Writing in the dark
My writing process is pretty chaotic. I usually dive in with very little premeditation. I put a word in front of another like stumbling through a darkened room. After a while I am swept away by a flurry of inspiration. I think, wow, that’s brilliant, take a break, read it back and think, oh, that’s awful! I often load my work with too many metaphors that makes it too inaccessible. But it’s how I create best. And if I persist, I am able to rework it into something relatively readable.
But my intention here is not to dwell on the writing process. This post is less about how we write than about recognising who we are and how this affects what we write.
‘I’m bad at parties’
I’m currently re-watching True Detective season one. If you haven’t watched it I can’t recommend it enough. Underlying its story of two detectives looking for a killer, True Detective is an uncompromising exploration into futility and existence. It has some brilliant acting and storytelling too. One of the best things about this series is Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal of the troubled detective Rust Cohle. There’s a scene where Cohle tells his partner Marty Hart that he’s a pessimist. Hart asks him what this means. ‘Means I’m bad at parties,’ says Cohle. Hart turns and tells him ‘Lemme tell ya, you ain’t great outside-a parties, either’.
These two characters are like polar opposites with very distinctive traits. Cohle is definitely an introvert and Hart and extrovert. This got me thinking about their MBTI personality types. I came across a Reddit thread where Cohle’s personality is viewed as lying somewhere between an INTP, INTJ, and INFJ; and Hart an ESFP or ESFJ.
Cohle internalises a lot. He’s a drifter and a loner. He constantly questions his own perception of reality. He doesn’t talk like most people in the show and often comes out with strange, abstract things like: ‘I don’t sleep, I dream’ and ‘I contemplate the moment in the garden, the idea of allowing your own crucifixion’.
You may say I’m a dreamer
I tested my MBTI type again today. And as always I tested as an INFP—I’m an idealist and a dreamer. At 90% Introverted, I’m very difficult to know. I prefer small groups over big crowds. Sometimes I feel people mistake the silent self-questioning and anxiety for arrogance. I’m over 90% Intuitive which means I focus on abstract concepts rather than concrete objects, on possibilities and ideas rather than realities. My Feeling and Thinking are around 50/50; I prefer to work from instinct, but realise the need for logic too. My Prospecting is over 80%; I thrive on chaos, I write in the dark, I feel constricted by plans, and I like my options left wide open. And at nearly 90% Turbulent vs 10% Assertive, this makes me constantly self-conscious and self-critical; I am a perfectionist who always strives to do better, but who feels he never can.
Due to all this troubled self-questioning and seeking of meaning, my writings have always leant towards the dark, abstract, and absurd. Whatever I write very soon succumbs to questions over my understanding of reality and existence even if I don’t want it to. But (and this is where that turbulent characteristic makes me my own worst enemy) it always seems like I am wasting my time. I ask myself whether anyone wants to read things like this.
Some people seem to cope fine with life without obsessing over the nature of time (is it linear or ever-present), reality, can we trust our senses, are we locked in a dream? Why can’t I? What’s wrong with me? These are abstract concepts that have little bearing on the everyday gyrations of life. Sometimes I feel it just makes me odd. And sometimes I wonder if my depression made things worse for me, or I made my depression worse by being the type of person I am—maybe a little of both.
Perhaps I should write a straightforward romance or adventure without all this abstract, metaphysical waffle and descent into the horrid, dark pool of existence. I try, I do. But I can’t help it. I guess it’s just who I am—I’m bad at parties and not great out of them either.
Get the balance right
But I realise there is a fine line between introspection and solipsism. And that like all things there is a need for balance. So although I shouldn’t abandon writing about my perception of reality and the self, perhaps I need dial it back and anchor my stories less within the abstract and more within the firmness of everyday life. True Detective does this well. (And maybe not get so caught up in the chaotic whirlwind of impulse, and realise that I can benefit from a little planning without sacrificing creativity.)
We write what we are
So, it is my belief that we write what we are (regardless of genre). This doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t write about planners, extroverts, realists, romance, or adventure. But neither should I stop myself writing about those metaphors and ideas my mind seeks to explore, or to continue asking questions about our existence: who are we, what are we doing here?
The foundation of our work, the heart, the messages it may convey, the unconscious thoughts that weave through our stories like golden threads are inextricably bound to who we are. Our sense of self, our values, and beliefs infuse the words we produce. And we shouldn’t turn away from that, however dark, disturbing, or downright weird it may be for there may be truth in it.
Image credit: Alexa Mazzarello via Unsplash