Getting to the Good Stuff: Writing Your Pain

When I was in college,  Clyde Edgerton, a Southern writer who hails from Durham, North Carolina, came to teach creative writing as a guest lecturer. At the same time, my boyfriend, who would eventually become my first ex-husband, and I were struggling in our relationship.

My barely out of the teen years angst flooded the pages of my writing that semester. The writing wasn't half bad, but the content was self-pitying and not deserving of the paper it was printed on. It felt awful when I was writing it and even worse when I was reading it.

Even my discussions about my writing with Mr. Edgerton were disturbing. I had never shared my personal pain in writing before. Each meeting we had to talk about the writing agitated me. Mr. Edgerton did nothing to cause these feelings. He was a kind and supportive professor. I had conjured up these feelings myself.

Now I know that feeling embarrassed about what i was writing meant I was on the right track. I was on the road to getting at the real issues at the heart of those feelings. I was afraid to keep digging. If I had kept at it, I would have gotten to the good stuff, the real emotion that was driving the action and causing the pain. That's the stuff that, when written well, is transformative for both the writer and the reader.

We writers must be willing to sift through our feelings and those of our characters to get to that good stuff. Antonia Hayes, author of the upcoming novel, Relativity, delves deep into not only her own pain but also her son's and the pain of the man who almost killed her son when he was a baby, his own father.

I took a seed of something that happened in my life and used fiction to write my anxieties and worst-case scenarios.1

Writing about the pain often starts out as an intellectual exercise. You can tell when it's not from the heart yet because you don't feel a real discomfort when you write. If you do not shed a tear or get that twisting feeling in the stomach or fear that someone will read what you've written and think bad things about you, you're still coming at the piece from the mind, not the heart. And that's okay. It takes time to get into the muck and mire of the soul. Keep writing. Eventually, your defenses will come down and you will be able to write through the pain instead of about the pain. You will shed a tear. You will be afraid. You will open your heart. And your readers will thank you for it.


  1. Quote from Antonia Hayes via Writing from the wound



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