Writing is hard enough without having to write through painful experiences. Pain is a part of life, yet as unpleasant as it is, some of the richest experiences and deepest insights are borne through suffering. The loss of a loved one, the discovery of a disease, the betrayal of a friend are all painful experiences that, if addressed at the right moment, become fertile ground from which to shed light to guide others. So when is the right time to write about your painful experiences?
That is something only you can answer because, to some degree, it’s based on healing and how you’ve grown from your experiences. Here are three questions to ask that will help you know if you’re ready to share a painful experience in your fiction or non-fiction.
1) Do you have enough emotional distance to be objective about the subject? While painful experiences allow us to reach deep within ourselves to find expression on a new level, if we don’t have enough emotional distance the writing will be shallow and self-absorbed. The goal is to shed light, not wallow in our pain. When we have recovered from our pain, and stand at a safe emotional distance, we will write about the experience with the motivation to shed light on how we survived and how the reader can too.
2) Are you able to keep the focus of the story outward, not inward? When you proofread your article or novel, you’ll know if your prose sheds light for others or merely portrays your pain. You’ll hear it. The reader is not looking for someone to share his misery; she is looking for someone to guide her through hers.
3) In the end, have you delivered hope? Finding hope is not reserved for non-fiction articles. Readers identify with fictional characters too and especially the situations they find themselves in. Readers ask themselves what they would do in the main character’s situation. They wonder how they would feel. And although they may come to their own conclusions, they look to the writer for insight to help them conquer their plight. To some degree, just as the main character is rescued, so is the reader if they have had a similar experience.
When all is said and done, when you’re writing about painful experiences, give your readers hope. It’s what she wants. It’s what he needs. They are looking for hope and your writing is light.
Next Thursday: What you can learn about writing from Charles Dickens & Ebenezer Scrooge.
The Writer’s Refuge blog is a place for writers, like you, to break away from your daily routine and for just a few minutes find insight, inspiration or simply a word of encouragement. Blog entries are posted on Thursday.
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