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Creator Recovery

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We're all familiar with what happens when a writer's personal problems start to intrude upon their work — characters are killed off left and right, plots are resolved either in a depressing fashion or not at all and the worldview espoused by the work as a whole seems much bleaker than it was before.

But what happens when the opposite happens? Whether by dint of marriage, the birth of a child, the author finding religion or some other cause, the author now finds themselves in a much happier place than they were before. And, hardly unexpectedly, this starts to bleed into their work, which becomes Lighter and Softer and much more optimistic.

Just as Creator Breakdown isn't necessarily a bad thing from an artistic standpoint (many artists produce their best work while feeling down in the dumps), this trope isn't necessarily a good thing either: feeling happy and self-satisfied can often lead to an artist becoming complacent and unwilling to push themselves creatively. On the other hand, a sunnier disposition may result in an author cutting down on the Wangst and producing something more accessible.

This is the Opposite Trope to Creator Breakdown and, just as with that trope, Word of God examples are required for it to qualify.

Keep in mind that Creator Breakdown and Creator Recovery may be opposites, but are not mutually exclusive, and it's not uncommon for both things to happen at the same time in various aspects of a creator's life. For example, an artist might recover from a physical illness that negatively impacted their ability to make works, but develop a mental illness that makes the works they are doing weird and depressing in tone; an artist might split from a toxic relationship but channel their replenished creativity into Muse Abuse revenge scenarios; and becoming rich can remove an artist from a stressful material situation but also give them a lot more money to spend on addictive drugs.

See also Tone Shift, Lighter and Softer, Kinder and Cleaner, Darker and Edgier, Denser and Wackier and True Art Is Angsty. Compare Career Resurrection, when the creator returns to form after a period of diminished reputation or below-par/non-existent work.note 


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Ah... and Mm... Are All She Says has this In-Universe, and unusually, at the beginning of the work. Cityscape, the oneshot Toda pitches to Tanaka at the beginning of the series, is seen by Nishi as expressing Toda's own frustration and distrust of society. Her subsequent works are more joyous in tone, reflecting the fact that Toda is, in fact, slowly recovering.
  • In-universe example: Ryu Shizuka from Bakuman。 writes dystopian fiction, but after his editor takes him to a cabaret where he talks to women for the first time, his main character slowly starts spending most of his time with a harem of hot women. After the editor shows him the women were only nice to him because they got paid, Shizuka becomes disillusioned again and continues writing about how all Humans Are Bastards (even women).
  • Gen Urobuchi. In Fate/Zero's afterword he wrote that he wanted to write a heartwarming story one day, but couldn't because of his "tragedy syndrome". Then came Puella Magi Madoka Magica where he does manage to write something heartwarming exactly as he described in the Fate Zero's afterword. Since then, his later works have fallen more on the idealistic end, such as (the admittedly still dark) Psycho-Pass and Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet. It probably helps that Madoka Magica has put him on the map as a writer of television shows. Even when he wrote one of the darkest Kamen Rider shows of The New '10s and Madoka Rebellion took a fire ax to the bittersweet ending of the series, they managed to be idealistic to a degree.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion is a dark, psychological deconstruction of Mecha anime about loneliness and despair created when Hideaki Anno was suffering from clinical depression. Cue being married and recovering and all of a sudden we get a retelling in a series of movies by the same guy, called Rebuild of Evangelion trying to make the story make more sense and have less of a Downer Ending. Hmm… coincidence?
    • Zig-Zagged as of the much darker third installment, which pulled a Happy Ending Override on 2.0's hopeful cliffhanger. Anno put the final movie on hold to work on other projects in light of the relapse of his depression that occurred while working on the third film.
    • Working on Shin Godzilla finally gave Anno enough of a break that at the opening of said movie, Anno finally felt that he could return to make the fourth movie. It says something when the darkest Godzilla movie since the original, full of Body Horror and Nightmare Fuel, is the Lighter and Softer project you undertake to recover from working on these films.
  • Another in-universe example in Shiro Bako. Seiichi Kinoshita received a big award for his early directing work, then wound up having his reputation ruined with Boing Boing Paradise. After years of minor work he finally earned some respect from his original series Exodus. In comparison, one of the driving conflicts in the first season, when Exodus was being worked on, was Kinoshita's problems in finishing the storyboards, which put pressure on every other aspect of production. In the second season, after Exodus was widely praised, Kinoshita is in such a groove that he finishes the storyboards for Third Aerial Girls' Squad weeks ahead of schedule.
  • Yoshiyuki Tomino. Try comparing the bleakness of Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, which was made at a particularly low point in his depression, and ∀ Gundam, done after he overcame it.

