A lot of times, authors get asked why they write, or what inspires them to write. It’s a fairly cliche question, and I know many authors who are often frustrated by it, because sometimes, it can be a difficult question to answer.
Answers are usually similar, and often can be vague: I just have to. I can’t not write. I enjoy it. It’s fun. It’s my outlet. It’s how I express myself. It’s how I survive.
For me, it’s all of these things and none of these things. At different times, it’s a different combination of a handful. There are times I do have to write; other times, it’s just as easy not to. Sometimes, writing is fun. But more often than not, it’s an extremely hard and emotionally taxing thing, and it is definitely not fun. One thing I can say for certain is that writing is how I survive.
I suffer from clinical depression and anxiety, and for anyone who hasn’t experienced those conditions, they can be almost impossible to accurately explain or describe. Mental illness in this country, especially depression, is so stigmatized and misunderstood–for the longest time I, like so many others, was hesitant to make my condition public because of it. We’re told to just get over it. Do something that makes us happy. Eat better. Get some exercise. Get some sunshine. Think positively.
If only it were that easy. If only doing all those things was enough.
It’s not. Not nearly.
Sometimes meds work. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes being with people is a balm; other times, it’s exhausting. Sometimes the endorphins from a good workout just aren’t enough to drive away the barrage of feelings depressions brings with it.
Depression isn’t simple. Mental illness isn’t simple. And there isn’t an easy remedy to cure it.
But for me, writing is part–a small, singular part–of the “cure.” Because writing–and often drawing from personal experience–is how I get to exorcise my demons and get through the negative thoughts and emotions that I absolutely cannot allow to take over my life.
For example: I have three girls. They’re six, four, and 9 months. They are the joy of my life, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. But there are days when I resent their presence. There are days when I wish they were old enough to not need me to cater to their every need. There are days when I want them to leave me the hell alone.
I don’t get those days. Because they’re six and four and 9 months, and I’m their mother. I’m responsible for them.
I used to say–before I had kids–and I’ve heard multitudes of other people say, “I don’t understand how someone could ever shake a child,” or “I could never get to that point where I would harm my child.”
Now, it’s true, I absolutely believe I will never get to the point where I would hurt one of my girls. I never have. I never will. But I can definitely understand how other parents get to that point. I cannot count the times I have had to set one of my girls down and walk out of the room while they cried and screamed, because if I didn’t, I might cross a line.
I have thought about it. And I could pretty much guarantee you that every other parent probably has at some point, too–anyone who tells you differently is probably lying. And the fact that we think about it doesn’t make us bad parents. But I digress.
What I’m getting at here is that yes, I’ve thought about it. No, I’ve never done it. And writing is how I guarantee that I never will.
How? Because in my writing, my characters do all the things that I’ve thought about but never would. And when I’ve finished their stories, I’m so horrified by what I’ve put them through. At times I’m thoroughly disgusted. And that’s how I know I can keep from crossing that line. My characters follow through on the suicidal thoughts. My characters succumb to the depression. My characters give up the fight.
I make them go through my greatest fears. I make them suffer past the point that I’m willing to let myself go. I put them through the worst of the worst, in order to remind myself that I’m not there, and I can keep myself from going there.
My characters shake their babies. They take a loaded gun into a school full of kids. They look away when the child starts drinking the mop water laced with bleach. They ignore the cries. They lock the doors. They shut everyone out. They quit looking for help.
They are surrounded by the horror that is real; the horror that occurs in everyday life. They create it. They are it.
The fact is, humans can be the most loving, caring, sympathetic, and giving people. They can also be the cruelest, meanest, vindictive, and selfish people. They are both good and bad.
We are both good and bad.
I am both good and bad.
The good’s easy enough to handle. But the bad? It can be hard to look in the mirror sometimes.
It’s not easy to own one’s demons, whether those demons are the product of nature or nurture, personality or illness. We don’t like to show people our ugly sides. But the truth is, I have an ugly side. It holds a grudge. It judges people. It suffers from thoughts of self-harm. It tells the pretty side it’s not good enough, that it’s a failure, that it will never succeed in this dog-eat-dog world. It tries to convince me I’m worthless.
The ugly side is why I write, and specifically why I write dark fiction.
Because to find a good villain, all I have to do is look inside myself. She’s there. I just make sure the only place she wins is on paper.