Dare to write the darkness. Also: ain’t no such thang as writer’s block.

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

–Erica Jong

Once upon a time, I got stuck and needed rescuing, and the above quote pulled me up out of the sucking quagmire.

*squelches*

Now, my darlingest readers, in order to help you understand just what happened, I must take you back in time to a place fraught with danger and derring-do, abysses and adventures. ‘Twas a place both frightening and fabulous, and feckless wanderers found themselves fettered in both frying pans and fires.

Yes. Yes, you guess correctly, my ingenious inklings.

It was The Climax of a First Draft.

The climax of Elevator People, Draft 1, to be exact, and I had a sad. The whirlwind of writing-insanity was drawing to a close. I’d overcome the heady challenge of Beginning, Middle, and Near-End. I yearned for the Twitter cameraderie of wordsprints and communal writing procrastination. I’d dropped like a stone from my keyboard-pounding mountain peak and found myself wallowing in the Valley of Deep Post-Climactic Sorrow.

That happens sometimes. I get past the story’s climax and lose interest. I’ve written the denouement so many times in my head, it’s a chore to type it all out where other people can actually read it. I mourn the time when the story was fresh and exciting and the blank page, while intimidating, sparkles with the beauty of unmarred potential. I get sad and go off rummaging around for sparkly new things.

But the only thing that lifts me aloft again is writing itself.

So, finally, I shed my mourning veil and stripped off my black mourning bands. I delved into Elevator People once again, and with the most enthusiasm I’d felt for the story since Chapter 5. I 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 teenage 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.

Writing darkness in light

Writing darkness in light

So. I’m not afraid of the Dark. But on that blockety-blocked writing afternoon, 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.)

A day or so passed, and I didn’t go back to my story. Why? I simply didn’t want to. That’s all there was to it.

But then a new day dawned, and it brought 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.

I have come to believe this as truth: There is no such thing as “writer’s block.”

Let me repeat:

There is no such thing as “writer’s block.”

There is I’m Not Focused Block.
There is I Don’t Care Enough Block.
There is I’m Not Giving Myself Permission Block.
There is I Am Plain Too Lazy Block (this one gets me, too).*

And there is I Don’t Wanna Write The Dark Stuff Block.

But sometimes, you just gotta suck it up, gird your loins, put on your Big Girl Panties, and DEAL WITH IT.

Don’t shy away.
Hold your head high, grit your teeth, buckle down, and rubber-cement your buttocks to the chair.
ART HARD, GORGEOUS.
Art hard through the Dark Stuff.
Write the thing.

Not every story will need to go to that Dark Place. But some of them will. (I’d venture to say most of them will. Truth, even beautiful truth, is a scary, vulnerable place.) And when your story goes there, writer, don’t hide. 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 of Stuck (read: FEAR) 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.

*There are other forms of so-called “writer’s block,” but they are another story and shall be told another time.

Game of Thrones and Semen Receptacles

So, the most recent Game of Thrones episode.

WARNING

SPOILERS

TRIGGER WARNING

concerning rape and the victimization of women.

Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 6, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”

I still haven’t watched the episode.

And it’s likely I’m not gonna.

And it’s possible I won’t be watching the show at all anymore.

The day after the episode aired, Twitter was abuzz with talk about the horror of it. Since I hadn’t watched the episode, I went looking for plot summaries. I found more than I wanted to know. This was worse than the aftermath of “Red Wedding.”

Sansa raped by Ramsay both revolts me and makes me roll my eyes with plain annoyance.

First of all…really? Another instance of a woman victimized by sexual violence on this show? Come on, WRITERS…. You’re already changing tons of stuff that G.R.R. Martin wrote. Why not change the parts where women repeatedly have their agency torn from them? WRITERS, is this the only way you know how to advance a plot or a female character?

COME ON. You can do better than this. Women victimized by sexual violence has been *done*. THINK UP SOMETHING ELSE. For worship’s sake, USE YOUR IMAGINATIONS. I assume you have them — after all, you’re getting paid for this. Sheesh.

Furthermore…Sansa raped by Ramsay. Really? Like I didn’t see that one coming the second she and Petyr Baelish reined up at Winterfell. OF COURSE Ramsay raped her. He’s a lunatic sadist — what else would he do? It’s so utterly PREDICTABLE. And once again, GoT WRITERS, I implore you to use your imaginations. GIVE ME A SCENE I DIDN’T PREDICT TWO EPISODES AGO.