    Audio Play 
  • Tom Baker's performance as the Doctor in the Big Finish Doctor Who Fourth Doctor Adventures, which he started doing in the 2010s, is notably a lot softer and more considerate than his often selfish and stormy portrayal in the 1970s. Forty years in which to mature, decades in a happy and stable marriage, and getting his drinking under control had mellowed him out a lot, and since his Doctor was always heavily based on himself, so the Doctor mellowed out too. He also made up with Leela's actress Louise Jameson (whom he used to bully in the 70s), and his audio performance is warmer towards her, letting her have Character Focus and not stepping on her lines like he used to do on television. Fan reactions were mixed, with a lot of people missing the unhinged, dangerous craziness of his 70s portrayal or feeling the new performance is Out Of Character, but many others appreciating the new, gentle take on the character as a side to the Fourth Doctor we didn't get to see back in the day yet still is unmistakably him.

    Comic Books 
  • Alan Moore has admitted that he was going through a period of depression and disillusionment when he wrote Watchmen, but he eventually got over it. Almost all of his major works after Watchmen (with the exception of From Hell) have been more optimistic and light-hearted than that one.
  • Cathy Lee Guisewite, creator of comic strip Cathy, often jokes that her boss at the syndicate dreaded the day she entered a stable relationship and became a more secure, confident person. When just that happened, Guisewite chose to end Cathy rather than let it fall victim to this trope.
  • Paul Dini wrote Dark Night: A True Batman Story as a way of coming to grips with the brutal 1993 mugging that nearly killed him.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Ingmar Bergman credited The Seventh Seal with helping him overcome his crippling fear of death. As the film dealt so overtly with that subject, he found it to be a highly cathartic experience.
  • Rob Reiner got the idea for When Harry Met Sally... after a divorce and a string of complicated relationships before then. He met his next wife while developing the film, and their marriage inspired him to change the ending so Harry and Sally do get together after all.
  • Shane Black wrote The Last Boy Scout after having taken a two-year break from writing, triggered in part by the end of a relationship.
    I was busy mourning my life and, in many ways, the loss of my first real love. I 'feel much like doing anything except smoking cigarettes and reading paperbacks. All things come around. Time passed and eventually I sat down and transformed some of that bitterness into a character, the central focus of a private eye story which became The Last Boy Scout. Writing that script was a very cathartic experience, one of the best experiences I've ever had. I spent so much time alone working on that. Days which I wouldn’t speak. Three, four days where I maybe said a couple words. It was a wonderfully intense time where my focus was better than it's ever been. And I was rewarded so handsomely ($1.75 million) for that script, if felt like a vindication and like I was back on track.
  • Shia LaBeouf wrote the screenplay for Honey Boy while in rehabilitation and admits it really helped him heal.
  • The tone of Walt Disney's 1960s output (Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, The Absent-Minded Professor, etc.) was considerably lighter than anything he had done previously. It coincided with his studio turning a steady profit for the first time in its history thanks to the ancillary revenue from theme parks and TV shows, ending a long and stressful period of being almost perpetually in debt from the early 1920s through the late 1950s.
  • Zack Snyder fell into depression and stepped down from the production of Justice League after his daughter committed suicide during its post-production. Snyder would later make a comeback with directing the Netflix film Army of the Dead, an experience that he found fun and rather cathartic. Then he was allowed to complete Justice League the way he intended it, and the film turned out to be much less tragic and dreary than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

  • The tone of Anne Rice's fiction became significantly more positive when she converted to Christianity, as she herself acknowledged:
    “My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me.
  • David Drake's fiction after Redliners is less harsh and more optimistic, with a little more faith in humanity. Author's comments.
  • Sadly averted by Douglas Adams, who stated that he was going through a rough patch when writing the fifth The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book and set out to write a sixth to correct the last one's Downer Ending. Unfortunately, he suffered an Died During Production before it could be completed. A sixth Hitchhiker book was later written by Eoin Colfer, to mixed reviews.
  • In-universe example: in Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby, Tucker Crowe was once an angsty rock singer who released an acclaimed album inspired by a bad break-up, then dried up creatively and walked out of his career. At the end of the novel, having settled down and fallen in love again, he releases a new album of happy songs. The fans on his internet forum, who love his angry early output and the mystery surrounding his decades-long disappearance, are severely disappointed.

