This past week, a blog post has been making the rounds on Twitter (again) on toxic writing. Colleen McCarty poses an interesting question: "But what about the flip side? What happens when what you’re imagining and creating on the page starts to become your reality?"
I'm not known for writing sympathetic characters. My protagonists are oftentimes selfish cowards, some of whom find redemption, but some of whom exist only to shed light on the humanity of those around them. I gain catharsis from writing these sorts of characters. There's something alluring about sinking into their heads, about getting into the darkness that both plagues humanity and makes it beautiful.
For most writers, characters, and particularly protagonists, are mere extrapolations of the way we see ourselves. Some might argue that I, therefore, have a somewhat dismal viewpoint of myself. That much is at least somewhat true. But it's therapeutic to take these character flaws, the ones that represent the worst of myself, and bring them into the open. It allows me to examine them objectively, to set them at a distance, but also to learn how to integrate them into the whole of my being. My flaws, and the scars they have created, are as much a part of me as are my virtues.
Not that McCarty doesn't have a very valid point. The truth is that, when I'm writing a particularly dark scene, when I'm mining myself for that almost sadistic part of me that becomes excited by cruelty, by selfishness, by violence, I can become unbearable for days afterward. I get snappy. I become withdrawn. I am more interested in losing myself to the darkness than I am in exploring the light. My poor fiancee often gets the brunt of it. Sometimes it's so bad that I have to pull myself completely out of the project for a few days, lest I become irretrievably lost.
But I think my partner also gets it. By writing characters that are so like me, I learn how why I should not make the same choices they do. I learn what it means to be selfless, to give, to be bright and cheery and caring. My darkness is not expunged, never that. But I learn to use it in balance, to allow both parts of myself time to shine. In my day-to-day life, my bubbly personality and desire to help others shine through almost everything I do--at least that's what my coworkers tell me.
But at night, with the lights low and the laptop screen burning, the darkness bubbles up from inside the depths of my heart, bleeding onto the page in thorny characters and misshapen opportunities. I long to cultivate that darkness, to bring from within it something haunting and dirty and lovely. To allow it to fade would be to lose the beauty of who I am as a person.
So, yes, Ms. McCarty. I am one of those authors that writes to keep the darkness in.