Does Writing Need to Come From Suffering?

Those of us who had a perfectly healthy childhood should be able to sue for deprivation of literary royalties.”

–Chris Patten

Do you believe, as Chris Patten states above, that suffering is a prerequisite to  good writing? Why or why not? If not, what do you feel is essential to good writing?

Comments

  1. Kathryn Boyd Loftus says

    Suffering can enhance certain types of writing because it usually means the writer is in touch with a range of emotions which can help in the depth of character development. If a character is tortured by the past as in a book I recently read entitled The Light Between Oceans, it is easier to understand the protagonist’s struggle. However, suffering can sometimes be detrimental to humorous writing because it is hard to rise above the painful experiences and embrace a lighter side of life.

  2. Amy says

    Traumatic. That’s the one word I’d use to describe my youth. While I don’t think bad childhood to be necessary for writing, many people use the arts as a means of expressing themselves, understanding and healing from their experiences, and as a creative outlet. People with happy childhoods may be robbed of memoir material, but I’d trade with them in a minute for good memories and a loving family and I bet everyone else with a traumatic childhood would too.

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      Yes, and I also believe that anyone who is truly living and truly listening with all their being and senses, anyone engaged with themselves, others, and the world around them will have great memoir material…

    • Ilana says

      Amy- Thank you so much for saying this. “People with happy childhoods may be robbed of memoir material, but I’d trade with them in a minute for good memories and a loving family and I bet everyone else with a traumatic childhood would too.” This week’s prompt was very painful to me for just this reason. Your words were like an accepting nod, “Yes, I get it.” was what I heard. IM

  3. Fran Stekoll says

    Even though I had a good childhood, as I aged there was suffering at different levels of my growth. I was an only child. My Mother told me early on that she didn’t want children, my Father did. Her tubes were closed not allowing sperm to float through. She literally had to stand on her head and have them blown open. I was lucky enough to have gotten through. I was fussy as a baby. We lived in a three story home on Colby Street in Rochester, N.Y. My father was a salesman and traveled quite often, leaving my Mother to run everything, her Nursery School on the first floor and taking care of me on the second floor. The winters were freezing. I had colic and was allergic to milk. This kept her isolated which cramped her style. I somehow sensed that I was not wanted, especially when she shared with me later in life that on one of those
    lonely blistery snowy days she carried me down to the cellar, opened the door to the coal furnace and almost tossed me in.

    My Father, on the other hand was my rock. Each time he’d return from his travels I’d be showered with gifts and kisses. He took me to the beach, to visit cousins on the train, and he even bought me my first bra. He was my best friend. I still glow remembering the leaves falling off the trees in our front yard. Daddy would rake them into huge piles and I would hide inside. He knew where I was and would shout loudly that he was going to get a match and burn the leaves. At that point I’d burst out of them and he’d scoop me up into his arms laughing and kissing me.

    I still remember my first train trip with him at the age of 4. It was during the second world war. Many troops on that train. It took two weeks to travel from New York to California to visit his parents, my Grandparents. We slept in bunks, Me on the top, he underneath. I learned how to fold napkins in the dining car and at some of the stops there were Indians selling their handmade goods. The soldiers were very friendly; but then so was I. I would go from one car to the other shaking passengers hands and saying, ” Hi, my name is Frances Ann, what’s yours?”. The black porters wore white smocks and I saw them sleeping between two chairs. When we got to California I saw my first palm tree with the dead branches hanging down clinging to the trunk, Grandma called them dirty petticoats. I had my first orange plucked from a tree and enjoyed my first 7 UP. Yes, I suffered not being loved and accepted by my Mother; but my Father certainly made up for that in spades. And yes, suffering is a prerequisite to good writing and this story is proof of that!

    • Hazel says

      I agree with you that there is suffering at each stage of development, things that you work through, and for each person there is a unique set of circumstances surrounding that stage. Isn’t it interesting to see, through writing, what the other person has seen?

      Thank you for sharing.

    • PJ says

      Fran
      This is a very touching story and has some similarities that my father’s untold story had (his mother took him into the cellar and turned the gas on when severely depressed being displaced 1000 miles from her native CT and had it not been for her husband coming home early that afternoon would have died. This gave him a bad outlook on life and was very much an introvert, never rising above the potential his Ivy League education he received. BTW I live d in the 12 corners, Brighton area in the late 70′s.

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      Love all the details in your narrative–the contrasts between mother and father, the “dirty petticoats”–thanks for posting this sort of dual experience of being parented. I liked the detail about the mother upside down getting blown open, her tubes.
      Thanks!

    • Ilana says

      Fran- What a beautiful story. I suppose there are two sides to every coin. Thanks for sharing the sweeter side of your coin this week. IM

  4. Sabrina says

    No, I don’t think suffering is a prerequisite to good writing. Good writing is the result of being able to formulate words about, around, thru, in response to etc something or nothing that can be expressed with words. Good writing comes from having a certain kind of brain that processes words and is able to use them as an expressive medium.

    Personally I think there are not many words in my brain. The ones that are there I am wondering what to do with. Thus I am surprised that I have gotten this far on replying to this prompt.

    I am reading a book by the writer Mulan Kundera titled The Art of the Novel.

    The book is filled with words I don’t know the meaning of. He speaks of many different writers all who approach the novel quite differently. Most of the Authors he speaks of I have never read. Thus, I have decided that a dictionary or several, rules of grammar from different languages and reading a lot are prerequisites for good writing along with linguistic brain training.

    • says

      Hi Sabrina, Thanks for chiming in on the conversation. I’m going to give some thought to what I have to say on the topic–and post later in the week. My own feelings on the subject have definitely changed.

    • Hazel says

      You don’t have to have too many words in your brain to start writing. You learn many more as you go along. I always have a dictionary handy when I read. There is one on the table by my favorite chair and there is one on the bookshelf at my computer. And, I always have several books handy to read. Reading is a good way to put more words in your brain. If you are writing in English those are the rules you need to know.

      Thank you for sharing.

