Monday, June 3, 2013

Writing From The Dark Place

I met my wife in 1996. I was 23 and slinging bags of chips and soda bottles on the shelves of the grocery story I worked at. I would tell anyone that listened that I was going to be a famous writer someday. It was one of the most insane, confusing, convoluted, crazy and best summers of my life, a summer that I predicted would be a crazy summer. So crazy that I decided I wasn't going to write. Not that I was doing much actual writing. I mean, like I said, I was telling everyone I was a writer but I wasn't really doing the things a writer needs to do. I took a break because I had a feeling that I was going to be writing from a very dark place and I thought that was detrimental to my writing. I was so stupid and naive to think that. What I should have been doing is writing. Dealing with the chaos of my personal life and using that energy, as negative the source of it was, to put into my writing. There was a lot of emotion in those times that I could have used that is now lost in the ether and I'll never be able to harness again except in vague memory. The lens of memory is too foggy by the amazing times since then that I can't latch on to those feelings. It doesn't mean it didn't leave permanent scars or shades associated with those memories, it's just hard to express them in the same way now as I would have been able to then.

It's not about writing dark, it's more about writing from the dark place. It doesn't sound like there's a difference, but there is and it's not so subtle.

I'm a dark person in a lot of ways. I often joke that for my clownish, obnoxious exterior there is a deep, deep melancholy in me. I actually believe it's genetic on both sides of my family. I think that it explains the propensity of alcoholism, though I'm not a psychologist. What I didn't realize then that I do now is that writing from a dark place can be a good thing. It's a place to explore the recesses of out psyche and get them on paper. We may not always like what we see in what we write or, more importantly, what it reveals about ourselves, but it can be sort of therapeutic in a way. I think it expels some of the demons that haunt us and gives us a clearer mind to look at these issues. I talked about some of the motifs in my work and it's clear the sort of issues I'm working out in my own writing. Will I ever get the answers I'm looking for from writing? It's hard to say, but I might get a little insight into what makes me tick and help prod me into asking the questions of the people that I need to ask.

I'm in a bit of a dark patch now. I've had a hell of a 2013. New hip (really 2012 but hey), new kid, turning 40, etc, so I've had a lot to think about. Plus the end of the school year, especially in these times, usually puts you into a dark place anyway but this year has been tougher than usual. Not to mention some other things going on in my life that have pushed me into a dark place. And it's a place I need to attack and use in my writing. Again, we're not talking about writing something dark, but writing from a dark place and turning that energy into something good from bad. It's just a question of process now.

 I've been doing a lot of thinking about the writing process today and reading about the rituals and routines of other writers: Maya Angelou, Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman and Michael Chabon among them. I'm fascinated how different they are. I fantasize about my non-working writing routine to the point where I have it completely planned in my head: wake up with the kids and bring them to school (in this fantasy my son is in school already, even in fantasy I'm realistic since I won't be achieving the level of success that allows me to cast aside one career for another until he's in school) then go to the gym. Maybe stop for breakfast after the workout then home by 10ish to write until 1 while I'm watching The Dan Patrick Show in my special writing room (in my fantasy I have a writing room and a new house). Stop for lunch, while I love that Roald Dahl would have a gin and tonic with shrimp, I think it'd be a simple meal (lunch is a meh meal for me, I'm more of a breakfast/supper guy) with some reading. Then I'd putter around the house doing laundry, mowing the lawn, etc until I had to get the kids. Hang out with them, make dinner, read/watch TV, homework time, etc. Then I'd go back to work from about 9-12. But that's all a fantasy now, a dream that I probably will never reach and each day it seems more elusive. (See there's the dark bits.)

For now, my process isn't as clean. I got no writing done this weekend, when I'd hoped to finish the first draft of my novella. But it didn't happen. And I'm not going to be dark about that. Back into the salt mines, I've got more to write.

1 comment:

Neil Richard said...

Most of my best work (not that it's really all that great) came from the darker periods in my life. It was great therapy to write and helped me cope with the issues I was dealing with. I say use the negative in your life and turn it into a positive through writing. Even if you write crap like I did, at least you'll feel better when you're done.