I once wrote a post called Get Mad: Marketing from Your Dark Side. I’ve mentioned it before briefly in the context of Terry Pratchett’s passing, but I’d like to come back to it again because I recently read two blog posts that touched on how artists use their personal fears, conflicts, and even tragedies to infuse their art with passion that resonates far beyond their own experience.
In my original post about marketing, I talked about how a strong brand is defined as much by what it stands against as what it stands for:
Without an opposing force, a hero is just a person who is going through the motions.
Without an opposing force, there is no fire in the hero’s soul. There is no sense of greater purpose, no fierce commitment, no do-or-die mission.
Without an opposing force, we never get to see what the hero can really do.
Like it or not, your enemy is a big part of who you are and why you are.
As writers, we are defined in a similar way – not just by what we write, but WHY we write it. Often the “why” behind what we write is grounded in some deep ache or longing, desire for justice, or mission to be a voice for the voiceless. These voids and wrongs that need righting are our “dark side.” They are the issues and experiences that touch us so deeply that we feel compelled to write about them.
Over the weekend, I read an interesting piece by Scott Belsky on Behance’s 99U blog. In Creativity is Nourished by Conflict, Belsky tells the tale of his friend, the young musician Rachel Platten, who – after ten years of relative anonymity – just hit big with “Fight Song,” an anthem that was born out of her own fears and frustrations:
This song is Rachel’s first major hit (we’re talking morning shows, rabid fans, sharing the stage with Taylor Swift, etc.), and like all great art, it came from a dark place: desperation, exhaustion, and the desire to prove oneself amidst universal doubt.
And then this morning I read The Secret of All Art (cc Louis CK, Kurt Vonnegut, JK Rowling, Casey Neistat, etc.) by James Althucher in which the Choose Yourself author talks about the importance of having an “emotional anchor” for your art:
Heres what I think all great artists do:
– They have a deeply personal emotional anchor they can tie their work to:
For Kurt Vonnegut, he was dramatically effected by the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, where he was a prisoner of war.
130,000 people died in a single day. Compared with 90,000 in Hiroshima. Kurt Vonnegut survived and his job after that was to dig up all the bodies.
When he ANCHORS a book (in Slaughterhouse Five, for instance, he anchors to the most horrific moment of his life – Dresden), he can go CRAZY after that: time travel, other planets, placing the author as a side character in the book, all sorts of experimentation.
It doesn’t matter because he can always pull back to the emotional anchor when he needs to. And then we all relate.
No emotional anchor = no art. No meaning.
So, while your stories may reflect what you find beautiful and precious in this world, remember that they are also a place where you can do battle against the darkness that would harm the things you hold dearest. And know that your most powerful writing will often be born of that dark side and your impassioned willingness to fight it with everything you’ve got.
Oh, and by the way, writing from your dark side can make a difference in the world. In her recent Writer Unboxed piece, The Power of Fiction, Jo Eberhardt shares some fabulous examples of how different stories changed the world, one life at a time. Pretty inspiring stuff.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.