Writing in Darkness



Have you ever felt darkness descend when you were midway through a creative endeavor.  One book which is helpful in understanding this is:

The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life
This is a thick and thorough book which encompasses all aspects of creative expression but primarily focuses on writing. Each chapter contains a guide to help you integrate what is presented.  I found the book to be a useful tool in reentering the creative life.  Chapter 8, in particular, answered many questions I was being asked and also asking for myself. Here is my redaction of its major points along with some of my comments.

Chapter 8. The beauty and Danger of a Creative Life: Why the Wonder Brings Darkness with It

1. The Darkness that Accompanies Revelation

a. There is a shadow side to your gifts. Truth always has a cutting edge. Every revelation brings some darkness with it. It’s important that you learn how that darkness affects you.

b. Nothing can be more dark and frightening than what the soul discovers when yet another layer of the self is pulled back.

2. Do Artists Have to Suffer In Order to Produce Good Art?

a. You are bound to suffer and the only question is how to deal with it. When you create art, you are fighting spiritual battles. And as you fight spiritual battles, you may find creative gifts that you did not know you have. One nourishes the other.

b. You need creative formation: An intentional working with your creative gifts so that your entire being is nourished.

c. Some people who are brave enough and compelled enough to explore their creativity get into trouble and don’t have the help they need. Others who are spiritually centered and understand what their gifts might stir up, don’t develop their gifts because they are afraid of facing the shadows.

d. When we allow God to cradle us as we grow, we can become the creative people we were meant to be. We can follow our gifts to the center of our soul, and we can face the difficult things that wait for us there. We can navigate the darkness and we can nourish our gifts.

3. Common Sources of Darkness

a. Isolation—we need it, but it can drain us. Make a point to spend time with people who are good for you and good for your work. It may be a weekly coffee break or an afternoon walk once a month. Or you and your friend might check in by email before you start work. Think creatively. I see a counselor when needed and have another friend who I can say anything to. We can be a support for each other with emails and meetings between the time the group meets. Or if there’s something we can do on that one Saturday that will nourish us more, let me know.

b. Rejection—You will get it and it will cause you pain. Remember that the person who rejects something about your work, is not rejecting the entire work, nor is that person rejecting past or future works. You need to learn to accept that some people simply will not like what you are doing. You aren’t writing for them; You are writing for the people it helps and enlightens.

c. Energy Depletion—Writing takes a lot of energy. Many full-time writers write for only 4 hours each day. You might spend other time during the day in writing-related activities, but most don’t write for more than 4 hours. If you have another job, then you will have less energy to write. Accept that the healthy creative life takes a lot of energy and that you will need to rest. Just expect to get tired, because you are working hard. Get tired, rest, and then work some more.

d. Anxiety—Most artists greatly underestimate how much anxiety affects them. Anxiety is an important component of creativity because it provides tension and energy and sharpens your senses. Just as you should welcome healthy fear, welcome healthy anxiety. It’s an indication that some unfinished business or an unnamed fear is lurking. Figure it out. Write it out in your journal. (Mine are notes to my counselor—some I give him, some I don’t). Talk to a friend. Pray.

e. Exploration—when your work pushes boundaries and reworks standard definitions, you encounter tension and discomfort. Sometimes you just want to do something cliché and dull rather than enter the discomfort. Sometimes you’d rather not have to think and struggle. Play with exploration and learn to shift out of it. Write something simple: outline your story, write a plot synopsis, etc.

f. Occupational Wear and Tear—Your writing will wear you down like any work does. It will wear down your soul. When you feel worn, that is usually an indication that you have been working and something good should come of it. Take time to care for yourself, whatever brings you joy and energy. I hike and rest and pray and read novels and short stories and essays and go to art shows and watch movies. . . pick what makes you feel energized.

g. Increased sensitivity—You will become super-sensitive to life in order to notice what others miss and to develop what other may ignore or consider unimportant. The longer you work at your creative gifts, the more sensitive you become. This is good for you and your writing. Pay attention to the things that really disturb and bother you and allow appropriate recovery time.

4. The Balance that is Illusion

a. Balance is generally impossible. The spiritual creative life has its seasons and they are often sloppy and unpredictable.

b. Imbalance Results from Neglected Relationships. You are going to have to neglect people because writing is done in solitude. Others will neglect you, also. Don’t sweat the occasional neglect. However, when you neglect someone important consistently, you relegate an important relationship to a place of unimportance. You need to determine your commitment levels. I have 3 important commitments: My husband, my business, and my writing. Sometimes one of the gets neglected for the other, but I try to set boundaries and not make a habit of neglect. I neglected my writing for about 1.5 months due to Christmas. I could not work, spend time with my husband and get the Christmas stuff done and still write. That was OK, because I could come back to it in January. You need to figure out who you are and what is important to you and set boundaries accordingly.

c. Imbalance results from impulsive shifts. An example: If I had quit working to work full-time on my novel, that would be an impulsive shift. You need to not follow your callings haphazardly. Don’t try to do too much, too fast. Because you are changing one aspect of your life, don’t assume that the other aspects need to change also. Don’t dispose of other parts of your life because of the tension caused within yourself.

d. Balance is not necessarily safety. Sometimes you will take risks and sometimes you will play it safe. In the grand scheme of your life, if you are making wise decisions, acting out of love and vision, the balance will be there. But the balance often looks like imbalance in the day-to-day life that we live.

e. Balance is not necessarily consistency. It doesn’t mean we will be calm. When you write, you become a hero to someone and heroes deal with depression, oppression, poverty and failure.

I hope this summary has been helpful for fellow artists who must contend with and embrace their creative darkness.

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