The Dark Side of Writing

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If you write long enough, you know that being a writer has a dark side. A side so inky that it seems to suck every mote of brilliance from my universe and stuff it down a maw as black as a politician’s heart. That dark.

Even before Catholic mystic St. John of the Cross wrote the treatise that spawned the term “the long, dark night of the soul,” creatives everywhere have recognized the gloomy sides to their otherwise bright and spangle-filled worlds. It’s no secret that writers and other creatives are much more prone to depression, sensitivity, and moodiness than your average Joe. We see things differently than others, and this often makes us feel odd or alienated.  To cope, we sometimes arrange our lives to allow for thoughtful retreat from the ant-like business of humanity, and then end up feeling more isolated. Luckily, we aren’t afraid of our darkness, and often tap into it to create our best and most impactful works.

While having a midnight moment of my own, I discovered the book Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. In it is this simple chart that pretty much sums up one of my writing projects:

dark side of writing

From Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

While even the upswing on the chart seems gloomy, it did shed light on the lifecycle of my dark side. Project beginnings are heralded with an admixture of adrenaline and hopefulness. I feel invincible — like whatever I’m working on is going to be The Next Big Thing. Then, I realize it’s gonna take time–and lots of it–to make it a success. I begin to obsess on finding morsels of available moments that I can cannibalize for my creativity’s sake. Ultimately, everything takes longer than expected, at which point boredom sets in and I’m fully immersed in the dark side of writing. I’m bored. I’m demoralized. I’m convinced no one will want to read what I’ve written anyway. I think, “Why bother?”

But, sure as there’s a silver lining to at least one cumulonimbus in the sky, my attitude will eventually muscle its way back into the sunshine. Perhaps I’m not as fresh-faced and glowy as when I began, but I’m able to see the benefit in continuing on.

What this chart’s missing, though, is the second half of the story. After all is said and done, I don’t always think the end result sucks. In fact, sometimes I think it’s pretty damn good. What’s even more important is that the next time I’m working on a project, my lows aren’t as low as the last time. Oh, sure, every once in awhile I’ll dip my toe in the depths of the abyss, but the more I produce, the more I realize that the vicious cycle is neither vicious, not cyclical.  It moves and fluctuates with my moods and the seasons of my life. Like a living being, my creativity is unpredictable, mutable, and capricious.

The best thing you can do for your dark side is to make friends with it. Love your creative process, whether it be curled up like an emo 16-year-old under your bed or dancing in abandon on the ceiling. Chances are, you’ll experience highs, lows and everything in between while you’re working through it. Embrace it all. It’s all part of what goes into the making of some of the best writing on the planet —yours.

 

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