The dark place where talent leads

When I wrote about talent before, I was thinking about the personal qualities a writer needs to develop if they want to be published and make a career of writing.

Recently, I read a quotation by Erica Jong which reminded me of a quality writers need whether they want to be published or not. She says, ‘Everyone has talent; what is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.’

A dark path to hidden places

You need courage to even embark upon the path of writing, let alone move towards publication, because when you write you are opening up to the hidden places of the self, and you can never be sure what you might find there.

People in workshops will often express surprise at where their writing has taken them – that’s part of the magical and sometimes mystical experience of any creative endeavour.

But occasionally that delighted surprise can give way to something much darker. Dismay, for example – ‘But I don’t want to write sad stories.’ Rejection – ‘That’s not really me!’ Even disgust – ‘I hate the character I’ve conjured into being.’

This is another reason the image Ted Hughes offers for writing as being like fishing is so apt; you might catch a tasty gorgeous trout, but you might equally snare a big angry pike or a grotty old shoe. There could even be alligators circling your bait, ready to pull you down.

What lies beneath the surface?

Again, dreaming with awareness is wonderful preparation for creative writing, because in dreams we will inevitably encounter our own darkness, as well as our light. In intending to recall our dreams, we willingly surrender; we undertake to engage with that inner world, whatever we might find there.

In dreaming, as in writing, we may find more than we might wish to find, but that is the lesson of any inner work; we are much more than what we want to be.

If you are a writer, has your writing ever taken you to dark places that you didn’t know were there?

13 thoughts on “The dark place where talent leads”

  1. I was asked for a story about ‘letting go of the past’, and to my surprise this very poignant story came to me. It is called ‘Celine, Letting go of the past ( story about forgiveness of a deep wrong) on my yogastories blog. It is very dark indeed, but uplifting and hopeful at the end. I am struggling to discover ‘short links’ and am only successful occasionally, so the only way to read this is to click on yogastories next to my pic and look at the ‘therapeutic stories’ category where you will find it if you scroll down. It’s about a chinese girl who unwittingly becomes a surrogate mother….

  2. Hi Tessa – I’ve been all round your lovely website but I can’t find this specific story – could you maybe just copy and paste the whole link into a comment here? I’m sure other readers would like to see it too

  3. copy and paste this in your browser if you would like to read about Celine.

    This is the correct link to my ‘Dark Places Story’ . I discovered that the ‘yogastories’ link leads to my web book on ‘Yoga Philosphy for Young People- in short Yogastories, but different from my yogastories wordpress blog. A bit complicated and I don’t know how to change it. Apologies for the confusion, Jen.

  4. Thank you Tessa – I’ve found it now. It is indeed a dark story, but told with a lovely light touch. I really like your idea of writing stories on request – it gives such a feeling of community 🙂

  5. Oh yes, dark places I’ve found them but writng through them has ultimately helped me understand and work through memories/half-memories which often presented themselves as nightmares/flashbacks and depression. Writing it (with support) has improve my my relationship with my early years. It is/I’m still a work in process, I still have a lot to learn but lots of happy things are coming to the fore now and I feel as though I live more ‘in the moment.’

    I MUST ADD that I couldn’t have done this safely without the support of an experienced journal/poetry therapist who helped me through the inevitable low times and encouraged me to tap into my natural creativity which I had somewhat put on hold and that of my lovely ever supportive husband who has encouraged me every step of the way.

  6. You raise an important point, Karen, which is that uncovering these hidden places can be therapeutic, and that an experienced therapist can be a very reassuring presence in the darkness. I love that you say you are a ‘work in process’ – that feels dynamic, and it’s certainly how I see my own life too.

  7. How very bizarre! I currently have Sylvia Plath’s ‘Ariel’ collection of poems next to me to refer to in my blog post this week – once again, we seem to be in tune Jenny! I love the Ted Hughes analogy, hadn’t heard that before or seen the blog post. Re. my writing taking me to darker places. Yes! Definitely with my poetry, and also with my current work in progress, a novel, which explores some quite dark areas. This doesn’t scare me though, the opposite in fact – I find it quite liberating to explore a different genre and just see what happens. Another very thought-provoking post Jenny.

  8. ‘Just see what happens’…. yes! That’s the joy of it. It’s also why I call my workshops ‘writing adventures.’ We really have been tuning in with our blogs lately – I’ll look forward to reading your Plath post on Friday 🙂

  9. Writing has in fact taken me to dark places I didn’t know existed and when I’m in that dark place, it is often seems easier to write. This is quite shocking for me because I naturally tend towards the positive and happy but it seems that the times in my life where I have been most unhappy have been those times that ended up being the catalyst for positive change in my life. It’s interesting because as you say “we are much more than we want to be” so I suppose the dark places drive me to be more of who I want to be. Thanks for such a great thought provoking post!

  10. Thank you for your comment. You make a really interesting point about the most difficult times being a catalyst for positive change. I think when we’re happy, that’s an opportunity for rest and refreshment, but when we’re out of our comfort zone, that’s when we have a real incentive for growth because we don’t want to stay there.

  11. Oh, this is so true! We have to be prepared to go into the ‘dark place’ if we’re going to write with any integrity – at least, that’s true for me. I write dark fiction/poetry, and I have to be able to acknowledge my inner darkness. Dreaming Rambler’s comment about using times of hardness as a catalyst for writing has proven very true for me too.

    Glad I found your blog!

  12. I’m really glad you found my blog too! The comments always develop the ideas I propose – I love that I have such interesting readers!

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