I'm just fresh off reading THE SHINING by Stephen King (started part 3, The Wasp's Nest) in preparation for reading his new novel DOCTOR SLEEP, and after chit-chatting with folks on Twitter on what to blog about next, fellow writer Laurie Lyons gave me this brilliant idea to write about how our writing scares us sometimes, because folks said (somebody somewhere said) that Stephen King was scared to do edits on THE SHINING, having to mentally prepare himself for it. And I said, well, I was scared a little too, when I was editing ROSEHEAD, which I just finished yesterday (finished the 2nd draft, that is). There were parts that spooked me. It was so weird, like, hey, I wrote it myself, it wasn't not someone else, it was me, then how come I get scared? I mean, it came out of my head, right? Where is the logic in this? I'll attempt to ponder about it here.
Every piece of writing is simply an exaggerated version of the writer's life. Since I'm a Stephen King fan, I have read a lot of his books, and a lot of stuff about him, including his book ON WRITING, and I've noticed peculiar patterns (people told me it's nothing new, but to me it was a revelation), as in, there are certain fears he has (insect bites, for example) that he injects them everywhere, they must have come from personal experience, as in, something happened to him when he was little, something bit him. I have stuff like this too. A lot of nasty stuff happened to me when I was little, and so it crops up in my writing, of course, because I think that writing is simply an inflated version of our lives and what they could be, if... this happened, or that happened, or something else happened. After all, we only know what we know. We may invent anything we like in our heads, but we will stubbornly come back to the strongest experiences we had, consciously or subconsciously. In light of this, we, of course, like to exaggerate our fears. Who doesn't? It's our favorite pastime. What if I get fired? What if I run out of money? What if nobody will buy my books? What if I fall sick and have no medical insurance (this is a whole another topic altogether). What if...? What if...? What if...? And so it goes on, forever. But we only think about these things. They are fleeting mirages, and they soon leave us. But if we happen to write them down into stories, these inflated fears, they start looking very real, and I think the possibility of them being real is what scares us.
The inventiveness of our minds has no bounds. And that is scary, especially when it concerns darks matters, like matters of life and death. And every story usually has a clock, a birth, and a death, because these are major things we're dealing with in life, it's what makes stories real. When we imagine double-winged butterflies coated with layers of crocodile-skin-patterned plastic concocted from nano particles that let said butterflies grow into spaceships (I totally just made this up), we go, WHOA!, that's cool. But when we suddenly invent an alien apparatus for torturing humans to extract knowledge, we get so carried away that by the time we reread the descriptions, we go like, HOLY JESUS, THIS IS SICK! And we look at ourselves in the mirror, thinking, did I really just write that? It can't possibly be true, I'm not a psycho, why would I even come up with something like this? But we do, all of us do. We all have imagined, at one time or another in our lives, how we would really like to kill that one person we hate, slowly, perhaps cutting them open, or cutting them to pieces. I'm borrowing here from my own fantasies concerning my father who sexually abused me (he was kind of disciplining me against me ever wanting sex when I grow up, at which he almost succeeded). I imagined some pretty horrible things done to him, and they made it into early drafts of Siren Suicides, completely gone now from the books, but nonetheless. When I reread those parts, I shudder. I think it's this limitlessness, this boundlessness in my mind that gets me scared, this possibility that my mind could even think about something like this.
Our books are our mirrors, and we have all have a dark side. I think one other aspect of being scared by your own writing is realizing that that thing in there, that monster, that hideous parasite you're writing about, is you. It's part of you, however inflated and distorted, still, it's you. It came out of you, you're the one who conjured it, and that's a mortifying thought. We like to think that we are mostly pink and round and fluffy, with a permagrin on our faces and a permahappiness in our hearts. Bullshit. We all know it's not true, only we're afraid to admit it. It's much easier to hide behind an artificial manicured facade than to show yourself to people in all of your ugly disgusting glory. That is why we write fiction in the first place. It's only on the pages of our books we can be anyone, anyone we ever wanted to be, or didn't want to be, or dreaded to be. It's safe, it's not real, it's fiction. Only it isn't, it's very much a part of us, and that is scary. We want to escape, but we can't, we come full circle. Instead of escaping, we inflate our ugliness to such proportions that we see it for the first time, looking in the mirror. It takes years, and tons of practice to be okay with our own ugliness, to accept it for what it is, namely, part of human fabric, the hatred, the envy, the anger, the lies, everything we ever despised about ourselves, and wish to get rid of but can't. How would this not scare you? Of course it would. It would even scare you into a writer's block, into that lovely paralysis when you are unable to move forward, because you don't want to look deeper. It's scary shit, and you're done digging, you want to go on a walk, to bask in the sun and to smell the flowers. To hell with stirring up your own moldy guts. I get that, because I've been there. I chose to stir it, and to get rid of it. Was it scary? You bet. Am I done? No fucking way. I have so much more to spill, it's not even funny. And it's terrifying.
Wow, what a topic. I found my fingers flying across keyboard, trying to keep up with my brain. I also feel like both SIREN SUICIDES and ROSEHEAD were a preparation for IRKADURA, my next book, a very dark literary novel about growing up in Soviet Union, with all the gory details. I'm scared to write it, scared to dive back into my previous life, yet I know I need to do it. I need to look in that mirror, in order to show it the tongue, to make faces at it, to stop being afraid of it. For a while. Because I'm sure as I dig deeper, I will discover a new layer of nastiness, asking to get out. It never ends, does it?