    Live-Action TV 

  • Avril Lavigne composed her second album "Under My Skin" while going through a bad break-up and it was full of Darker and Edgier material. She expressed regret over that and her next album "The Best Damn Thing" was in her own words "trying to have fun in music again", and it featured a lot more upbeat songs.
  • Barry McGuire is best known for his depressingly cynical anti-war song "Eve of Destruction". His best-known post-spiritual-conversion song is "Cosmic Cowboy", an optimistic song with Jesus in the title role.
  • Billy Joel's very upbeat and poppy An Innocent Man, a tribute to Joel's musical influences from The '60s, followed the cynical, sociopolitically charged The Nylon Curtain. While TNC was recorded during Billy's divorce from his first wife, AIM was a product of then-single Billy enjoying life as a bachelor and dating a number of supermodels, most notably his future second wife Christie Brinkley.
  • Eminem, while certainly better known for meltdowns, has had a couple of these, too.
    • The Slim Shady LP, while maintaining the Horrorcore subject matter of the original Slim Shady EP, goes into a much more playful place, incorporating a lot of cartoony Subverted Kids' Show elements ("Hi kids! Do you like violence?") and goofy concept songs (like Battle Rapping between a Good Angel, Bad Angel pair, a school bully revenge fantasy, and a Weird West Cowboy Episode). The sound of the album is also more poppy and cheerful as well, ditching the heavily bitcrushed A Clockwork Orange-inspired classical music samples of EP for springy, boingy funk and pop beats. This is because, between albums, Eminem got signed by Dr. Dre, finally had money, and was recovering from the suicidal depression he'd been in when he'd made EP.
    • While difficult to describe it as a full recovery considering how the material on the album is inspired by his legal problems, work stress and divorce, Eminem stated that the reduced shock content on The Eminem Show was because, after his assault conviction, he'd mostly got his Hair-Trigger Temper under control. The regular drug tests he had as part of his probation deal also prevented him from using drugs and alcohol other than his prescription, which made him a lot more emotionally stable; he was in great health following his body transformation for 8 Mile; and he'd cut ties with his abusive mother and toxic ex-wife. He stated around this time that his life was calmer than it had ever been.
    • While his next album Encore is definitely a product of a breakdown rather than a recovery note , it was recorded around the time his personal life had settled down, with him living in a state of relative peace with Kim and walking away from the beefs he'd been pointlessly escalating. It contains numerous thoughtful, mature and emotional songs in which Eminem apologises for his terrible behaviour, a few love songs, and the shock content on the album is based on playgroundy Potty Humor and even Political Rap rather than on homophobia, misogyny or violence.
    • Relapse is a Concept Album about Eminem's drug-addicted Creator Breakdown through the lens of an Addled Addict Serial Killer incarnation of Slim Shady, but the fact that he was even able to make the album at all is a testament to how much better he was doing. During his addiction, he'd had near-total writer's block to the extent that he couldn't even rhyme any more; once he was clean he experienced a creative glut and recorded several albums' worth of material in a spurt. (However, due to his mental state, the material was mostly about him killing people in various strange accents.) This was intended to be Relapse and Relapse 2, but Relapse 2 eventually changed to a more optimistic tone and became Recovery, in which he embraced his happier state of mind and Career Resurrection and even did some Boastful Rap about it. The first single off Recovery was the uplifting "Not Afraid".
    • The following album, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, is a sequel to The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem's meanest and most offensive album, but only aims to capture the humour and playfulness of the early work, rather than the violence. The concept of the album is that it's a second chance after being murdered by a Loony Fan, and much of the album deals with him apologising for all the awful things he said through Slim, and extending an olive branch to his abusive mother.
  • In 2009, Green Day had 21st Century Breakdown, a critical Rock Opera much like predecessor American Idiot, but it at least ends on a hopeful note (partially inspired by the political change) compared to the other's Downer Ending.
  • Imagine Dragons proclaimed in the 2017 single "Believer" that frontman Dan Reynolds overcame the depression that made much of their music since late 2014 sound disillusioned and/or apologetic.
  • Jethro Tull's Songs From The Wood came after frontman Ian Anderson met his second wife, and the mother of his daughter, and is easily the band's happiest album, especially compared to its predecessor, Too Old to Rock and Roll: Too Young to Die.
  • John Lennon was just entering this when he recorded Double Fantasy in 1980, which was expressing his hopes for the near future before he was tragically murdered only weeks after its release.
