Is writing just a way to overshare about family traumas and display our hurts for sympathy? For many it is, sure. That’s undeniable in this age of media-borne gut spilling, nudity – emotional and otherwise – and melodrama. From Facebook rants and revelations to the sad manufacturing of shocking secrets on reality shows… It seems there are millions lining up to can their personal pain for public consumption.
It’s true that many who are attracted to writing and creating, are driven there by an assortment of personal demons. They grew up in toxic emotional environments, were bullied for their sensitivity and experienced traumas ranging from unsettling to devastating.
These people might, in their desire for acknowledgment, put their pure and unadulterated pain on public display on any number of forums. On the other had, they might, at some point, become proficient in an art form that will allow them to melt and re-forge their crummy childhoods, misadventures and miserable mistakes into something beautiful, useful, maybe even something that can heal.
Sometimes I wonder how all those, who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear, which is inherent in a human condition ~Graham Greene
Recently, I’ve had several writers come to me with the concern that what they want to write about is too dark, “I can’t subject people to this sad, difficult stuff… Can I?”
We will follow you into the dark night of the soul. We’ll match you step for step as you plunge headlong into the inkiest shadows. Without shadow, nothing has dimension, which is why some of the darkest writing can be the most illuminating. And besides, unless we’ve been kept in a cryo-sleep chamber since birth, we’ve all accumulated some dark matter. And what is better than a story that acknowledges our vulnerabilities, bringing light and warmth to the cold, abandoned parts.
I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. ~Joan Didion
Maybe you don’t want to spend time in the dark. It could be that your inner critic speaks to you of fiends and monsters. Your inner critic would not want me to remind you that princesses have to go into the woods, princes have to enter the cavern to battle the dragon and heroes have to journey to the underworld. But, all of them return with treasure.
With insight, humanity and some craft, you can hold both the dark and the light and bring across what you find in the tension that comes of that holding, acknowledging our human frailty in striving and loving.
And don’t let your inner critic shame you away from the dark, either. Yes, writing is therapeutic. It’s the most ancient of therapies. Humans have been healing themselves through story before they even found language. The pursuit of meaning is our most human trait, and writing is a very efficient way to mine meaning.
For more on this topic, here’s an article in the NYT that came out just as I was writing this: inspired partially by this article in the NYT: Why Talk Therapy Is on the Wane and Writing Workshops Are on the Rise.