Why I write what disturbs me

My book is dark. Once, when describing it to an interested reader, I said, “Think of Game of Thrones, but darker.”

The thing about that though: I was describing the first draft, which was far less darker than where my revisions have taken me now in the 5th.

There have been times I hate this book and wanted to get rid of it. Not because it’s a bad book. Actually, I’m quite pleased with the prose and the storytelling.

This war inside me has been due more to a principle: if the apple’s rotten, there’s no use cutting out the rot. Throw the whole thing away and try another.

A Thousand Roads is a rotten apple. And yet, as I’m learning, that rot is exactly what makes it what it is. That darkness exists for a reason—there’s a reason it’s only compounded as revisions have gone on. That darkness is part of the story I’m telling.

I write what disturbs me. And the more I read, especially world history and world news, the more I am disturbed. I read a lot, because I want my writing to be that place where truth and personal insight meet.

Stripped of its darkness, A Thousand Roads would be very much a classic high fantasy tale: a young man in search of a home goes on an adventure and in the process discovers his place in the world.

Boring. That’s all been done, time and time again. What’s not been done, in my mind anyway, has been the dark inverse of Tolkien’s there-and-back-again story. The Hobbit meets the Alien franchise. Bilbo’s quest to confront a dragon becomes a young man’s journey into his own darkness—a dragon within his soul—and the tragic results of this. It is a there-and-back-again, but the end is bitter-sweet. The darkness has touched our hero, in a way that will not leave him, and yet somehow he is able to go on and become a figure of legend.

In fact, because of that darkness, he is able to become the great person he is. Only because of it can he rise so much greater, where there is true inner strength.

That, in a nutshell, is what my book is about.

I appreciate this view, here in the writer’s chair as I mentally rest from intense revision on the 5th draft, and prepare to go in just as intensely on the 6th. The darkness is calling, I can already hear its echo. I am terrified, and yet I am alive with it.

I’ve come to accept that writing what disturbs me is where to start. I believe there is great light and hope and all the highs and wonders found in literature that makes your soul shiver. I’ll get there, but I must start here. Just like Jak, my hero, must start with his own journey into darkness.

But it’s in claiming this darkness that I have, myself, been opened up to strange ventures of creative expression, ones which, you might have noticed, have been rippling across my platform.

One such darkness: becoming acquainted with the Manifesto of Surrealism by Andre Breton. I’ve been tweeting the parts of it that shake my foundations, not just because I as a reader am reacting, but because I as a creative writer with a story on a similar doorstep to the start of the surrealist movement (so I’m told) have felt a deep resonance.

My editor, Dale Lui, pushed me in this direction. On the last draft, he told me I was almost there, pushing the lines of point of view and showing how minds can join and self can be lost in the fluid exchange of being that is Necromancy at its height. That’s the heart of the novel and, while I was almost grasping it, Dale said I need to go deeper, right into surrealism itself.

So I’ve read, and so I came across that essay, and it changed me.

Probably the biggest change is Breton’s talk about automatic writing and the free movement of thought, beyond the confines of words. There was something in that that sparked my imagination. What if I simply let go and began automatic writing? Descended into that Freudian space of mind, that unmapped unconscious?

Why the darkness? That goes back to that same question, Why do I write things that disturb me? I don’t know. I just write them, and somewhere in that process I appreciate truth all the more, and I pass it on to others. Together, we all grow, each of us doing what we are most passionate about.

Meanwhile, I am preparing myself to write the 6th draft of A Thousand Roads. It’s safe to say my mind and heart are ready to go in deep and really discover, to not be afraid. I want to tell the story as true as it can be. Though there is still time (and plans) in the production timeline for further revisions, it’s the 6th draft where I’m hoping the most significant depths will open up, then I can busy myself in the early fall’s 7th draft with polishing and augmenting further, still with time before the final proofread.

I don’t have an objective with this blog post, other than to finally just get this pent-up darkness out of my lungs, somewhere just throw up my hands and say “I write dark things, I’m a dark writer, I love it, it’s what I am!” and feel acceptance by those in the crowd who throw their hands up as well and tell me they do the same, and now together, we can support one another in our quest for true stories.

It’s been a long work day and I still have many things to write, so on I go to those. This one will get published, unplanned, without schedule. There’s something good about breaking routine, especially when you have a routine as solid as cement blocks.


About John Robin

John Robin is an epic fantasy writer, professional editor, and lover of imaginary worlds. He write stories about magic and myth, human suffering and the power to rise above it. He loves world building, coffee shops, mathematics, chess, and is an avid author community builder.
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