Writing In the Dark
Being in the dark is hard because it feels like you’re stuck. Like the story is broken. Like you, as the author, are broken.
In my story, Seven, the dark closed in around a character named the Badgeman. He was in a woman’s hovel; she was not home. He was going around her house mending broken hinges, stocking the larder, chopping firewood—taking care of this woman’s house like it was his home. He was clearly waiting for someone, but when the woman came home she was alarmed to find a stranger walking around in her life.
That woman and I didn’t know who Badgeman was. She trembled in the corner of her hovel waiting for him to show his true nature, while I went around my reality with his face seared into my mind, his calm words and quiet movements toward the woman shaping my perception of who he was. But Badgeman left me in the dark for weeks—maybe even months.
In every story I write there’s a point where I hit the dark. It happens after I meet my characters and know their world. I’ve run the character through an adventure or two and feel like I have a handle on where this whole epic tale is going, but then I end up with the character in a new space. I can’t see where they are and even worse, have no idea where they are going. I walk them around the room for a bit, but they keep bumping into walls because they can’t find the exit—and after a few days both the character and I are tired, desperate, and seriously doubting my abilities.
But being in the dark is necessary, because it’s easier to whisper our secrets into the pitch black to the person lying next to us than it is to tell them in broad daylight.
I need that place of not knowing so the knowing can reveal itself. When Badgeman showed me who he was it was the type of twist that alters reality, not just for the characters, but for the author and readers as well.
Writing my way out of those blind spaces always feels impossible. Another writer said, “That part never gets easier… you learn to trust yourself and know you will write your way out of it eventually. So you just keep going. With practice, you get through the dark part faster.” I have to remind myself of her words again and again, because again and again her advice has proven correct.
But here’s the biggest twist I’ve found about writing in the dark. The more comfortable I get with writing in the space of not knowing, the more comfortable I become with living in the space of not knowing.
Instead of finding myself paralyzed with anxiety over where my next paycheck could come from or losing entire days to worrying about what will happen to me next year, I find myself sitting with the unknown of today’s problems and possibilities. I find myself assessing what I have to work with right now and choosing where to put my energy so I can be closer to where I want to be tomorrow. I find myself living in the dark.
In the dark there’s the possibility of an adventure that hasn’t yet come into to focus. You have honest conversations in dimly lit corners with people who are courageous enough to stumble around the room with you. You tap into your resourcefulness because your skills, brains, sweat-equity, and relationships are the only tools at hand. And you have faith, because someone built this room and they want you to successfully find your way out of it.
Living in the dark is not comfortable, but the longer I’m here the more confidence I have that I will find my way to the next patch of light. I’ve learned to trust myself in my writing, and that leads me to believe I’ll (eventually) learn to trust myself in my life. In the mean time Badgeman and I will wander the blackened corners of his story together, because that’s how I write in the dark.
Jessica Conoley is an author, editor, speaker, and Authorpreneurship coach. She writes YA and fantasy novels, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, and essays. In 2012 she became the Managing Editor of Kansas City Voices arts and literary magazine and spent the next five years publishing emerging artists and writers. She launched her Authorpreneurship coaching program in 2018 and utilizes her editorial and business skills to prepare authors for the next step of their publishing careers. Learn more at: jessicaconoley.com or visit her on Twitter @jaconoley