Letting the Light In:
Writing Out the Darkness
By Angela Yuriko Smith
There is a scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling where Headmaster Dumbledore uses a magical artifact called the Pensieve. When his head is too full of thoughts and memory he can magically remove them, strand by silvery strand, and place them in the Pensieve.
There they wait, stored safely, and ready to be reviewed later. The Pensieve is fiction, but lucky for us we all have access to a similar, equally magical device. It’s called pen and paper... or your writing medium of choice.
Writing is excellent therapy. It allows us to give voice to the unthinkable. We can tell our secret fears and desires to a trustworthy source that won’t judge us. Poetry and fiction especially allow us the relief of telling a private truth without exposing ourselves. Journaling, blogging, scribbling in a notebook… however you get the words out is fine. The quality isn’t as important as getting the words on paper.
Personally, writing has helped carry me from some pretty dark places. A violent and abusive divorce almost claimed my life ten years ago. Distraught, I could see no path forward but death and considered ending it all. I decided to write about how I would do it, a kind of roleplay.
From my place of self-pity, I imagined I would mess up the entire situation just like I felt I’d messed up everything else. My writing turned from making actual suicide plans to a short story drenched in dark humor. Once I had gotten it all out of my system I felt much better. I also had a pretty decent short story—which I wound up selling. Nothing is more empowering than buying lunch with your pain.
No matter how much we would love to exist in a world of perpetual joy, it’s not reasonable. Suffering will eventually find us all, especially this year. Having an outlet for that pain, one that can even be marketable, is as valuable as Dumbledore’s Pensieve. Writing is a secret power for pulling the shadows from us and placing them somewhere safe.
Writing is also an excellent way to roleplay anger. Many horror writers come from a place of abuse, and their stories are a way to diffuse the negativity in their life and create something positive from it. There is nothing as satisfying as a fictional murder. I advise all my creative writing students to kill people they don't like in their work. Irritating and unpleasant people make perfect monster food. The writing sessions where we fictionally murder someone always produces the highest, most satisfying word counts. The side benefit of fictional murder is therapeutic. It's good for the soul to write 'bad' things.
I discovered this for the first time years ago when I had a terrible boss at a big box store. He regularly humiliated all of us, blamed his lack of organization on those under him, and blatantly disrespected women. We all hated him.
Things had reached the point where his underlings were half-seriously discussing his demise. I came dangerously close to agreeing with them. I realized I needed to manage my anger.
That evening I went home and wrote him into a short story called the Injustice League. Three managers die in that story, but I took particular pleasure and care to describe my real-life manager. I wove details from his real office into my story so when his fictional murder was discovered in the story, we all knew whom I was talking about.
The therapeutic effect for me was instant. The manager never changed. His tirades, idiocies, and insults continued until the day he was finally fired. He still tossed demeaning comments at me regularly, but I always smiled cheerfully back, picturing his literary downfall. The only thing that had changed was my attitude, but it made all the difference.
We all know we can’t change others, but it’s still difficult to change our own attitudes. Writing helps with this. It allows us to play with what-ifs without pointing fingers. It allows us to set our fantasies loose for a test drive. Writing serves as a valve to safely release emotional steam before we blow.
Whether we ceremonially burn our words or publish them and host a celebration with the proceeds, writing is an excellent way to keep our lives full of joy… and all our negativity on paper.
Angela Yuriko Smith is an American poet, publisher and author with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism. Her first collection of poetry, In Favor of Pain, was nominated for a 2017 Elgin Award. Her novella, Bitter Suites, is a 2018 Bram Stoker Awards® Finalist. In 2019 she won the SFPA's poetry contest in the dwarf form category and has been nominated for a 2020 Pushcart Prize for poetry. She co-publishes Space and Time magazine, a 53-year-old publication dedicated to fantasy, horror and science fiction. For more information visit SpaceandTime.net or AngelaYSmith.com.