  • Keith Urban seemed to go through this twice. The first time came in 2001 when, after spending most of the year off the charts and going into rehab for cocaine addiction, he resurfaced with the cheerful "Somebody Like You", still his biggest airplay hit to date. The corresponding album, Golden Road, was also the first to truly establish his sound after the Early-Installment Weirdness of his first American albums. After lapsing back towards his demons around 2006-07, he once again started putting out happier material around the release of Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing. His marriage to Nicole Kidman also seemed to influence him to put out more happy upbeat love songs.
  • Marina Diamandis' first two albums, The Family Jewels and Electra Heart, are considerably negative, mostly focusing on her experience feeling hopeless and unloved and how she became The Casanova to circumvent this, but still feels empty. Froot, on the other hand, is decidedly more upbeat and positive, with the song "Happy" even lampshading this trope.
  • Metallica had a very public Creator Breakdown that spawned St. Anger, that as a result sounds abrasive in both sound (lacking solos and with trashcan-sounding drums) and lyrics (angsty and depressing). Once they were content with their lives again, the result was Death Magnetic, sounding closer to their earlier albums and with lyrics cryptic but not brooding.
  • With Teeth, the fifth major release by Nine Inch Nails (following the intensely bleak The Downward Spiral and The Fragile), could quite justifiably be considered this for Trent Reznor, who indeed admitted in an interview around the time of the album's release that he has been "pretty happy." Reinforcing this is the fact that Trent surprised many fans by returning from his hiatus quite ripped, and that he would end up getting married (to Mariqueen Maandig, with whom he now creates music in How to Destroy Angels) four years later.
  • Pearl Jam spent the George W. Bush administrations doing angry, politically charged and pessimistic music, with Riot Act and the Self-Titled Album for the latter. In 2009, with the end of Dubya's presidency and Barack Obama's election, the band released the much happier-sounding and hopeful Backspacer.
  • Pet Shop Boys' album Very was more upbeat and exuberant than their prior albums (especially its immediate predecessor, the gloomy, reflective Behaviour), owing to singer/lyricist Neil Tennant being in love at the time. It is sometimes referred to as their "coming-out" album, as Tennant had begun openly discussing his homosexuality for the first time during this period.
  • Caroline Polachek's 2023 sophomore album, Desire, I Want to Turn Into You, was ironically first brainstormed as a result of the turbulent emotions she experienced following the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, from contracting the virus herself to losing her father, whom she had a turbulent relationship with. The wildly conflicting emotions spurned her into what she dubbed a "spiraling" state, musically and psychologically, acting on a stream-of-consciousness-style approach to her songwriting and lyrics that ended up emphasizing themes of optimism and escapism amidst bittersweet turmoil. The final album ends up being very "maximist" and adventurous in mixing genres and influences (lumping Caroline's usual art pop sound with the likes of calypso and dembow, Celtic folk, flamenco, early 2000's radio pop, etc.), and with poetic, abstract lyrics that lean towards being romantic, witty, and upbeat.
  • Porter Robinson experienced a bout of creative burnout following the release of his debut album Worlds in 2014, in turn resulting in a years-long depression from not knowing where to go next. Eventually he rediscovered his calling and set sights for his following album in 2021, titled nurture, which retains the introspective tone of Worlds, but took a much gentler, more life-affirming, and prosperous tone.
  • Starflyer 59's album Gold was written and recorded while Jason Martin was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, due to the messy ends of several friendships and the stress of recording the album practically by himself. For the follow-up album, Americana, Jason Martin had a full band playing with him and producer Gene Eugene to help with the duties of recording, so it was a much more "fun" rock album. It's probably not a coincidence that Jason switched to playing New Wave music and almost entirely abandoned guitar distortion shortly afterward.
  • Taylor Swift's Lover was made as a personal recovery album following the tumult that resulted in reputation. The reputation era was marked by Swift's highly-publicized personal woes, including a sexual assault trial and blow-up with Kanye West, and Lover was made while she was on her path to recovering her mental health, being made as a "love letter to love itself". While still greatly personal and dealing with contemporary, emotionally weighty topics, Lover shifts from the dark and heavy electropop sound of reputation into brighter, gentler tones based in Synth-Pop and acoustic instrumentals, and with an overall more upbeat (or at the least, optimistic-leaning) sheen.
  • Ty Herndon went through this. After a Creator Breakdown in 2002 that led to him gaining weight, abusing drugs, and losing his recording contract with Epic Records, he spent most of the noughties cleaning himself up. This resulted in his 2007 album Right About Now, which showcased a much more cheerful tone, as exemplified in such songs as "Mighty Mighty Love".
  • After Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy went to rehab in 2004 after experiencing severe prescription pill addictions due to his having a history of migraines. Following that, he's managed to quit using painkillers and quit smoking, and now has a stable home life. The music since then, starting with 2007's Sky Blue Sky reflects this shift, becoming Lighter and Softer, less pessimistic, and more straightforward.

