Need to add impact to a pivotal scene in your novel? Try writing in the dark. Anyone who’s studied the effects of sensory deprivation knows they impact creativity greatly. While not everyone has access to, or can afford, time in a sensory deprivation tank, there are ways to harness some of that deprivation juju to enhance your writing skills.
First, let’s talk about what happens during sensory deprivation. Your brain shifts from the alpha and beta waves of conscious reality to solid theta waves—the kind you have right before falling asleep and just after waking up. Normally, dreamers only experience theta waves for a few minutes, but having extended theta periods helps us to visualize better and sometimes give us vivid mental images, akin to hallucinations.
While writing in the dark isn’t as effective as total sensory deprivation for creativity, it allows you to broaden your creative reach and can help you craft scenes, dialogue, and plot twists that are nothing short of amazing.
In a typical session, you’ll find your writing becomes more demonstrative and full of words that describe all your senses. Writing in the dark allows you to concentrate on your scene, immerse yourself in it, and write about it as if you’re experiencing it yourself in detail. This makes your writing richer, fuller, and more emotive than ever.
In addition, this exercise sparks plot twists and turns, subplots, and even new story ideas. After twenty minutes or so of immersion, you may find yourself in a rhythm the likes of which are hard to duplicate while writing in the cold light of day. If this happens to you, embrace it for as long as the feeling holds and get those words on the page.
To try this technique, you’ll only need two things: A dark room and reasonably good typing skills.
A Dark Room
If you’re working at a computer or laptop, you can darken the room all you want but you’ll still contend with the ambient light from the device screen. That’s enough of light to ruin the effect, so you’ll need to find a way to circumvent this. You can cover your screen with black paper or turn the screen off while keeping power connected to the computer. Conversely, you can leave all the lights on and just cover your eyes with a scarf, a bandanna, an eye mask or your roommate’s old sock (as long as you wash it first!)
Personally, I find turning off the lights is key, even if you use an eye mask or other sight-dampening method. This may sound odd, but I can “feel” the darkness around me. It lends the room a certain stillness and closeness that really helps with immersion.
It’s also a good idea to block sounds as best you can. Find the quietest room in your house, turn off all electronics, or wear earplugs to increase the isolating effect of this exercise.
You’ll need to be a proficient typer to make writing with your eyes closed work for you, since you’ll need to be fairly certain of where each key is without looking at them. Don’t worry about typos, though. As long as you’ve got a grip on hand placement, a few misspellings will be easy to correct in editing.
That’s all you need. Don’t forget to let any housemates, friends, or family know what you’re up to to minimize interruptions. Choose a time of day that you know is “slow” in terms of social interaction for greater success. Then, simply write. At first you may feel awkward or even silly. You may write for ten, fifteen, twenty, or thirty minutes in this stage. Stick with it. Once you lose your sense of awkwardness, your mind will relax and begin to enjoy the experience.
Begin to “see” the story as you write it. Picture your setting, characters, and even the narrative as you type through it. You’ll begin to see through your characters eyes and feel what they feel, leading to evocative and riveting prose. The more you practice this technique, the more you’re able to achieve immersion. More immersion leads to greater gains for the writing you produce during your session.
Give it a try and let me know how it affects your writing. Send a sample of “dark writing” if you dare and I’ll publish my favorite one!
See you on the next page!