      • Gayle says

        I like your conversational style. Sometimes, reading about how to do it right takes away from your personal way of relating. I say, just write what you know and feel and don’t worry about the big words!

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      Thanks for your honest voice! I felt like I was let in to your experience. I think it is powerful to let others in to what we don’t know. I spent the first part of my life pretending to know things I didn’t, but I have learned so much from this time around asking what I don’t know or finding out. There is so much in the journey searching for meanings and discovering new writers etc. I am often amazed. Sometimes I am thought dumb because I ask questions I kind of know the answer to, but I am not sure or I want more information.
      On my computer I have a quote posted, “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”–this makes me smile every time I see it. It gives me permission to no know. Oh, and the quote is by Epictetus who I’d describe but I am not sure exactly who he is but I think he lived a long time ago! Oh, and I discovered Epictetus through the singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell who repeated an Epictetus quote, (which I hope I have gotten right)–”What other people think of me is none of my business.” Write on : )

      • Hazel says

        To quote Ken Jennings, “The Obsolete Know It ALL” from Jeopardy, “It is always better to know a thing than not to know it.” and so we keep learning.

    • Judy says

      Sabrina, Yes, love this piece–especially the linguistic brain training of the last graph. And, to echo Lee’s comment, Write on : )

  5. says

    Musing on this subject this morning, I definitely think my perspective has shifted over the years. When I was younger, I think I bought into the romantic stereotype of the suffering writer, but I no longer believe in it. I’ve done some of my favorite work when I was happy–not suffering.

    What we do with suffering in our life varies so much. Some of us are crushed by it and never recover. We grow diminished or bitter and live our lives shut down and unfulfilled. Other people use suffering to fuel their determination. Before we can answer this question, there’s another one that must be answered first: “What have you done with your suffering?”

    For the writer, I think the greatest gift of suffering is that it can lead to deeper compassion for human beings and the human condition–and a willingness and familiarity with the depths of emotions and the human spirit. And I think that compassion is what really helps writers most. When you have compassion for yourself and your characters, you achieve a depth in your writing you wouldn’t otherwise achieve.

    What I love most is depth in writing–even in a comic piece, I’m looking for something in the writing that rings true on a deep level. And I think suffering is one way that human beings touch that depth–but it’s not the only one.

    • Janet says

      Hi Laura, Wow, I was just thinking about this question as I scrolled through and read some of the posts. I thought, it is not the suffering that draws me into reading a piece of writing, it’s when I hear the truth that resonates within me and connects me to life. It doesn’t have to relate to my pain. The writing just rings true. You said it so well. Thank you so much for this space here to share and the wonderful thought provoking prompts.

    • mariah says

      Thank you so much for sharing, Laura, I really appreciated what you had to say on this topic. I began my response sitting in San Lorenzo park today and it quickly evolved into a very emotional five pages! Still not sure whether or not I will post my story, but I definitely agree that taking suffering as a means of deepening your compassion adds depth to whatever form of writing one takes. Blessings

    • Debbie says

      Laura – I am in agreement with your musings on this prompt. I especially resonate with the question – “What have you done with your suffering?”

      Enduring hardships, as you aptly noted, does not automatically open you up to compassion. Suffering comes in all intensities, duration, definitions and frequencies.

      So this point you made: “For the writer, I think the greatest gift of suffering is that it can lead to deeper compassion for human beings and the human condition–and a willingness and familiarity with the depths of emotions and the human spirit.” – also feels accurate for me as well. It is the authenticity with which the writer imbues the story that connects us to the characters or subject matter – humorous or tragic.

      • Hazel says

        I wrote my book, “The Accident and The Artist” about a horrific motorcycle accident that happened to me, with the intent that in sharing my experience of feeling abandoned, excruciating physical pain, loss and severe depression and surviving it, I could be an inspiration to someone experiencing those same feelings. My whole life was turned upside down. I did not become the “world’s greatest artist” but I did become the creative person that I had not dared to let myself be before. In sharing what happened to me I was hoping to show others that they are not alone and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

    • Judy says

      Laura, Your question, “what have you done with your suffering” resonated deeply. The compassionate act of healing ourselves helps heal others somewhere/sometime in the universe. Love this piece. Thank you.

    • Ilana says

      Laura- I appreciate your sharing that your perspective has changed over the years. Allowing for that gives me so much freedom to feel what I do now and change if I need to. I also like the idea that your favorite writing came when you were happy. It gives me hope.
      When faced with your question, “What have you done with your suffering?” I feel encouraged.

      I try to use my suffering to understand others’ pain. When I miscarried after six months of trying to get pregnant I prayed for one thing. (other than getting pregnant again) I begged God to give my tragedy meaning. Although I am confident I did not wish this on her, not two months later a friend of mine miscarried. From my own experience I knew that there was nothing I could say that would ease her pain. I knew that a quiet warmth and a listening ear was the best thing I could offer her. In that way my prayers were answered. It was because of my own loss that I was able to be a support to my friend and many others who have suffered miscarriages since then. So I think you are right.

      It’s what we do with all of our experiences that matters; good and bad. The wonder of motherhood, true love and many other beautiful things in my life have added to my writing.

      Thank you for your thoughts and for inviting me to share mine. IM

  6. PJ says

    To me, the answer is clearly no! The are plenty of comedies, Doris Day movies and the like out there that clearly have an easy going or even doltish element to them that refute that notion. There are some elements of writing about suffering that make the writing task easier or more desirable to “get it right” when it comes to describing feelings so I would say it gives us the drive to fully share what’s on our mind. Talking of feelings like this avoids ticking off the nouns and other quantifiable, tangible things that generally put us to sleep and don’t wrench the hearts of the readers.
    Literary works, like life, have a similar pattern to most good writing from the Greek works where the hero or heroine overcomes odds to win some sort of survival or victory that most readers emulate. Not many of us are interested in how, for example, Donald Trump clawed his way to the top of the prep school yacht club hierarchy since we don’t connect with.

