Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Accessing The Dark

by Mindy McGinnis

I recently did a school visit where a student asked me how I get into a darker frame of mind to do my writing. It's a great question.

I'm an outgoing person. I like to flatter myself that I'm a funny person. Most people that meet me after having read NOT A DROP TO DRINK are surprised to find me approachable and easygoing. People that meet me before reading NOT A DROP TO DRINK sometimes walk away from the book wondering where the disconnect happened.

I warn people who are coming to the book after having met me that my book is not funny. It definitely has elements of dry humor interspersed here and there to help alleviate the (I hope) overall tension and dark tones, but it is not written to make you laugh.

Quite the opposite.

So when I was asked this excellent question (by a teen, mind you) I had to be honest. The truth is that accessing the dark has never been difficult for me, and I think most writers who handle murkier material would say the same. According to a recent health survey, writing is one of the top 10 professions most likely to suffer from depression.

Why is that?

My own opinion is that as writers we are keen observers of humanity, and unfortunately what we see isn't always pretty. We are emotional sponges, feeding off of others (and ourselves) to inject lifelike qualities into our characters. And sadly, the most resonating, strongest "feels" are often not the joyous ones.

So is this a bad thing? I don't think so.

It's a dark gift, yes. But in my own case I can say that I make it work for me. It's a monkey that is always going to be on my back, so I might as well hand it a blowtorch and a wrench and give it a job. The darkness that feeds my writing is coming directly out of me, because I won't allow it to live inside me anymore.

Funneling the darkness is both therapeutic and creatively lucrative. I often wonder if depression were to be magically removed from me, would I still be able to write? And if so, would I ask for that chance? A hard question to answer.

So instead of answering it, I keep writing. And I advise you to do the same.
Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent. The companion novel IN A HANDFUL OF DUST releases September 23, 2014. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and has a serious social media problem. You can find her on TwitterTumblrFacebookInstagram, and Pinterest


cleemckenzie said...

Some of the most beautiful stories come from terrible suffering. It's just hard to write from that suffering sometimes.

susankeogh said...

Calling depression a "dark gift" is a very good way to describe it. Writers are probably the only folks who can actually see the "good" side of such a disease.

Catherine Stine said...

I happen to love dark fiction. I like the combination of humor and tragedy best.

JeffO said...

"...we are keen observers of humanity...motional sponges, feeding off of others (and ourselves)"


I think you hit it right on the head right there.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Thank you everyone. I see a lot of writers, both published and aspiring that deal with this particular "dark gift." Hopefully we're all able to find way to make it work for us instead of against us.

Matt Sinclair said...

A great question indeed by the teen. And a good answer here, Mindy.

Lauren said...

Yeah, some of my coworkers read my book and there is a part where the MC becomes literally possessed. It was fun to write and they were all a bit...concerned :)

I completely agree with what you are saying to writers being observers. There are lots of different emotions out there and books need all of them, especially the strongest.