My five favourite shadow writing prompts.
You see, I want a lot. Maybe I want it all: the darkness of each endless fall, the shimmering light of each ascent. — Rainer Maria Rilke - The Book of Hours
Have you ever read something you really don’t like?
Is there a particular character or point of view you just can’t stand?
Was there an essay or article that made you so angry you felt sick?
We all have our own interesting dislikes. The next time you’re offended by something you read, treat the feeling as if it were a deep sea creature lurking in your peripheral vision. It just flicked a tentacle, and then moved out of sight.
What was that thing?
Your feeling of repulsion may be trying to show you something that lives in your subconscious.
There might be something dark that you want to feel or know, but you don’t want to acknowledge your desire to experience it.
We all have our own lurking sea creatures. And our conscious minds are righteous, well-intentioned, overprotective lifeguards. They keep us buoyed by flotation devices, so we never have to go down there.
The things we really DON’T want to read, really DON’T want to write about, really DON’T want to remember… these are some of our richest writing materials, and a powerful unused energy source.
The problem is that it’s difficult to get over our own revulsion, fear, numbness, and aversion long enough to tap that energy and use it creatively.
Whenever something in me rises up that’s that strongly repulsed by something, I get curious. Because, as Carolyn Elliott says, desire and aversion always go hand in hand.
What is your horror trying to tell you?
Spelunking into shadow is taboo and scary. As writers, we get to do this through character, scene, and image.
Because just being offended can feel like you’re caught in a stagnant pond. These writing prompts will help you go deep, and transform your fear into flow.
Spend 10–15 minutes on the following:
1) Write a letter back to the character who offended you, from the point of view of an ancient rock formation. The rock has something important to say.
2) Create a character who’s based on an author you can’t stand. Write a portrait — describe their physical appearance. Give them a habit, a tic, a memory, or a fear/nightmare that you have yourself. Now put that person in a setting that makes them feel uncomfortable. Describe the scene.
3) What is something you would never, EVER do/say? Describe it. Now, freewrite from one or more of the following:
a. I LOVE (doing this thing I would never do) because it makes me feel…
b. When I (do this thing I would never do) I get to feel…
c. People think I shouldn’t (do this thing I would never do) but that’s just because they…
Finally, if you’d like to try a whole season of shadow writing, here are two classic shadow prompts you can try every day as a practice:
4) don’t want to write about…
5) I don’t remember…
Those last two are surprisingly versatile: use them for any genre. You could write from those prompts once a day for a year and still surprise yourself by the sea creatures you uncover each time.
Note: this is deep work, and it can be really uncomfortable. I avoided writing shadow for many years (hello, Radiant Shimmering Light!) You might not feel like it’s for you right now, and that’s okay.
Be patient. You don’t have to try all of these prompts. Try one, and dip your toes into the dark water just a little at a time.
Happy Halloween. And happy Samhain, for all of you witches out there.
With love for the darkness of each endless fall,
Photo credit: Yaselyn Perez on Unsplash.