    Good writing often has an element of suffering, but I am not sure if it NEEDS to come from suffering. NEEDS is an absolute term & I am willing to listen to others with examples of good work that lacked the suffering element before using the “N” word.

    • Hazel says

      I agree with you PJ. I think writing can be about the suffering characters or the character’s suffering or not.

  7. PJ says

    Post Script

    My friend (let’s call him Joe) and a I have been e-mailing each other virtually every Sunday recapping the week to get the other caught up. For the past 15 of these 20 years I have felt this was therapeutic and a great way to recap the week for myself! A very self serving exercise it turned out to be summing the week up in a few lines sort of a way to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Nothing heavy about suffering tho there were a few times that were no doubt more noteworthy and revealing in our characters as to where the hot button issues were. Having old New England roots (turned out we were distant cousins), two kids and a dog were some common threads that already gave us some common experiences that perhaps needed no explanation. I must admit though that he deflected my query about accusations that a common friend leveled at his adopted son concerning some impropriety against his adopted daughter in recent years indicate the friendship is a a shallower level, and lacking honesty than I had hoped for.

  8. Hazel says

    I do not believe that suffering is a prerequisite to good writing. I believe a lot of reading of many different genre is more beneficial than just about anything else one can do to prepare themselves for writing. Reading expands the mind and improves the imagination. It also allows you to be more creative. Along with lots of reading goes research, which for the most part is more reading, however, this may be where experience comes in. If you have firsthand knowledge of your subject that becomes a resource for your writing. If you are writing about a car accident and you have been through a very bad car accident yourself then you KNOW how it Feels when you hit that rear-view mirror with your chin and the glass breaks cutting your chin all to pieces, blood spurts all over your face and your hands; how your chest hurts so badly after the air-bag deployed, you could hardly get your breath for hours, etc.. You can write about it in greater detail. I was watching a Ken Jennings video, “The Obsolete Know It All”, today and he said, “It is always better to know a thing than not to know it.” I think it is that way with writing.

    These days writing is much easier than it once was because of computers. You really don’t have to be that good at all the grammar things in order to write because you can run it through grammar check and fix all that as well as the spelling. The thing you have to do is WRITE IT DOWN, then use those tools to hone what you have written.

    Good writing comes from writing. It is like anything else, the more you do it the better you get at it. Reading good writing when you are not writing also helps. Also, reading over what you have written many times, making minor adjustments here and there makes for better reading in the long run. Don’t be in too big a hurry to send off what you have written, let it percolate in your file; read it again; edit, read it again; if you are still pleased with it then send it.

    Suffering is a whole different subject!

  9. Gayle says

    I find that, in the past, when my life was rough, I would write about it. When my life was good, I’d be too busy living it to spend much time writing. I believe that we grow through adversity, we learn to become resilient. If life is perfect, the writing would be beautiful but boring. The lessons gained through discovering how to survive and then thrive, makes for interesting reading, at least, for me. When I read, I want to relate to the writers and I want to be uplifted by their journey. So now, when times are good, I sort out the lessons from the bumps in the road and write from that viewpoint. I am no longer the victim of a bad life but the master of building on lessons.

    I am also a dreamer, holding the vision of what life can be. Writing about moments of beauty, connection, flow, also brings me joy. To me, what is essential to good writing, aside from the skill of the word, is to write with passion, infusing the writing with energy that resonates with the reader. I know I have done good writing when I pick up the piece years later and the energy still touches me, or when others say they that were moved. That’s it.

    • says

      Gayle, I loved this line in your piece, “To me, what is essential to good writing, aside form skill of the word, is to write with passion, infusing the writing with energy that resonates with the reader.” So glad you’re posting up here. Love to read your contributions.

    • Hazel says

      “to write with passion, infusing the writing with energy that resonates with the reader. I know I have done good writing when I pick up the piece years later and the energy still touches me, or when others say they that were moved. That’s it.” AMEN!

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Judy says

      Gayle, I adore this line…”I sort out the lessons from the bumps in the road and write from that viewpoint. I am no longer the victim of a bad life but the master of building on lessons.” How about when we pick up a piece written years ago and say, “holy shit, I wrote that?” I was there with you–and, thank you.

  10. Lee Xanthippe says

    Suffering is not a pre-requisite to good writing and suffering doesn’t mean you will be a good writer, but sufferers who find writing may indeed have part of their suffering relieved if only in being able to define the suffering. As I write this I realize I find the word suffering sort of…insufferable. I have never used the word suffering toward myself. Is this because I have never suffered? In some ways my suffering if any has been slight—I have mostly been spared suffering. Or perhaps I save the word suffering for others who are somehow trapped by their situations and unable to get relief or maybe I think that when people’s lives seem small and they are denied basic things like communication and food and medical care—that is suffering. Oh, but I have gotten away from the question. No, you do not need suffering to be a good writer. But suffering can drive writing, can intensify writing, but suffering can just as well weaken writing. I guess suffering is one thing and writing is another, but what is in the intersection of suffering and writing?

    I guess it may be more useful instead of talking about others to talk about my own experience. When somebody dies, when my body craps out, when somebody drives me crazy, when somebody leaves me, when I lose a friend through death or some conflict, when I see somebody else in pain (of a number of sorts) or anguish…

    I don’t know, there is a certain sort of drive or energy that comes from talking about the things one feels strongly about, painfully strongly about (or even joyfully strongly about) that somehow sharpens the want to describe a thing accurately, that makes one (me) want to write something really well. I want someone else to feel what I feel, to know what I know, to smell what I smell, and feel what I feel. I want my just-right descriptions to honor what I have lost, to honor what I have learned or gained. I need the levity that writing can bring. I need the relief of naming, that writing can confer. I need the comfort even if it is small comfort that writing can bring. I need to tell my story in the exact right way for me—both with and without my mask on.

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      I just told my partner what I was posting in response to and he said, “I think bad writing is a pre-requisite to suffering.” : )

    • Gayle says

      Yes, I like how you put it–’to honor what I have lost, to honor what I have learned or gained’. The writing somehow gives it substance, makes the experience real. Honoring it by writing is like being the witness to our lives.

