“What happens is the continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.”-T.S. Eliot. Eliot is talking about the process of writing for “mature” poets. He claims that poetry is not an expression of emotion, but a medium for it; good poetry is not the intensity of the emotions put into it, but the intensity of the process by which the art takes place; not the tears that blur the ink as the writer writes that makes the writing good, but the volume of the muse’s voice that speaks into the writer’s ear. He is not saying that good poetry lacks passion, but that good poetry is a perfect medium for the passion. Basically, what I think he’s saying, is that good writing is how beautifully emotion and feelings are shown, not how intense they are shown.
Eliot believes that “the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates.” He voices the most difficult, important component to writing well. It expects creative writers, who (let me stereotype here) are normally emotional beings, to separate themselves from their emotions, look at them from a third person perspective, and write them in an artistic way as if they were an observer.
Don’t get me wrong—emotion is supposed to be in creative writing, or at least the inspiration for it, because creative writing is meant to cause emotion. One cannot write creatively and expect others to feel some kind of emotion from it without understanding why this causes emotional results; unless, possibly, they’re a brilliant sociopath who makes money off of writing the most heart-wrenching things because he’s picked up on how to make normal people cry. But please, let’s focus on the sane population of readers and writers.
Eliot’s high expectations for creative writers are so difficult to meet, because it is when writers are emotional that they are the most inspired. When they write down these emotions, usually while trying to be artistic about it (or naturally are artistic), they emit sentimental, cliché word vomit. So the trick is, according to Eliot, if I’m right, is to feel everything in every situation and possibly make simple records of it, then quietly take time later to separate yourself from these emotions and experiences, and write them down in a creative manner so that others can feel them too.