Harnessing Your Inner Pain

Perhaps the second most common stereotype about writers (behind that of alcoholism) is that writers are in pain. This, I believe to be generally true. What’s more, it actually makes a lot of sense. In order to convincingly convey emotions, it helps if you experience them more intensely.

One of my favorite quotes about writing comes from Julian Barnes, the author of The Sense of an Ending: “The best life for a writer is the life which helps him write the best books he can.” Of course, had I written it, I might have used the singular “they” to include the world’s very talented female authors... The message, however, is the same: writing is the one profession where resoundingly unpleasant experiences might actually benefit you. That aside, there is a point at which too much emotion can hurt your life and hinder writing. Here are three simple steps that you can use to help.


Locate the Source of Your Pain

Maybe you were abused in relationships all your life, and have trouble trusting anyone anymore. Perhaps all you’ve ever wanted is a loving family of your own, but the world’s inability to allow for that has made you quick to abandon relationships where, for whatever reason, you are not your lover’s top priority.

And perhaps this doesn’t describe you at all… Maybe you are happily married – the mother or father of three fully-grown children – and, after spending your life trying to provide them with the best education possible, your youngest has just dropped out of college. You question every day whether, despite the best of intentions, you’ve failed in your role as a parent.

The luckiest of you will have multiple sources of pain. You can take happiness in that.


Don’t Hide From Your Feelings. Be Brutally Honest With Yourself.

Lesser writers hide imperfections; the greatest, however, magnify them. In what way are you the cause of your own problems? Are you using your feelings to shield you? Are you using them, in part, as an excuse for your behavior?

Take the first example above. Perhaps you, in your current relationship, are demanding a level of commitment that simply cannot be given at this point in time (maybe your lover is pursuing an important career opportunity, and doesn’t have the ability to spend quality time with you). Because of your past, and whatever awful situations are blocking your future, you have come to need constant re-assurance from your partner that you are loved. This is obviously a large weakness that, if left unchecked, could prevent you from building the family that you want with your current partner. Analyze yourself until it hurts, and then keep it up until you know yourself as well as you can. This is a necessary step to recovery – and to good writing.


Write About It… And Hopefully Change It!

In one way or another, every character I’ve ever written about is me: my strengths, my weaknesses, every part of myself laid bare for the world to see. When we know what makes us tick, we have insight into the lives of others. If I secretly avoid interactions at work, maybe others do too. Great authors put themselves into their characters.

There is another side to this way of writing (the truest way of writing). By being honest with ourselves, and not just accepting the stories we attach to our lives, sometimes, with a lot of time, we can heal.


Writing Prompt

Write yourself as a character. What do you want? What are your weaknesses. When you've "planned yourself" down to the last detail, put yourself in a story that has little to do with your own life. How do you, with your own foibles and fortes, overcome the obstacles you've placed in your path? Don't forget to send your story in for editing!