    • Hazel says

      Very interesting.

      Really liked your line ” there is a certain sort of drive or energy that comes from talking about the things one feels strongly about, painfully strongly about (or even joyfully strongly about) that somehow sharpens the want to describe a thing accurately, that makes one (me) want to write something really well.”

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Judy says

      Lee, It is depth writing such as this that spurs us to look deeper and write ‘to the bone.’ And, love these lines, ” I need the levity that writing can bring. I need the relief of naming, that writing can confer. I need the comfort even if it is small comfort that writing can bring. I need to tell my story in the exact right way for me—both with and without my mask on.” Thank you for this piece.

    • Nancy Schoellkopf says

      Lee–I like the way your thoughts evolve in this piece. I especially love the last line. It’s so important that we writers realize we can choose a mask if we want–just so long as we are the ones choosing it, and it’s not being imposed on us. Thank you!

  11. Polly says

    I think that the experience of having suffered, when channeled properly, can enhance some pieces of writing under certain circumstances. Anyone who has read samples of my work on here can safely gather that for the moment I write primarily from that perspective. This stems largely from the fact that I am just now processing some extremely painful things for the first time. First and foremost I feel the need to own my current perspective.

    Catharsis has brought astoundingly beautiful works of art from the ancient Greeks onward, and probably before. That said, I would love to reach a place where my humour – (I swear I have a sense of humour; it just hasn’t shown up here yet) – echoes as loudly and prominently in my pieces as does my despair.

    Yet if I can be self-indulgent for a minute, there’s more suffering to be shared. Does that mean that I am missing the point of this prompt entirely? Perhaps, but I’ll get back to that.

    Suffering is evident when I realize that the pain I start to feel in my ankles at some point during each body memory episode – an acute, very specific pain with a shape: the shape of large, calloused fingers and thumbs gripping and digging into my ankles – means that I was held down. And I was so small that he was able to hold my ankles and do all of the other things he was doing (that I can also vividly, physically feel each time) with great ease … I was so small, and he was a giant.

    No segue here, but I’ll move to joy. Joy can also inspire beautiful works of literature. While suffering isn’t necessary, following a character who moves through a plot beginning with some turmoil and working her way to a place of happiness, or achievement, or ecstasy can be inspiring.

    Writing that enables us to laugh, and ultimately laugh at ourselves, is as uplifting if not more so than the greatest tragedies. The most recent example that I can come up with is Tina Fey’s Bossypants. I read most of it on the flight home from New York last summer. I highly recommend it.

    • says

      I love the way you talk about the great range of human emotions and how feeling deeply can lead to writing deeply. I also loved this line, “Writing that enables us to laugh, and ultimately laugh at ourselves, is as uplifting if not more so than the greatest tragedies.”

    • Judy says

      Polly, As Laura said, your range and depth of of emotions, so eloquently expressed, is inspiring with beautifully chosen words. Thank you so much, Lady. Love that last graph and look forward to reading Bossypants. Blessed be.

    • Ilana says

      Polly- This is so honest and pure. You are a wise woman. I do think that your sense of humor has shown in some of your comments to the rest of us if not in your original posts. I feel like I have heard it one way or another. You have given just enough of the ugly details to make your point, and so gracefully. You’ve got a lot to teach and share. I just hope I you continue to share where I can benefit from it. IM

  12. Suzanne says

    I think every human has an incredible range of emotions at their disposal to make them a good writer. When they are willing and able to connect to the full range of emotions, without shrinking from the more intense ones at either end of the spectrum, then they are truly painting with all the colors.

    Suffering is a potential side effect of experiencing pain. I have never a met a truly honest person who hasn’t experienced pain. There were times in my life that I convinced myself I was happy. I firmly believed that my life was rosy and that I had no problems but I wasn’t being true to myself. I was denying important emotions that wanted to surface but weren’t allowed.

    Years later I realized that because of my denial I had become numb and was experiencing life through a glass wall, devoid of real feeling. When I finally embraced grief and emotional pain and all the various emotions that I had banished, then I was able to become whole and eventually to heal.

    I look back at my writing when I was suffering and I have to admit I think it was good stuff. Now I am willing to rise to the challenge of writing good material after having experienced healing and wholeness. (An end to suffering.) I’m pretty sure it can be done.

    • says

      Suzanne, thank you. That was beautifully said. Welcome to the Roadmap Blog. I hope you come back and participate often. I look forward to getting to know you through your words.

  13. Hazel says

    “I look back at my writing when I was suffering and I have to admit I think it was good stuff. Now I am willing to rise to the challenge of writing good material after having experienced healing and wholeness. (An end to suffering.) I’m pretty sure it can be done.” I share these feelings. I think it like “trial by fire.” It is like one has passed THE TEST and you are free to be . . .

  14. Margaret says

    “Suffering Exists.” This is the first of the Four Noble Truths taught by the Buddha. Suffering is in everyone’s lives, and ranges from the mild worry and anxiety that chatters through our minds much of our waking hours, to the physical and emotional trauma experienced in specific situations. Suffering is often the experience of feeling separated from the interconnectedness that is inherent in our lives. (The next three Noble Truths describe the path to liberation from suffering. This includes resting in contentment, joy, fearlessness, and wisdom.)

    What is “good writing?” Perhaps it is writing that reveals the inherent interconnectedness of the reader, the author, and people in the story. Perhaps it is the ability to explore the nature of our suffering, to look ourselves in the eye, and to describe what we see to others. This does not always have to be a serious, sorrowful subject. Humor can be used to see “both sides of the story.” When we do this we have expanded our view to a scope that understands the world we live in, beyond our self-centeredness.

    Good writing carries no fluff. Life is short. Sharing the truths of our experience is compassionate to ourselves and others.

    • says

      Margaret, Welcome to the Roadmap Blog. It was pleasure to read your first post. I especially like what you had to say about interconnectedness–and what that has to do with the connection the writer makes with the reader. Please keep coming back. I’ll look forward to more of what you have to share with us!

