a friend that through her thoughts she created the distressing aspects of her life. In the biographical movie, Sylvia, Gwyneth Paltrow plays Sylvia and tells her friend, "You see, if you fear something enough you can make it happen." Unfortunately, she felt she learned this lesson too late.