What if I told you that you could be a better writer by accepting all the “unacceptable” parts of yourself? That by doing so, you could write better rounded characters, utilize settings, develop your voice, and tap into a bottomless pool of creativity.
To start this blog post, I want to give you a writing exercise. This will be self work, so it’s important to ground yourself before you start this. If you meditate, you’ll know a little about how to ground yourself, but it can be as simple as lighting a candle and breathing for a few minutes.
I like to imagine cords digging into the earth from my root chakra. I imagine tree roots spreading from me and holding me fast to the earth. Depending on the self work I’m about to undergo, sometimes I imagine little grappling hooks extending from each root to secure me. As I take on this self work exercise with you, I’m going to use those grappling hooks.
We’re about to dip into our shadow self.
*Note: It’s extremely important to go into this with self compassion. Remember, you are only human. You are worthy of compassion and forgiveness. We ALL have a shadow. Do your best not to judge yourself and you’ll come out of this with a better understanding of yourself. You’ll come out of this with more self love. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re a writer. One thing we writers have in common is our inner critic. While this is only a small exercise, your inner critic can make this a huge thing. Don’t be afraid to seek support afterward if you need it.
*Think about what qualities irritate you about others.
For me, a big one is attention seekers. The way they’ll do anything to get attention, even at the expense of someone else. How they lie and exaggerate circumstances to get the spot light. How they fish for compliments even if it means provoking. How they pretend to not know how to do something so someone will pay attention. How they use their bodies and words as suggestions for attention.
*Do you see these characteristics in yourself? Be honest. Dig deep.
Yes. I can get extremely uncomfortable when I want attention I’m not getting. I get jealous and depressed. I get angry when my achievements are not recognized or someone else tries to take even the slightest credit for them. I want the world to know when something bad or good as happens right away. I’m not this way all of the time, mainly when my self esteem is feeling low.
*How has this trait affected your life?
For me, I’ve begun to face this specific trait. There are others I have yet to explore, but this one in particular, I’ve traced back to the beginning. Before I faced it, it affected every aspect of my life. The way I shaped my persona, the way I wrote, the way I interacted in friendships. It’s easy to feel shame with my actions, but like I said, self compassion is important. Attention seeking is a trait of children. we expect it from them. To face why I acted like this was to grow up. Do I still see this trait in myself? Of course. I’m human. Growing up meant I could pin point when I felt this trait bubbling to the surface. It meant I could analyze why I felt like this and stop any reactions. As a human, I still make mistakes.
As a human, you still make mistakes. Emotions will still get the better of you, like it does me. Like it does the Pope.
Welcome to The Shadows
Now that we’ve done a small exercise and dipped our toes in murky water, lets take a look at the shadows.
We were born a clean slate. As we grew, we were shaped by our society, our family. As children, we felt and displayed all the emotions of being human. Happiness, rage, greed, empathy. The people around us, the media we were subjected to, taught us what was acceptable and what wasn’t. As a result, we began to suppress all the emotions that were deemed “bad”.
Note: Each society is different, so what’s labeled “bad” in one, could be labeled “good” in another.
All of these “bad” traits formed our shadow selves. They are mostly in our unconscious, but the more we try to suppress them, the more they come out. We don’t always know when it comes out but when we catch it, it can be startling. When we say things we didn’t mean to say, or do something that is so out of character we find ourselves thinking, “Where did that come from?”. Even our facial expressions reveal our shadow selves.
The reason for the writing exercise in the beginning was to show you how the shadow self can materialize. We actually begin to see these traits we suppress in others. We judge people for these “bad” traits because we’ve ignored our own actions. The attention seeking for me? It bothers me much less now than before I owned up to it. I understand why people do it on a level that allows me to not only forgive them, but forgive myself, too.
Seeing these traits, the ones we deny in ourselves,has a term. Projection. We project onto others the things we’ve buried deep inside us. This doesn’t happen with effort. We do it automatically. All humans do. The problem with it, though, is we end up distorting reality. We can’t see how we behave because our personas (the way we view our self and the way we want the world to view us) have veiled our perception of reality.