    • Ilana says

      Margaret- You make a lot of good points here but my favorite is “Perhaps [good writing] is writing that reveals the inherent interconnectedness of the reader, the author, and people in the story.” It is all about that connectedness. One of my favorite singers said, while doing a concert, “These are as much your songs as they are mine.” because his music spoke to me on such a deep level I understood that to mean my learning from him, connecting to his words, made them what they were.

      Now, this coming from a woman who said that if I choose not to share my writing it still has intrinsic value. I do not contradict my original statement. When I write for myself alone, I am the reader who is connected to the story and the characters. I have learned so much from my characters and they have helped me heal from the hurts in my own life.

      Anyway, thank you for putting it so succinctly and I echo Laura’s welcome to our community. I look forward to your future posts. IM

  15. Judy says

    “Everything is held together with stories.
    That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.”
    Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams

    Rumor has it that at the brief hours of early dawn, before sunrise, the Algonquin Round Table comes alive– reassembled, if you will, with both old and new writers….some still with us….some departed.

    Oh, to be a fly on the wall for those conversations:

    “Try as I might, Chris” says Lopez, “I can’t get my mind around your statement……’pay literary royalties to those who had a perfectly healthy childhood.’ Are you kidding?”

    “Why Lord Patten, Chris darling, that sounds like something I’d say when I rise in the morning….I brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue. Get me a vodka rocks, dear” said Mrs. Parker to the waitress, “I can see it’s….,” her voice trailing off as both the drink and the waitress disappear.

    Seated at the table, Captain Jack Sparrow, raised his lyrical voice, “You know, ladies and gentlemen, the problem is NOT the problem; the problem is your attitude about the problem.”

    The comment hung briefly in the air before Dr. Candice Pert commented, “Always the sage, Captain Jack—you might be on to something there. Consider this: the longer we suppress our emotions, the longer we suffer.”

    “Who said, ‘Pain is inevitable…suffering is optional,’” chortled Mrs. Parker, winking at Mr. Benchley, as moods in the room shifted yet again.

    You’re not going into the mind/body stuff again, are you Candice?” asked Patten, adding, “Since we creative types generally use computers, are you saying defragging the hard drive can be like defragging our brains and emotions?”

    “Exactly,” Pert continued. “When emotions are repressed, denied, not allowed to be whatever they may be, our network pathways get blocked…the old writing block thing. It’s the broken brain, lost soul—the triangle of well-being, so well explored and explained by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., in his book, Mindsight.”

    “Oh, baby girl, yes, there is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you,” said Maya Angelou. “Remember, Hemingway told the Paris Review that he rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times before submitting it. Did his writing come from suffering?”

    “He suffered all right, took that shotgun to his head and bam……gone,” added Jack Kerouac, wiping the dust off his trousers, just back from a road trip.

    “Are you saying that one has to suffer in order to write well?” asked Jane Fonda. “Didn’t Bronte say,” I’m just going to write because I cannot help it.”

    “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at that blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead,” Gene Fowler added. “What about grammar, what about style, those certainly cause suffering, yes?”

    With supper over and dishes nearly cleared, the soft voice of the waitress asked, “You ready for your check?” Adding, “The sun is just about up.”

    “Oh my, The Hours…..they fly so, don’t they?” said Virginia Woolf, with a kind of smirk. “Give the check to that guy,” pointing to the young man nearest the waitress. “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

    Handing the check to the gentleman, the waitress lingered to hear, “Write your story as it needs to be written, write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure there are any other rules—certainly not ones that matter,” Gaiman said nodding to Mrs. Woolf, Frank McCourt and the waitress.

    “The more clearly you understand yourself, your experiences and your emotions, the more you become a lover of what is,” retorted, McCord. “It is not the suffering or your own room–but a clear mind, knowledge of the language, practice practice and more practice, along with reading good writers; and, don’t fear rejection—especially from publishers.”

    Looking at the waitress, “By the way, how did you get this ‘gig?’”

    “I’m here on an exchange program—studying writing and neuroscience at the New School. Actually, I hope to publish one day; the idea of just wandering off to a café like this with a notebook and writing and seeing where it takes me for awhile is simply bliss.”

    McCourt smiled knowingly, as she continued, “But it wasn’t always like that….I fell apart when asked to read out loud in grade school. I’d stare at the words, they’d blur, and then the ink would melt and drain off the page to pool in my lap. Reading and writing are very painful and I actually do suffer greatly—my brain was scrambled.”

    “It’s the writing that teaches you, don’t give it up,” said McCourt watching the sun rise, reflecting its light through the beveled glass window of the Algonquin. The room was nearly empty. The writers vanished. Another roundtable had ended as the waitress helped him with his coat.

    As he thanked her and handed her a wad of bills, he asked, “By the way, what did you say your name was?”

    “J. K. Rowling,” she responded.

    • says

      Judy, this piece was an absolutely delightful romp. I loved the surprise ending, but was captivated throughout. Thanks for bringing such luminaries to us here on the Roadmap Blog!

    • Polly says

      I love this! Absolutely love it. It’s so creative. I felt like I was there, and that is a room I would be so honoured to sit in. Thanks for posting, Judy.

    • Ilana says

      Judy- This is absolutely amazing! I enjoyed every bit of wisdom that was shared both those attributed to the names I recognized and those I didn’t. I had suspected that the waitress would turn out to be someone important and I was not disappointed. This is so creative! Bravo! IM

    • Judy says

      Thank you for your encouraging comments–you’ve no idea how your posts are validating. I’ve been blocked for so many years and finding/participating in the Writer’s Roadmap is truly enriching and growthful. There are so many talented people here—I feel safe and comfortable in this community. What I need are constructive comments. It makes me happy to read that you ‘got this piece” but I feel the rewritten ending makes it a leaner, stronger piece by slowing down the pace of dense dialogue (which BTW, was 40% fiction). PS to Hazel: Let it percolate–sound guidance.

      Rewrite tomorrow.

