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Dark, Scary Things*

I am still scared of the dark. Seriously. There are so many creepy things that crawl out of the dark - spiders, serial killers, vampires... I have never been able to sleep with my closet open. I can't nod off until I've checked under the bed. I have to lock and re-lock all the doors in my apartment before I can feel safe. The dark is so. Freaking. Scary.

I am also scared of adultery, and broken families, and alcoholism, and the suicide rates of teens in my town, and my friends who daily deal with abusive relationships, and the ways in which all of these things affect me every single day.

I'm terrified of these very real, everyday horrors - and that's why I'm writing about them.

I was completely stuck on my WIP for the last several months. So stuck that I dreaded writing every day. So stuck that I sent my agent a pathetic panicky email basically saying that "I SUCK I'M SORRY WHY DO YOU STILL LIKE ME???" (No, really - it was that pathetic.)

Then one night my friend took me out for coffee, sat me down, and said, "You're scared of this book. You're scared because it's real, and because you identify with your character too much, and in order to write it you have to dig into some very personal issues that you don't like thinking about."

And I cried.

I cried because she was right. I cried because I knew I needed to write about both sides of the coin: the best and the worst, the things that scared me and the things that thrilled me. I cried because I was afraid to write, but I had to.

So, now that I've once again gotten a little too personal, let me offer this challenge: write what scares you. It doesn't matter if you're an author of fantasy or science fiction or contemporary chick lit - when you infuse your stories with things that hurt, things that pinch a nerve or squeeze your heart, your book will be the better for it.

*Anyone else feel like this could be a great picture book title? Or maybe a spooky MG? NOBODY STEAL IT. IT'S MINE.
Kristin Briana Otts

Kristin is an aspiring YA author with an abiding love for her dog, ghost hunter tv shows, and rainy days.

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  1. I kind of love you, and that should probably scare you too.

    I don't think it's any small coincidence that writers, even writers who write picture books about fluffy bunnies, are super close to the terrors of the world. We see it. We feel it. We step back and we notice the massive horror of things. Worse, we find ourselves overwhelmed by the little horrors that creep up out of the dark.

    Some people, some writers, can plow through the fear, and I'm kind of scared of them. But what hippie said that the only way out of the dark is to light a candle? When we write things, we confront them, and it's horrifying. But we also feel them, and we give them shape and form on paper; that can take away the scariness that comes from the nameless unknown.

    You can keep Life Begins At The End of Your Comfort Zone. I call dibs on The Nameless Unknown.

  2. I hate horror films and books, but I agree that real-life horrors are so much scarier. I love the challenge you give since many of my story ideas come from times I was hurt. They turn into my protagonists' dark moments.

    Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for your openness, Kristin!

  3. This is very interesting! I love how writing is a way of expressing our emotions, and I'm glad you were able to be real!

  4. Stephen King did it. Pretty much 20% of his books are about him conquering his cocaine/alcohol addition. Especially Misery. IMO, his best books are the ones where he took his real life fears and put them on paper without any mysticism. Though he can't remember writing Cujo.

  5. I am so glad a Twitter friend of mine, @Ava_Jae, posted about this. Yesterday, I had posted about identifying with some of my own fears, and how I needed to do some quick but major changes to feel better about myself. But those were on a physical level, not mental.

    Fear of the dark. Of not being loved. Of being alone. Of life being all a big not-so-juicy lie. These are things that keep me up at night. Every. Single. Night. And one of the many reasons why I shied away from my writing for a few weeks was because I knew I'd have to confront these topics at one moment or another and address them. They weren't the imaginary monsters in the sock drawer anymore. Well, actually, THAT turned out to be a real bat living in my room, but the point still stands. Our deep seated fears come to life, and we sometimes draw from them, even against our wishes, to create a beautiful craft.

    You are not alone! Just, you know, keep the light on at night. ;)

  6. Thank you for sharing this. I can relate. I'm afraid to even start writing because there is too much of myself in the story I want to tell. I was at an author event with Myra McEntire last week and talked to her about this exact thing. She told me that maybe the it wasn't the right time to tell that story and that made sense and what you said here does too. I think I just need to stop being so scared and write something, anything and see where it takes me. Even if it is just for me.

    I love the photo - I have the magnet on my refrigerator to remind myself to be daring - to live.

  7. I went through this with the novel I just finished for my MFA thesis. I went from ashamed to discuss the issues because some of them were my issues, to just going full on and using some really sick shit that's happened to me. It actually helped. I think now I'm ready to just openly talk about what happened to me, and I can thank my character and his growth for that. That's two novels in a row in which I think I taught myself a lot about life, things I knew subconsciously but never though about before, and I've grown because of it. I tell my creative writing students on the first day of class that sometimes in order to make good art you have to pick off some scabs and let them bleed onto the page. Thanks for sharing in this blog and your book.

  8. I actually went through this with one of my novels. It was inspired by a true story that was too close to me, about a young man that disappeared for my college. I became emotionally attached to the situation, wanting him to come home because it scared me. I started writing the book as an answer to what happened to him. A few weeks in... the police discovered his body after two months of searching.

    I was extremely upset and mourning for someone that I didn't even know. I only knew him as the picture on the missing poster and what I'd read about him in the letters from his parents. I couldn't finish my book since he was dead.

    A friend of mine convinced me that my story wasn't the same and in my story, I could give him a chance to live and it was actually a healing process for me. Sometimes, you just have to put aside your fear and write with all of your heart. You might get something really good out of it.

  9. Thank you for this post, Kristin. It was exactly what I needed to hear and inspired me to write about the same topic.

    For me, the big fear is actually writing. It's terrifying to me to pour myself into a story, knowing that my words could be rejected. It's tough not to equate this with being personally rejected.

    I am a new writer (mostly because I've always been too afraid to try), and I can honestly say that I can't imagine my life without it. I've embraced the fear, and it is beyond liberating. Life really does begin at the end of your comfort zone.

  10. I'm bookmarking this page to make sure I never forget the advice. Sometimes the best advice is a little scary too, I guess.

  11. Do you realize, with a little tidying up, your first couple of paragraphs here would make an awesome query letter. LOL!

  12. Great great great great GREAT advice, Kristin.

  13. Great, great post. (And with the perfect image to accompany it as well)

    Thanks for the honesty and holding up the mirror for the rest of us.

    -- Tom


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Item Reviewed: Dark, Scary Things* Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Briana Otts