*eye roll*

Having Sansa suffer rape by Ramsay is a stupid (on many levels), predictable, and utterly boring choice. Find a better way to advance Sansa’s character. Since the scene is apparently meant to motivate Theon/Reek to fight back against Ramsay (as if EMASCULATION weren’t enough of a reason already), you can find a better way to advance Theon’s character, too, while you’re at it.

GoT, with all the cramazing writing you’ve delivered in four-and-a-half seasons, I know you can do better than this.

I’ve never been raped. But I imagine that seeing such a traumatic event reduced to a tired plot device OVER AND OVER does something to cheapen the sufferings of those who have experienced this particular brand of horror. Rape shouldn’t be just another set of mechanics for getting a character from here to there. Once again, the GoT writers should be able to do better than this.

Horrify us if you must…but don’t drive away an entire segment of your audience that is so sick of this as the “be all, end all” portrayal of the female experience. I expect better from GoT because, as Chuck Wendig says, “its creepy fascination with hurting and marginalizing women is increasingly gross.”

I AM SO EVERLASTINGLY SICK OF WOMEN’S PAIN HAVING NO SIGNIFICANCE BEYOND SERVING AS MOTIVATION FOR A MAN’S SPRINGING INTO ACTION.

So…do we just not portray rape in fiction, or what?

Since this episode of GoT aired the same weekend as Mad Max: Fury Road, a lot of people have been comparing the treatment of women in GoT to the treatment of women in Mad Max. Well, I haven’t seen Mad Max yet, either (more woe is me), so I had a couple of other stories pop into my head concerning rape and victimization.

YA novel Did You Hear What Happened to Andrea? by Gloria D. Miklowitz has the titular character raped and trying to put her life back together. The book directly addresses rape culture: lack of support from family, friends, and authorities; victims made to feel responsible and guilty; rapists holding power over their victims long after the crime has occurred. It’s a good read for teens (AND ADULTS), considering that rape culture truly doesn’t get discussed openly or enough.

It’s worth noting that this novel was published in 1984. And we in 2015 think we are SO advanced.

I also recently read Stephen King’s short story “Big Driver.” The main character is raped and chooses not to live as a victim. It’s a great story of a woman finding and exercising her agency, refusing to let trauma and/or stigma keep her from making sure the rapist answers for his crimes. King’s story is a thriller — in great part because it’s thrilling to see a woman successfully quest to get her power back from the one who thought he’d taken it away forever.

So…in my rant about Game of Thrones, am I saying we storytellers should never include rape in our stories?

No. I am not saying that at all.

For one thing, to say that would make me a hypocrite — because in my debut novel, Colors of Deception, I included an attempted rape. And because I was a new author (and more naive about life), I’m pretty sure I did it badly. I didn’t write the aftermath as I should have, and the story suffered for it. I just hope my readers haven’t. But the story stands as a testament to one writer’s growth — as a writer and as a human.

Furthermore, I never want to say, “We can’t or shouldn’t write about ________________.” Fill in that blank with your pet uncomfortable topic. In fiction and in real life, we need to be able to talk about what’s dark and gritty. We need to explore what’s uncomfortable. Talking about these awful things lets us be more vulnerable and open with one another and find healing where healing needs to happen. We can’t be fully human with each other until we are vulnerable and transparent.

Sometimes, vulnerability and transparency mean openly acknowledging and working through the dark stuff.

“Monsters aren’t beaten by hiding them in the dark. They’re beaten by exposing them to the light.”
–Paul Anthony Shortt (@PAShortt)

So, storytellers…tell stories about the darkness. Tell stories about rape. But do it in a way that empowers your characters instead of stripping them of their agency and humanity.

“It took Sansa from her growing place of power, cut her off at the knees, and put the focus on Theon’s ordeal.”

“There’s only so many times you can be disgusted with something you love before you can’t bring yourself to look anymore.”

The Mary Sue

In Sansa, Game of Thrones isn’t even telling the story of a woman anymore. It’s telling the story of a gamepiece moved around the board by the whims of others. It’s telling the story of an object that’s handled and used to make other people do things. At this point, Sansa might as well be an ornamental vase. A receptacle for men’s desires, schemes, and semen.

“Stark” is the German word for “strong.” The GoT writers have utterly removed from Sansa Stark the ability to step into and live up to her own name.

On the other hand, we have Gloria D. Miklowitz and Stephen King, who told stories about women who were raped but rose in strength like phoenixes from the ashes.

So, writers, tell the dark tales as you will. But let the women be women. Don’t turn us into vases. Don’t turn us into receptacles.
 

WE ARE NOT THINGS.

 

 

 

I’ve never been suicidal. Not really. But.