      • says

        Hi Judy, I’m glad you find this forum useful and safe. While I feel good about people pointing out specific things they like, I haven’t set this up as a forum for line-editing, critiquing and discussions of craft–that’s not really the intention of this virtual space. But I’m glad you’re making the best use of what’s here and I hope you keep coming back.

        • Judy says

          Hi Laura, You are a great problem solver–I’ll check a local college or learning center for such help. DA! And, look forward to your Tuesday prompts. Thank you very much. :)

  16. Dianne Brown says

    To write or not to write –that is the question: whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of trouble . . .

    Having just abused Hamlet’s soliloquy, I find that suffering, at least for me, is a state of mind and a relative one at that. I was born a storyteller and a mythmaker. My truth is a tall tree in my life, and like a Christmas tree; it is beautifully adorned with my life’s legends and sagas. There’s even a gold star at the top held in place by angel wings.

    I write because I love to write, it is the life-flow of my soul. I love to write about the mundane as well as the magnificent. I write about that which irritates me and that which pleases one or more of my senses. I write in order to write. I love words, and I collect them like coins or stamps and paste them in an article or a paragraph that I am working on at that moment.

    I discovered the word “polyphony” today. I was pretty sure that it was not the root for “polo pony”, although both are spelled almost the same. It would be conservative for me to say that my resting mind is polyphony—having many tones or voices—of diverse lectures, teachings, recitations and random unattached words simply flitting throughout my mental landscape not unlike pigeons. And like pigeons, leaving many spots and smears of vowels and punctuation lying about the place.

    You might ask, “Whose voices do you hear lecturing, teaching and reciting?” Why mine, of course. They are merely vocal visions going non-stop—verbal gyroscopes in perpetual motion—words within words like nested Russian dolls. I sometimes want to grab a dangling participle and yank on it like a loose thread to see if it will all unravel into a great heap of adjectives, pronouns and gerunds gasping their last “ing”.

    My childhood was very interesting to me, and my memories of it contain no pain, suffering, or injustices—other than being the oldest. I started building my vocabulary at age six, stumbling only on the word “aisle.” My imagination ran rampant all of my life, and I always surprised my world with my own Andy Rooney version of questioning it all in poems, short stories or just my own corny sayings.

    I sit every day and write to write. I have rendered insignificant ramblings into some of my favorite essays. Several of my responses to your prompts have evolved into essays I have read in other writing groups. Thanks for that.

    So through it all, I write.

      • Dianne Brown says

        Laura (my daughter’s name), One of the gifts I am most thankful for is being able to express from the depths of my self. It has always come fairly easily, and so did the art of adornment–spinning it with a tad more glitz and glitter–with adjectives and adverbs, with hopes of holding my spellbound audience dangling upon my every word. You see how it is, I just wanted to say “thanks” and look at this now.

    • Judy says

      What a fun read, Dianne. Love this line…words within words like nested Russian dolls.’ Brought to mind the Billy Collins’ poem, Thesaurus. Thanks for this piece.

      • Dianne Brown says

        Thanks Judy, I’ll have to look up Billy Collins’ poem . . . anything with the word “thesaurus” has to be great.

    • Nancy Schoellkopf says

      I love your polyphony/polo pony play! I think good writers love to play with words, and your piece demonstrates that.

      • Dianne Brown says

        Some of my best poems came from choosing words from the dictionary. It’s a great source when you want your own prompt.

    • Ilana says

      Dianne- You leave me energized, refreshed and dying for a moment alone to write. But as my five year old is running around my office behind me singing ’80s tunes I suppose the inspiration you have provided will have to wait until another time. Oh well, I’ll have to reread your post! ;) Thank you! IM

      • Dianne Brown says

        Ilana . . . rewards for having lived long enough to sorta retire plus having only a placidly aging Chocolate Lab to curl near my feet. It will always be there for you: the quicky notes I tucked away for years, the tiny little notebooks I carried in my purse for inspirations (and still do), they are all fodder for essays and stories now that I can linger longer at the keyboard. Thanks for your responses!

  17. Michelle says

    My perception of suffering upon further thought can vary from physical harm to mental anguish to medicinal adverse events, like someone fighting cancer undergoing chemo. So I don’t think suffering is necessary to good writing, it may be even limiting to some. Personally, i find it difficult to put thoughts in writing (and i am not suffering, even though i am a survivor) with that said this is my first stab at it. Many thoughts of mine are jumbled and I’m taking Laura Davis’ writing opportunity as a gift. Thank you, I hope to return and share more. Practice makes perfect :) right? I read through many of the comments above and find the posts really articulate and hope to join those posts some day. Thanks again LD for this safe place!

    • says

      Michelle, welcome! Glad to have your voice join the chorus. PS I don’t think practice makes perfect. Practice leads to more and deeper practice. Practice leads to putting more truth on the page. Practice leads to clear articulation and better storytelling.

  18. Ilana says

    Suffering To Write?

    “Those of us who had a perfectly healthy childhood should be able to sue for deprivation of literary royalties.” – Chris Patten

    Ouch! Reading this quote was a kick in the teeth. In a heartbeat. I would give up all ability to write if it meant undoing the hurt my little girl self was put through in a heartbeat! At first I was so angry I wanted to know who this Chris Patten person was so I could send him some hate mail. “A perfectly healthy childhood”*? Does he have no idea how precious that is? To call a gift like that a “deprivation”!? I can only assume from his use of the first person “those of US” to mean he had “a perfectly healthy childhood”. The only response I can give regarding his statement is that he is not only wrong to call a “perfectly healthy childhood” deprivation but he is obscene and presumptuous to say that those of us who have suffered are the lucky ones.

    Suffice it to say the quote drew an intense and visceral response from me.

    Be that as it may, I must challenge myself to answer the question. When I really think about it, though, I can’t. I never had “a perfectly healthy childhood.” I cannot know what it is to write without the scars that I carry. I’ve never done it. The truth is that no one can truly answer this question. Chris Patten, and others who had “a perfectly healthy childhood” cannot know what it is to write from the pain of incest or a broken home or any other kind of trauma.

