"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." – Maya Angelou

Writing from a Place of Pain

Art is born from pain and struggle.

Beauty often blossoms in the presence of brokenness. Only when the vase is cracked, can the light get out. Through the ages this has been our reality—living in a fractured world, made up of beauty and sorrow, living among our fellow men, who shower one another with compassion, kindness, and courage, but who are also willing to destroy one another with brutal violence, hatred, and cruelty.

Creating art transcends all that—be it prose, poetry, song, dance, or painting or any other form of creative endeavor. Creating art can heal us.

“The more I wrote . . . The more I became a human being . . . I was getting the poison out of my system.”
Henry Miller

Pain and struggle and suffering is part of each one of our lives. Some suffer more than others. It is easy to moralize or pontify pain and suffering. It is easy to shake an accusing finger at God, demanding an answer. And yet, on a physical, physiological, emotional, and spiritual level, that is no simple matter—make all pain disappear. Rather than insisting on getting our “why?” answered, we’d discover more by learning about “where to,” and “to what end?” Only when we grow stronger from overcoming the pain and sorrow, and not merely grow bitter and cynical, will we find meaning. 

There are those who are quick to pass judgment, saying, you must have done something wrong, for this to have happened. This is often not the case. Others, tend to celebrate and enshrine their pain and suffering, as if it is, in of itself, a virtue, a shrine to be worshipped.

7 Things to keep in mind when writing from a place of pain:

1. Write toward the light. Write in order to make sense of it all. Write in order to build a ladder from the pit of darkness—each piece of writing a part of building the next rung or side rail for the ladder. Don’t celebrate the darkness. 

“It does me good to write, even though at times I can barely force myself . . . or perhaps I only do it to overcome my fear.”
Isabel Allende in Paula

2. Write to gain understanding and insight. Be willing to see, to gain fresh perspectives. Be willing to look at it from different angles, different people’s perspective. Be willing to grow.

“We have to be willing to see. The thing about peace is it is not unhinged from suffering. Right in the middle of the terror of the world we can pick up the pen and speak.”

Natalie Goldberg

“There is convincing evidence that writing about the same topic, in the same way, day after day is not at all helpful—and may be possibly harmful. You can analyze something too much.”
James W. Pennebaker in Expressive Writing

3. The pain will not always magically disappear, and that’s okay too. Sometimes, some heartache, some sorrow, will remain part of our earthly life. But, writing about it, is a powerful tool we can and should use. 

“My grieving apparently, I understood as I wrote, wasn’t over, perhaps would never be completely over.”
Louise DeSalvo 

4. Take care of yourself while writing. Don’t neglect your health. Eat sensibly. Prepare nutritious meals. Rather than binge on junk food, binge on writing and reading! Exercise is crucial. Drink enough water. Limit alcohol intake. Get outside—escape your house or apartment. Go for walks—alone or with a friend or with a dog. Don’t neglect your family and friends—visit with them in person.

“But writing was life enhancing, for I had learned to care for myself as I worked.”
Louise DeSalvo

5. Always write from a position of safety. With safety, I do not mean remain silent about the horrors, about the unmentionable—write about it, but take care. If the writing about the upheaval, the trauma, the grief, becomes too much, make you spiral toward hopelessness and despair—sound the alarm—pull the string for the emergency parachute. Take a break. Get professional help. Psychotherapy and medication have a place.

“Also, remember the Flip-Out Rule: if you get too upset by your writing, simply stop … Use your own judgment.”
James W. Pennebaker

6. Leave your reader with hope. Your writing is a gift to your reader. This life is not the end. There is more. We write about truth, about our truth. we write about the world and its people and its horrors and devastation, but also its beauty and wonder. We write about grace and mercy. And hope. And darkness. And light. 

“I think that all things, in their way, reflect heavenly truth, the imagination not least.” 
C.S. Lewis

7. Write toward healing. Our prose and poetry should not have as a purpose to celebrate pain and suffering, basking in it, presenting ourselves to our readers as martyrs. Expressive writing is not a quick-fix, a fix-it-all, but is powerful and able to help heal emotional wounds. Such writing can and will benefit your readers.

“Writing . . . In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”
Stephen King, from On Writing

Beauty often blossoms in the presence of brokenness and heartache. Creating our art—writing our prose and poetry can transcend all that, can transform us.

But only when we grow stronger from overcoming the pain and sorrow, or find a way around or through it, and not merely grow bitter and cynical, will we find meaning—then we’ll be able to enrich the lives of our readers, and our own.

We can write from a place of pain with purpose.

This article was also published on Medium.


Thank you for reading!

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