I used to be afraid that if I wrote the stories I really wanted to write, and showed them to the world, everyone would think there was something wrong with me.
I mean, to be fair, there are plenty of things wrong with me and I’m not ashamed of any of them at this point in my life. I don’t think I would be the writer I am today — or a writer at all — if I’d never felt the pull of creative expression as an escape from the real world I had no choice but to grow up in.
I’ll never forget the first time I showed something I had written — a poem, maybe, or a very short essay — to a therapist. I didn’t like to talk about my writing or even mention the fact that I was a writer to people I didn’t know well, but when the subject came up and she found out I was a writer, she asked if I could bring something for her to read.
Of course I chose the darkest thing in my portfolio to show her (if you could even call it that — I was 15), because, I mean, why not?
Thankfully she ended up liking it, or so she told me (maybe I just needed encouragement, and looking back, whether she was just being nice or telling the truth, I sincerely appreciate it). Perhaps it was in that moment that I realized there is power in writing dark things, as long as they don’t leave the reader completely trapped within.
Maybe this is what we all not so secretly crave — to have our attractions to darkness justified, or praised, or at the very least, understood.
There is darkness in all of us. And no, this isn’t the opening line to my novel, though it does happen to be the theme, which could be why this topic is poking me just enough to prompt me to write a less formal blog post about it.
It’s what you do with the darkness inside you that matters.
That line does appear in my book, or at least some variant of it, because it has become the mantra by which I both live and write. I don’t know exactly when this happened, but at some point I just decided if I was going to write about anything, I might as well write about dark things. I liked dark stories. I knew dark stories. I saw nothing wrong with creating more darkness — but for the purpose of helping others learn to navigate their own, I suppose. And that’s still how I feel about it now.
I’m human. I make mistakes. I don’t always do the right things. I could very easily take the darkness that has taken permanent residence inside me and let it consume me, or worse, let the pain it so often causes me affect the people around me in all sorts of awful ways.
But I don’t. I would much rather use it as creative fuel instead. Wouldn’t you?
I can’t explain why I’d rather write a story with a sad ending than a happy one. Or maybe I do know and just don’t want to explain it.
I love happy endings, I love stories whose ends leave you feeling fully hopeful. But there is something about clouding over an ending with a bittersweet film that satisfies me so much more.
It reflects real life. It reminds me that even fiction is based on truth. Stories have to be relatable. Readers want to feel understood.
Some days when I am at my worst and it’s quiet and the world around me is sound asleep, I slip on my headphones just to drown out even the smallest noises a house makes at night, and I start writing, and I lose myself completely in my words.
And sometimes they are words dipped in darkness, and it’s all sad and devastating and sometimes horrifying, and at some point I always sit back in my chair and think, “Why did I just write that? Was that really me?”
But I do the best I can to remind myself that I’m only fully me when I am writing so intensely that I almost forget who and where I am. That is when I am the most comfortable, the most confident. The strongest. The most prepared to go up against whatever might come my way.
So what if it’s dark? It’s dark because my story is built on darkness. I am who I am because of the stories I have lived through and the ones I hope to one day tell.
Darkness isn’t something to be ashamed of. Writing dark things is nothing at all to fear.
Confront your darkness.
Listen to what it has to say.
Think about how it has shaped you. How it can continue to shape you and your future.
Accept that your darkness will always be a part of you, even if it’s a very small part.
Then take your darkness and use it to do something creative and good. Tell a story. Speak your mind. Say something that someone else might need to hear. Make something beautiful out of something awful. Instead of letting your darkness tear you apart, force it to allow you to build yourself up. And let your words simultaneously do the same for others.
This is not to say you aren’t allowed periods of mourning, of wallowing, of rest and isolation when you need them. Darkness isn’t usually something that hangs around for a little while and then leaves (all depending on its origin, of course). Most of the time it comes and goes when it feels like it, almost always showing up at the most inconvenient moments, always barging in when you most need it to stay away.
There are different kinds of self-care in this regard. Sometimes you have to lie low so your darkness won’t hurt you. And sometimes you have to stand tall and use your words to defend yourself, and to show others they are capable of raising their own personal shields against the pain.
There really is darkness inside us all.
Do what you can to use yours to make the world a little brighter.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.