    I have written from a place of love and beauty. Much of that writing was inspired by my beautiful Zander, the husband who has stood by my side through intense pain and intense pleasure. From the agony of brain surgery and facing my own mortality to the awe and beauty of childbirth, he was there. And he began inspiring my writing long before any of that happened. Still, I was already carrying the scars of a complicated and abusive childhood when I wrote from that beauty. Whether I knew about it or not, those scars were there, affecting my writing for better or worse.

    I also wrote from a place of love about my family; before I had the flashbacks, when I was still trapped and had to idealize them in order to survive. For example, one year I gave my mother a beautiful journal for her birthday. I wrote the first entry and waxed poetic about our close and loving relationship. Disgustingly enmeshed and unhealthy is a far more accurate description but I did not know that at the time.

    She had me reread that letter when she felt me slipping away. It was an attempt to prove to me that we had something special and I shouldn’t let it go. This was when I first started to suspect that our relationship had not been entirely healthy but before I was hit with the memories full force. Shortly thereafter interactions with her became so painful that they left me suicidal and to save my own life I cut off all communication with both my parents. When I read that letter I was sickened by my own words. Was it good writing? I don’t know. Was it worth the feeling it gives me in the pit of my stomach now? I don’t know. Will I ever look back and value what I wrote for the beauty I saw then? Only time will tell.

    So what’s your point, Ilana? My point is, I don’t know the answer to the question. Would my writing be any good without all these scars? I only know that I would give up my ability to write in a heartbeat if it meant that I could love my family and remember my childhood fondly. And Chris Patten had no business saying that he should be able to sue because he does not carry these scars.

    A friend of mine once told me that she would never undo any of the bad things that had happened to her because they made her what she is today. I can look at her with admiration. The girl had been through a lot and she made a truly beautiful person out of that suffering. Still, I can’t say I agree. Maybe I would like who I would be if Andrew had never hurt me, if my parents had never blamed me. I don’t know. There is one thing I can say with complete and utter confidence, though. I’d give up just about anything to find out. And my ability to write is at the top of the list.

    *These words are in quotes because they are his words not mine. It is entirely possible that there is no such thing as “a perfectly healthy childhood.” Every life has pain of some kind. All parents make mistakes. I claim no responsibility for saying that anyone had “a perfectly healthy childhood.”

    • Judy says

      Ilana, Ditto to what others have said. Patten’s statement made me so angry….I had to call up the phrase of a wise women I recently met on line: What is he–Nuckin’ Futz?

      • Ilana says

        I am honored to be referred to as “a wise woman you recently met online.” Thank you for that. It’s been sitting on my shoulder all day.

    • K.W. says

      I’m glad your hurt little girl self felt safe enough to be shared here. Thanks for your inspiring writing.

    • Nancy Schoellkopf says

      thank you, Ilana, for sharing so much of your story! Your question–would my writing be any good without these scars–is so central to the prompt. How brave of you to say you’d give it all up to know the answer! Just stunning.

    • Ilana says

      THANK YOU! You have all provided such amazing support and encouragement. I have reread your comments several times and am thriving on them. My writing is thriving too, thanks to these prompts, other’s responses to the promts and the support my posts receive. You ALL inspire and teach me. Thank you! IM

    • Hazel says

      Thank you for sharing.

      “All parents make mistakes” and I am sure that if my daughter were writing on this subject she would have many things to point out about her childhood. Things seen and felt from HER perspective that would not even come close to what I saw or felt.

      Writing about feelings and sharing them is what makes us begin to know what being human is all about, I think.

  19. K.W. says

    Suffering as essential to good writing? ….hmmmm
    Not sure….
    Suffering gives credibility to a story that involves woundedness…
    Empathy however is essential to good writing.
    To stand in anothers shoes
    Taking a seat in the crevices of anothers pre frontal cortex and viewing the world through their eyes
    From the inside out…
    Empathy frees us to be present to our own inner-being
    Creating the sense of a compassionate self -witness
    Standing peacefully behind our shoulder
    With openness
    Non-judgmentally
    Absorbing and observing our thoughts feelings attitudes and behaviors.
    In empathy
    Gentle hands can
    Cradle anothers face
    Look deeply into their eyes
    Saying
    ‘I see you’
    And really be with them..
    Centered
    Cherishing the truth of their soul
    Honoring their lifetime narrative
    Allowing paper to accept it….
    From that perspective perhaps it is…
    Empathy
    that is essential to good writing

  20. Nancy Schoellkopf says

    If you reach a certain age (let’s randomly say 30) and you think you haven’t suffered, you probably just aren’t paying attention. And if you’re not paying attention, your writing probably won’t be all that compelling anyway.

    But I think it’s a false correlation to say suffering makes for good writing. Good writers make for good writing. And while it’s true we may have varying degrees of natural talent, if you love to write, and you devote yourself to practice honest writing in your authentic voice, odds are you will produce great writing whether or not your have a compelling tale of woe to relate.

    I think the best writers love stories. They love to hear good stories and read good stories, and that motivates them to write good stories. Doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or non, a writer who loves stories will want to write about amazing characters, detailed settings and twisting plots.

    Good writers often love to play with words. They love the rhythm of words, and the sounds that they make. They like to lay two or three words together on a page and see how they sound together, the way a painter might lay different shades of pink and orange side by side to create an image of a garden or a sunset.

    Sometimes we can take our pain and transmute it into something as beautiful as the colors of that sunset. But we shouldn’t feel pressured to do so. We shouldn’t feel that our story needs a tidy ending, some kind of lesson, resolution or moral. We all suffer at one time or another. We may use our writing to express that, or we may let our writing be a place where we escape from it. It may be healing for us to write about our pain or it may be a trap where we pick the scab over and over, unable to move on.

    I say let our writing be whatever it is for us. But pay attention. Allow your writing to evolve, allow it to guide and change you.

