Writing the Hard Stuff

When I say writing the hard stuff, I don’t mean porn or description or character or plot. The most difficult things to write are those things that come from our deepest, darkest places. The places we hide from most of the time.

Writing the Hard Stuff
Time for a glass of wine.

I recently wrote a scene meant to tap into that place in myself. An hour and a half later, a mere 550 words had me trembling with fatigue and sick to my stomach. Yup. It was that dark of a place. Inside me!

We all have those places. That side of us that we like to pretend doesn’t exist. It’s dangerous to touch those places of fear, loathing, hate, or even fierce love. Most of us like to think we are genuinely nice people. I know I do. Yet, I have dark corners in my psyche.

So what do you do? First, do you like to read about characters who have to face a piece of their own darkness, their own demons? Is that the kind of story you aspire to write? To write that kind of scene, to make the scene come alive, you have to be willing to write the hard stuff. You have to be willing to expose yourself to your readers.

You may want to journal about that dark corner of your psyche first. That allows you to be very personal. Give yourself a break–chocolate and buying something sparkly can help. (I don’t know where I got that idea!) After some time passes, re-read your journal entry and re-imagine it in terms of how it applies to your character. Then write.

I’ve put off writing my scene FOREVER. It was a scary place to go. Having written the scene I can say that it is dark and awful and . . . not 100% me. How can that be? Because while I drew from my experiences to create my characters, I gave them traits I do not have. Those traits subtly change my dark thoughts and memories into something different. It will work that way for you, too.

What about the feeling vulnerable and exposed? Will someone ask if you actually lived that scene? Maybe. What should you do or say? I can’t really tell you how to protect yourself. As for me . . . I plan to smile and say “Only in my nightmares.” And, “If you thought that one was bad, wait ’till you read the next one!”

Do you visit dark places in your reading? Do you reach into the dark corners of your psyche when you write? How do you get through it? Or do you shy away from the dark side entirely?

Image:”Life is Hard” via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anne Helmond


  1. I have to be in the right mood to write certain scenes. So often I’ll just skip them until I’m at a place where I can write them. Then, it’s just a matter of Just Do It. Haven’t figured out any other way! Good luck with yours!

    1. Thank you, Jennette! How lovely to see you again!

      Yes, my mood can definitely affect how effectively I write the hard stuff. And, oh boy, are you right about Just Do It. My first draft is okay, I’ll go back and tweak it. When I’m in the mood. 🙂

      I hope your wormhole has a light at the end of it.

  2. That’s a tough question, but an important one! I think it was Laurie Anderson that said “Write about the emotions you fear the most.” I do believe there are some parts of yourself that maybe ought to be reserved, but if you aren’t baring at least part of your soul in your writing I think you’re missing an opportunity to connect with readers.

    1. Hi, Evan. My goodness, I guess a lot of writers have advised us to write what we fear in one way or another. Hemmingway said to “write hard and what hurts” and Joseph Campbell’s words were “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” And of course, Natalie Goldman also said something about writing what you fear. I hadn’t heard of Laurie Anderson’s version. A new writer to learn about! Thanks for sharing.

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