Writing About What Hurts

I participated in an hour-long online on “How to Write Stories That Matter,” hosted by Jeff Leisawitz. I keep trying different things to kickstart my internal creativity, but quite frankly nothing’s helped. “Writer’s block” is putting it kindly. I found the session quite useful–it’s not Jeff’s fault that I’m stuck. Still, I appreciated Jeff’s inputs, perhaps the most useful/important for me being, “Write about what hurts.”

The problem with writing about what hurts is that it’s uncomfortable–painful, even. And quite frankly, if you’ve been writing in your journal for months about what bothers you and haven’t come to any successful resolution or useful insights, fiction isn’t going to do much better.

Mind you, fiction can be a useful form of “literary therapy,” wherein the author creates stories out of his/her own experiences, painful or otherwise, and tries to conjure up a fictional method of solving a dilemma. (The magic word, as Jeff reminded us, is catharsis.) Things get tricky when you haven’t found a method of solving the dilemma in real life and your reaction(s) to that dilemma, in fact, prevent you from writing about it.

There are other challenges to writing about the things that hurt you:

  • You end up reliving things that made you feel rather awful.
  • It requires you to reveal yourself emotionally to other people. If you’re an introvert who doesn’t like doing that aloud, writing it for others is only slightly better.
  • You have to trust that others won’t judge you or laugh at you for revealing things that hurt or bother you.
  • However, in the likely event others DO judge the things you write, you have to develop a thick skin about the critiques, right, wrong, or indifferent.

I’ve occasionally described myself as a “failed” creative writer in that I’ve got too many inhibitions to deal well with the three points above. This is why I’m a technical writer by trade: I get to write things for other people, often with little to no emotional content (certainly very little of my personal baggage is required to get the job done).

Yet once upon a time, I wrote fiction quite often. I got my B.A. with the express goal of writing the Great American Science Fiction Novel. To date, I’ve hacked out (up?) five novels and over 150 stories…none published. And yet the more nonfiction I do for other people, the less energy or motivation I seem to have to write for myself. That creates its own heartache because there’s a certain snob appeal about being a fiction author vs. a technical writer. You tell someone you’re a writer, they think you mean fiction. You explain what you really do, and they respond with a disappointed, “Oh.”

So anyhow, I’m stuck again. Oy.

There are probably ways out of this:

  • Write about problems I’ve already solved.
  • Write just for myself without worrying about an audience.
  • Write with a specific audience in mind but with the goal of writing under a pseudonym.
  • Write about something that doesn’t hurt.
  • Apply my no-fear work habits to my creative writing.
  • Some combination of all of the above.

Right now, I’m trying to take my mind–and thus the pressure–off the fiction-writing thing until I feel somewhat inspired again. It’s interesting to me how my different types of writing parallel nicely with the different worlds they feed. The professional life is going well, and I can only recall one instance writer’s block in 20+ years. Meanwhile, my personal life shifts from isolated to chaotic with very little even-keel, connected living in between. The post here explains where the fiction brain has ended up.

Meanwhile, until I get my brain back into a place where I can write for fun again…yep, I’m stuck. 😦

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