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What I Learned About Writing This Week…from the Dark Stuff

Christmas is almost here, and I’m still lamenting the end of NaNoWriMo.

I know, I know. It’s time I got over it.

But I guess this is a sure sign I’m a writer: Every year, when autumn begins, I start looking forward to the frantic pace, the excitement, the hustle’n’bustle, and, yea verily, even the frustration, tension, and exhaustion — not of holiday season but of that crazy, month-long writing fest.

Not that Thanksgiving and Christmas leave me cold; Christmas is actually my favorite holiday. (Though I’ll admit that some years, it must share first place with Halloween.) But the Western commercialism of Christmas tends to make me throw up in my mouth a little, and it’s hard to separate that hustle’n’bustle from the aspects of the holiday that I do enjoy. It’s far easier to keep NaNoWriMo unadulterated in my heart. 😉

So NaNo gets me all in a tizzy, and it’s mainly because I know what a jumpstart it is for my writing. It gets me out of whatever blockiness I might be in, it connects me with other writers in a big way, and it gives me the requisite superpowers for binding and banishing the Inner Editor to the darkest depths of the mental dungeon.

After NaNoWriMo is over, blockiness creeps back in. Connectivity lessens. And superpowers wane in the face of writerly kryptonite.

And so, I indulge in a period of mourning. It usually lasts until right around Christmastime, give or take a couple of days. This year, the period of mourning ended yesterday — and to my amusement, it was Twitter to the rescue.

Two weeks ago, I shared with you some writing-related quotes I found on Twitter. Well, yesterday, I found another one (via @Quotes4Writers):

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.”
–Erica Jong

Now, my darlingest readers, in order to help you understand just why I needed rescuing and why this quote helped, I must take you back in time to Sunday night. On Sunday night, I had finally shed my mourning veil and stripped off my black mourning bands. I’d delved into my story once again — not for the first time since the passing of NaNo, but certainly with the most enthusiasm I’ve felt since 11:59:59 on 11/30/10 — and was typing merrily along when suddenly! Out of Nowhere! There Came a Great Ginormous Wall of Writer’s Block! Zounds and Oy Vey!

I struck and was stuck. For, dismayingly enough, that Great Ginormous Wall was composed of Dark Stuff I Didn’t Wanna Write.

Lest you misunderstand me, dear inklings, let me assure you that I don’t usually balk at writing the Dark Stuff. When I was 15 and completing my first novel, I killed off about 40% of humanity at the beginning of the story. A psychopath attacked the protagonists halfway through, and the climax involved the main character’s boyfriend getting shot and bleeding out with his head in her lap. (Muy tragic, n’est-ce pas?) That’s fairly gritty for a 15-year-old, conservative Christian kid. “Dark” can be relative, that much is certain.

So. I’m not afraid of the Dark. But this past Sunday, I got to a point in the story where I knew the Dark Stuff was coming. I looked at my computer screen, watched the cursor blink at me a few times, and said aloud, “I don’t want to write this.” I closed the file and walked away.

(Figuratively speaking. In reality, I probably just popped over to Facebook and switched my brain off.)

Monday passed, and I didn’t go back to my story. Granted, Monday was packed full of activities, including the fabulously cramazing First Annual Consortium Christmas Party, my enjoyment of which would take another full-length article to describe to my satisfaction. So yeah, I was busy on Monday — but not so busy that I couldn’t have poked around in my story if I’d wanted to. I just didn’t want to. That’s all there was to it.

Then Tuesday arrived, and with it Twitter, and with Twitter the quote I’m going to make you read again, because I’m feeling all vignettey right now:

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.”
–Erica Jong

Sometimes, synchronicity just reaches out from whatever dimension it lives in and slaps you right upside the noggin.

“Okay, fine,” thought I. Story 1, Courtney 0. Whoopee, that’s what I get for not doing my job. So instead of staring up at the Great Ginormous Wall of Dark Stuff I Don’t Wanna Write and slumping into dejected discouragement, I girded up my loins (yikes!), pulled out my trusty sledgehammer, and pounded my way through that wall until rubble surrounded me and a thick haze of dust lay upon the air.

I followed the talent to the dark place where it led, and I wrote the Dark Stuff because that was where the story needed to go.

Not every story will need to go there. But some of them will. And when they do, writer, don’t shy away from them. Acknowledge your fear, but don’t be skittish. Don’t quit. Do as I say, not as I do: don’t let it make you quit for even a day! It’s too easy to let one day turn into two, then four, then twenty. That Great Ginormous Wall gets higher the longer you let it stand. Every time you give in to fear, that Great Ginormous Wall gets thicker.

Write the Dark Stuff. Let it flow. Let it be what it needs to be. Your story will benefit — and you’ll be stronger for it.

And that’s WILAWriTWe.

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

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