What I Learned About Self-Discovery from “Heart of Darkness”

smartphone near empty notebook with pen on bed

It has long been my particular fear of not being received well as a writer. No doubt, it’s the worst kind of fear that a prolific writer can have. As I found my own writing growing dense, I worried I’d get to a point where no one would understand what I had to say but me. Even trying to be as blunt and concise as I could, that wasn’t always possible!

This fear found its seed when my senior English class was assigned Joseph Conrad’s classic, “Heart of Darkness.” As we read and discussed the book in English class, I noticed Conrad’s very dense and wordy writing style turned off at least ninety percent of the class. At first, I wasn’t impressed with the writing myself. A particularly brilliant classmate of mine made the remark that he seems to write as if he believes he is more clever than he actually was.

Conrad was very proud of his command over the English language. It’s a fine gift, one I would like to say I share. His stories may seem a little dull with far too much detail to bog the narrative down. Conrad also tends to write so densely as to imply many meanings. This sort of wordplay can leave many readers incredibly lost. But, there’s brilliance to his work, as well. He brings up some profound ideas – things that make you think. They may be pretty obvious concepts for a smart mind, but a lot of people don’t think of such things.

Writing style can either befuddle or please, depending on who’s reading the text. Willingness to understand can be a factor, too. There are some great concepts out there presented in what seem to be dry, dull books. The writer writes to tell the world something, but unfortunately is received the wrong way or not at all!

That became my fear. What if I write something I think is brilliant, but everyone else thinks it’s crap? Yes, I’m far from alone in that fear. Like Joseph Conrad, I believe even I myself can get to the point of overstating things. I’m one to overanalyze, often trying to provide a reason for everything that happens. I tend to want broad definitions for everything. That’s why I sometimes seem to flaunt my grasp on the English language. But, I assure you it’s the only way I know how to fully relate to you what goes through my head! 

While Conrad’s style can be bewildering and long-winded, even to me, it was how he chose to explain himself. Yes, a lot of his details seem extraneous. A creative mind will sometimes try to explore several avenues of thought at once, hoping they will intersect later on. Sometimes, becoming lost is a sad eventuality.

What I’ve learned over the years is that the act of writing is an exercise in self-discovery. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t write with others in mind. But, the initial act of writing should be an act of Self-Discovery.

But, when it comes to writing about my own life, though, I find difficulty in getting much out of my own personal experience. Recording my daily happenings in written form is something that often leaves me bored. What significance can such trite occurrences hold for the future? Why waste time focusing on such trivia? Shouldn’t I continue to explore what my mind continues to analyze? It would seem a waste only to record events in their simplest forms. There are so many more interesting avenues of thought to explore.

Though I’ve had many stories to tell, the “good ones” are so few and far between. There seems so little to gain from many of them. It seems writing about them would be unproductive. But, as I’ve learned in recent years, self-reflection is actually a key part of becoming a better writer. You have to know yourself well to write well. Drawing on your own personal experiences, even when writing fiction, gives the writing permanence.

Self-Discovery is a long, arduous process. Little bits of insight come to us piecemeal after a long time. You may encounter an experience that affects you in a significant way, yet it’s so difficult to explain why. Sometimes, you find yourself having to relate every detail of that journey you took. It may even take a detailed reflection of your past to realize what’s affected you in significant ways. Only then can you get closer to understanding the inner workings of your mind, body, and soul. For me, that’s something Joseph Conrad did very well in writing “Heart of Darkness,” and it’s a work that should continue to be appreciated forever.

Related: Desert Landscapes in Literature | Is Mr. Marlow the Hero of Heart of Darkness?

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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