What To Do When Darkness Keeps You From Writing
I have a section in my book called Facing The Darkness.
Most writers I know have a resistance. This is usually an antagonistic force that they need to deal with before they put words on paper. This darkness has been misunderstood — at least by my readers — in that some think that it’s about the thriller or horror genre (nope) or that it’s an excuse not to write. This darkness is deeper than a lack of motivation or a lack of creativity. The darkness I’m referring to is the penetrating lies that are keeping you from pursuing your dreams.
If you don’t have darkness, then consider yourself blessed.
None of these core negatives need be true. They come to use from our parents, our religion, our culture, and our fearful friends. Each one of these beliefs reflects notions we have about what it means to be an artist.
Once we have cleared away the most sweeping cultural negatives, we may find we are still stubbornly left with core negatives we have acquired from our families, teachers, and friends. They are are often more subtle — but equally undermining if not confronted. Our business here is confronting them.
My darkness was over forty years deep.
My own core negative beliefs included: “My dreams aren’t worth the trouble.” “I’ll probably never succeed, so why try?” “I’m not good enough.” “I’ve failed before, so I’ll probably fail again,” and “shouldn’t wifehood and motherhood be enough?”
It took me many years to completely free myself from these. And even though I am pursuing my dreams (and have published books to show for it) I still wrestle with this darkness occasionally. I understand that my darkness is a powerful force and has the ability to paralyze me and keep me in anxiety and fear.
What you can do to fight your darkness:
Find someone to talk to. Best scenario? A licensed therapist is a really good bet and most insurances will cover it. Even if you can’t find someone, try a support group, look at meet up or search for an online group. It’s likely that you’ll find someone who has been in similar circumstances.
Write your frustrations out. I highly recommend using the exercises in The Artist’s Way as a good place to start. Even if you don’t pick up that book, you can still find mental and emotional benefits in writing our pain. And lucky for you, science is on your side with the therapeutic benefits of writing.
Know yourself. If you’re agitated, you need to figure out why. If you’re angry, you need to own up to it without feeling guilty about it. Clarifying your emotions is the best way to know how to deal with them. Through talking with someone or writing, be honest with what has upset you and deal with it appropriately.
Know that everyone has dark days. It took me decades to realize that if I were having a tough day, either emotionally, physically or creatively, that it was normal. Once I started being aware of sleep patterns, hormone cycles, how often I exercised, and what I ate, I could do something about it. I didn’t know how important self-care was until I was an adult. Often I start with the basics and find I can keep the darkness at bay.
Stay away from substances. Apparently, sensitive writer types like to look for stimulants or depressants in order to get inspiration. I wonder where we got this idea that this would help? As tempting as it is to drink, smoke, or shoot up to ignore or at least temporarily mute the darkness in you, it’s a poor long-term solution. But you should know this. If you’re having trouble staying away from substances, get help. You deserve to be at your best in all of your life.
Know that you’re in good company artistically. Steven Pressfield makes a big deal about The Resistance in his book Do The Work. For some artists, it is a daily battle to make the right choices. Everything in you could be telling you that the easy, comfortable and safe paths are the way to happiness. They’re not. As he says,
“The three dumbest guys I can think of: Charles Lindbergh, Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill. Why? Because any smart person who understood how impossibly arduous were the tasks they had set themselves would have pulled the plug before he even began. Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be—and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway. How do we achieve this state of mind? By staying stupid. By not allowing ourselves to think. A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate. Don’t think. Act.”― Steven Pressfield, Do the Work
Stop and reflect. Meditation or relaxation tools are available to help you deal with your darkness. In my darkest times, I found that concentrating on the good things in my life was helpful. I also make a point of retelling my own success stories to myself so that I can find the courage to face the future.
You can be bigger and more powerful than your darkness.
You are worth fighting for.