The title of this post might serve as adequate warning. But. In case it isn’t, please note that this post concerns suicide. If reading about suicide is a trigger for you for suicidal thoughts, please don’t read this. Instead, call someone you consider a friend. Or call 800-273-TALK. Or click here for resources.

On the blog of Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, I read this morning that today is World Suicide Prevention Day. The goal is to raise awareness of suicide, reach out to those who are suicidal (which we all should be doing anyway!), and possibly help prevent more suicides from taking place.

In honor of this, Take 5 To Save Lives is asking everyone to light a candle near a window at 8:00pm, Monday, September 10th (today). The site also encourages us to read their warning signs of suicidal behavior — and to have the courage not to ignore it.

I can’t claim to know or understand what it’s like to feel suicidal. Certainly, when I was a teenager and miserable and felt as though the entire universe were aligned against me, I had moments of thinking, “I wish I were dead!” But those moments resulted only in bathroom crying jags and passive-aggressive behavior toward my parents.

For me, the I-wish-I-were-deads never led to thoughts of how I could go about killing myself. I never even used poetry, my avenue of most intense emotional expression (still), to delineate my frustrated misery.

Because that’s all it was: frustration and misery. Through it all, somewhere in the back of my mind and in the depths of my heart, I continued in faith and in hope. I knew — whether I felt it or not, I knew — that life would change (it did), things would get better (they did), and these feelings wouldn’t last forever (they didn’t).

As an adult, I haven’t had the I-wish-I-were-deads per se…but there have been times during which I looked around and saw the pain other were going through, and I thought, “God, I can’t bear to see this anymore. Help them…and if their pain doesn’t stop, then please, just take me so I don’t have to see this anymore.” And yes, I do recognize the hypocrisy and selfishness inherent in that prayer.

This, too, passed.

Depression lies. Through faith, in spite of the cloud of doubt and fear and sadness, I’ve always had that assurance and held on to it.

Suicidal people don’t have that assurance.

I can’t know how it feels not to have that.

I can’t know how it feels not to have hold of that faith. I can’t ever say to a suicidal person, “I know how you feel.” I can’t even say, “I understand,” because how can I understand an emotion I don’t have? It would insult you and invalidate your emotions if I claimed to know something about your feelings that I can’t possibly know.

All I can say is that, even though I don’t understand how you feel, I do understand that you feel this way.

I’ll never be the saving light at the end of someone’s tunnel; I’m not created to be that. (No human is.) But I can be a way station, a guidepost, a mirror that reflects the true Light. We can all be that for someone else at some point, I believe. We can all brighten the world by lighting our tiny corner of it.

Sometimes, that little tiny light, reflection of the true Light, is all a suicidal person needs to hold on for one more moment. And then one more. And then one more. Until they can see the Light that guides them out of the darkness.

Shine a little light into the darkness today.

Writer, Screw in the Light Bulb Already!

In last week’s post But What’s the Because?, I pondered writerly reasons for blogging or for sharing other types of writing with the world.

Apparently, ideas have turned all theme-y in my brain — because here I am, blogging about them again. This time, I’m drawing inspiration from Patrick Ross’s terrific post about Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon.

Chabon says that ideas are like bright light bulbs filling room after room. The lights entice him to distraction. His challenge is to figure out which one is worth his time and energy.

My experience with these “light bulbs” is different. Here are some of the thoughts I shared when I commented on Patrick’s post:

For me, getting ideas is like wandering from room to room in a ginormous mansion. Sometimes, there’s a bright light that draws me to a particular room. I go in and follow that one light to wherever it leads me. When I’m finished in that room, I leave it and go on to the next bright light.

Some lights are dimmer than others — so I know not to enter those rooms until later (i.e. I put those ideas aside for the time being).

Sometimes, one of the rooms lacks a light. Illumination might spill from another doorway, just barely touching the threshold of the darkened room. But there’s no light burning in that room, so I know not to enter it…

…unless I’m feeling particularly adventuresome and want to challenge whatever might be lurking in the darkness. ; )

Challenge the darkness? Do I dare?

You better believe I do.

I’ve got all the tools I need in that dark room. The skills I’ve learned and practiced. The passion in being created to create. The love for my craft. The fellow creatives God has blessed my life with.

If there’s potential for the light of idea to dispel the darkness, then it’s worth it to me to stay in that dark room and coax the light into it.

I just have to remember who I am and who I was created to be.

Sometimes, all I have to do is screw in the light bulb.
____________________________________

How do you relate to Chabon’s light bulb metaphor?

What’s your greatest challenge in following the creative light?

What is the creative darkness you fear most?