Facing Our Shadow
Believe it or not, facing all the “bad” parts of us can help. It creates a more well rounded person. This doesn’t mean you need to indulge your shadow self. You don’t have to become bad people. You just have to be self aware. You get to be more understanding. You get to have deeper relationships. You get to forgive mistakes easier. You get to be healthier, because you’ve faced all the baggage.
You liberate yourself.
You do this by doing the exercise above numerous times. You watch how you react in emotionally charged events. You pay attention to yourself and you shine light on the shadow.
When we project onto other people, it doesn’t mean that these people aren’t doing the things we’re seeing. They most certainly are in most circumstances. The trick is, we wouldn’t wouldn’t notice them so much if we weren’t suppressing the same traits within us. It wouldn’t bother us so much if we weren’t in denial about our own similar actions.
I’ll post some resources below to help you uncover your shadow self.
Tapping Into Your Creativity
Writing is one of the healthy outlets to our darker sides. As I’ve said, everyone has a darker side, so your reader will empathize with your characters who have flaws.
Now, lets talk about your ego. You do have an ego, and it’s a big one. If saying that got to you…guess what? Yep–you’ve got an ego. We’ve all got egos. It comes with being human. Writers, though, we writers tend to have a BIG ego. And that’s okay. We need it to survive our writing journeys. If we don’t believe we have worth, that our words have worth, we won’t make it.
The good news is, by accepting your you have an ego, you just made that “bad” part of you work for you. Now that you’ve gotten it our of the way, you feel…better? Right? Freed? You just confirmed that your words have worth. It’s a lot easier to write and draw from your creative well when you have faith in yourself. When you admit you have skill. You can’t admit you have skill if you can’t admit to your ego.
Now, another “bad” trait we were taught to repress is play. Play is for children. As adults, we can’t waste the time for play. we have important adult things to do. Yet…without play, we can’t tap into our creative well. We get so caught up in the serious things that it drains us. We need play to get our juices flowing again. Accepting that, getting it out of the way, frees you up. When you accept you need it, the guilt goes away. Do the things people told you were bad at. Waste the time, another “bad” trait. Paint, draw, create. No matter the outcome, because what people have labeled as “wasting time” is essential to your creativity.
Well Rounded Characters
The flaws we give to our characters are the traits we’ve talked about. The ones we suppress. our character will suppress them, too. It’s human nature. It’s their shadows. Now, they do need to be authentic to your character. To make it authentic, you’ll need to comb their childhoods, the society they grew up in, the way their parents raised them. What is deemed as “bad” for them? How does it affect their lives now? How does it manifest subconsciously?
You hear about subtext a lot. Subtext isn’t what we tell the reader out right, or even what your character tells the cast out right. t’s what you don’t say. It’s body language, or settings, pr or internal dialogue. It’s conflict. IT’s even the antagonist. Antagonists and protagonists needs to compliment each other. Not in the sense that they flatter one another (though, what a twist), but rather be ying and yang. Light and dark. They can share qualities, even if one (protag) represses it, and one (antag) redeems them.
The shadow has a lot to do with your character arcs. It is what you character needs to learn by the end of the novel (or not).
Interestingly enough, writers tend to infuse their shadow selves and fears into their characters. We have common fears, so that means our readers will relate to our characters. That’s exactly what you want. No reader will connect to a story where they can’t relate to the characters. The same goes with our shadow selves. Infusing your shadow self into your character is a tool used to get your reader to relate to your character.
Much of what we read, we relate to because we understand the main characters. We understand because we feel the same way. Their society mimics our own on the deeper levels. What is taboo there is most likely taboo in our own lives.
When you hear a writer talking about how their character is an alter ego of them, it’s their shadow self their talking about. The part of them they don’t show in their “real” life. Use your shadow self in your work. Create your character’s persona, their voice, using this shadow. Use setting as another way to mimic their flaws, feelings, and fears. (Check out my post on Setting to help with that). It not only makes for richer fiction, but it’s a healthy outlet for you.
Shadow Self: How to Embrace Your Inner Darkness (3 Techniques)
Working with The Shadow: A Writer’s Guide
4 Carl Jung Theories Explained: Persona, Shadow, Anima/Animus, The Self