    Newspaper Columns 
  • Charlie Brooker stopped writing "Screen Burn" around the time that he got married to Konnie Huq, realizing that it would fall into this trope on account of him no longer being countercultural and miserable, and saying the writer to take over was a better fit for it now as she was "pure hate". He carried on writing opinion pieces, but even in those he remarked in that the tone of his work got a lot lighter as his life improved and he just couldn't work up the level of hatred required any more—even realising around the time he had a kid that he had Become His Own Antithesis as being an avowed Child Hater is a constant theme of his work. On the other hand, he did announce his new fatherhood in a gushy column about how much he loved babies preceded with a paragraph explaining he was doing it entirely to make his fans angry, so he's not all nice.

    Stand Up Comedy 
  • In 1979, Richard Pryor went on a trip to Africa, and was so moved by the solidarity of the people there that he renounced his legendary N-Word Privileges. As he explained in his 1982 comedy special Live at the Sunset Strip:
    Richard: I asked myself "Do you see any niggers?", and I said, "No, because there aren't any." While I'd been there, I'd never said it. I hadn't even thought it.

    Video Games 
  • Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls has an In-Universe reference to this when Toko Fukawa, the Ultimate Writer, takes a moment to wonder if her writing is going to suffer now that she's become happy through her friendship with Komaru. Her belief is that great writing comes from the depressed and the downtrodden because even when they write a happy love story (like hers) it will never be shallow, vacuous drivel, as those types of writers are still able to perfectly envision how an ideal world should look. At the end of the conversation, she determines that her natural talent will make up for it.
  • Scott Cawthon was a small-time game developer going through a rough period. Chipper & Sons Lumber Co., one of his titles, had been harshly reviewed, and a crowdfunding campaign for a new game was canned by criticism with no money being added or donated. Depressed, he decided to try and make one last video game before quitting the industry for good. He remembered one critic comparing Chipper & Sons' characters to "creepy animatronics," so Scott decided he could make something a lot scarier than that and came up with a game where you played as a security guard at a local pizzeria, facing off against some killer animatronics. The result was Five Nights at Freddy's, the start of a critically-acclaimed, wildly-popular horror franchise, and Scott's game-making career rising to indie stardom.
  • Because Shisegato Itoi was suffering from heavy depression while developing Earthbound 64, the game was initially going to be much darker in tone. By the time the game became Mother 3, Itoi had mostly recovered from it, and the game's tone became suitably lighter.

  • Matt. Hardy. In 2005, after learning that his longtime girlfriend Lita cheated on him with his close friend Edge, he was engaged in a rather public and ugly war between them and eventually the WWE, who would fire him due to complaining about it as their own careers skyrocketed. Then after seemingly gaining a new life in TNA, he burns bridges with that company as well due to getting a DUI and soon devolved into a complete joke with his fans due to faking a suicide note disguised as a "rebirth". Sometime later, he found love again with fellow wrestler Reby Sky (with whom he would eventually have four children), eventually introduced a crazed "Broken" character (partially inspired by what he had went through), became exceedingly popular with fans and has gotten steady work for several companies, including the two aforementioned ones, ever since, regaining back his previous reputation and then some.
  • Following the suicide of his close friend, Spanish painter Pablo Picasso fell into a severe depression that formed the basis of his Blue Period (1901-1904). His paintings were very somber, and always made heavy use of the color blue to signify his mourning. However, in 1904, Picasso entered a romantic relationship with artist & model Fernande Olivier, leading to his Rose Period (1904-1906). With his psychological health regained, Picasso's paintings heavily featured pink tones, and many of them featured harlequins, clowns, and circus performers to show off how much better Picasso was feeling.