    • Ilana says

      Nancy- So well put! You grabbed me with your first line and then kept going. As I read I kept thinking, “Yes, that’s it! This is what writing is all about.” So much information, so succinctly arranged. Great piece! IM

    • says

      Nancy, this was so beautifully expressed and so full of wisdom. I’m sure I’ll read your words again and again. And your opening grabbed me right from the beginning, “If you reach a certain age (let’s randomly say 30) and you think you haven’t suffered, you probably just aren’t paying attention. And if you’re not paying attention, your writing probably won’t be all that compelling anyway.” I’m so glad you’re a member of our community. Your wise, seasoned voice is a vital thread. Keep sharing it with us here.

    • Judy says

      Nancy, What a beautiful opening. Love the insights, the words and this section, ‘take our pain and transmute it into something as beautiful as the colors of that sunset.’ A delightful read, thank you.

  21. Ilana says

    Question for you, Laura. How did you feel about his quote? I understand that your question is separate and could be answered regardless of one’s feelings about what Mr. Patten said. However, now that many of us have addressed the question, I am very curious about your response to the quote itself. IM

    • says

      Hi Ilana,

      I really had no idea when I posted this prompt that it would create such strong, negative feelings for some of you. I took the quote in the light-hearted way I imagine it was written. I guess this is a reflection of the fact that I started actively dealing with my childhood abuse almost 30 years ago, and I am not triggered in the same way I used to be. I took it as a joke, and I apologize for upsetting you (and others) whose interpretation was far more personal and literal.

      The question I posed was a serious one, though–there is such a stereotype of the suffering artist producing great work, and I wanted to challenge that stereotype.

      I hope this answers your question. And I’m very happy with the level and quality and diversity of discussion that ‘s been happening here this week. I love how our community is growing and there are so many articulate voices!

      • Ilana says

        Thank you Laura,

        The truth is the quote was extremely difficult for me to hear but I am glad that you posted it with the promt. It drew a lot of soul searching from me and I learned quite a bit about myself, as I often do when I write. I learned, long ago, and continue to relearn, as it is a difficult lesson, that pain is not always the enemy. If I can work through it there is so much to be gained. Who am I kidding? It saved my life once. If my aneurysm hadn’t been so excruciating I may not have known how desperate my situation was and insisted Zander call an ambulance.

        Anyway, thank you for the quote and the post. I don’t think I will ever see this quote in a lighthearted way but as you point out, that may have been different if I’d first heard it years after I had healed.

        Thank you for everything,

        IM

        • says

          Ilana, just want to say “after I had healed,” is a misnomer. There is no such thing as absolute healing. I’m not triggered in the same way….and don’t always read everything or hear everything through my “incest survivor lens.”

          • Ilana says

            Point taken. I still have a lot to learn but changing those two words, I stand by everything else I said. IM

        • Dianne Brown says

          Ilana . . . I too, survived an aneurysm–a 6 centimeter surprise on my abdominal aorta. Here’s to life and extra days to write, and sing, and dance, and love, and to kiss and hug the ones around us.

          • Ilana says

            L’chaim, (“to life”, the Jewish version of cheers) I raise my glass (or pen) to you! IM

      • Hazel says

        I take the phrase “there is such a stereotype of the suffering artist producing great work, ” in an entirely different way. I think suffering in this instance is more likely to mean artists who are truly committed to their work focus on it to the exclusion of everything else, even to the extent of sometimes going hungry. They have no interest in anything but their art, whatever form that art is taking.

  22. Christa says

    I just read through the blog from beginning. What a great community you are. So many interesting voices and perspecitives, and such vulnerability and trust here. It feels nice to be here.

    I guess my response to the prompt is that of course everyone suffers. Those who suffer little aren’t aware of the depth of others’ suffering, unless they are let in on it. Every person suffers a range of sadness, loneliness, childhood trauma, just by attending school! Digging in and expressing that pain can be hard if you don’t feel anyone really wants to hear. I guess coming to the point of knowing that your feelings and experiences are valid and worthy of being listened to is a really major step. One that many, (or most?) people never get to. Isn’t it hard to achieve and remain in that kind of confidence, even in committed relationships?

    • says

      Hi Christa, Welcome to the Roadmap Blog and I’m glad you like the feeling and tone of our community. I’m very happy with it, too, and glad to see the way it’s growing. Welcome! I think you’re definitely right–that until you’ve suffered, you don’t really know what suffering feels like.

      In terms of writing about trauma–on one level, that writing is just for us as a a way to process our experiences, and that kind of writing is best when it can be witnessed by at least one other person. It can be a powerful tool for healing.

      To take that personal suffering or awareness or the specifics of the story itself and transform it into literature–into something others want to read–that takes craft, perspective, and the ability to tap what is universal in the human spirit. Just surviving something bad doesn’t warrant a book or a story–it’s all in how well we can tell the tale.

    • Ilana says

      Christa- Thank you for your thoughts and your comments about our community. I have grown so attached to the support and wisdom I find here. I really liked that you said, “I guess coming to the point of knowing that your feelings and experiences are valid and worthy of being listened to is a really major step.” You are so right and that is something I have accomplished here in this safe space. Welcome to our community. I look forward to your future posts. IM

  23. Ritch Brinkley says

    Art and Suffering, or Does Medicine Have to Taste Bad to Be Good?

    Throughout my lifetime spent as a professional actor I often wondered as to the veracity of this subjective supposition. Having the good fortune to work with some of the greatest performers, I sometimes posed this question to the most respected amongst them. The most highly regarded of these was Julie Harris, with whom I performed “Death of a Salesman.”

    Because of our mutual canine pets (“Teresa” and “Poppy”) we developed a genuine friendship. Julie exemplified as much compassion and sensitivity as ever I encountered. I was taken aback at her response to the question of suffering for art: “No” she quickly replied. No explanation, no ambiguity, no room for speculation. She just said “No.”

    Not long after that a rumor circulated that my friend had been admitted to the Sloane-Kettering cancer clinic. So perhaps Julie had indeed suffered, but chose not to dwell on any past unpleasance. Or in perspective, recognized such travails as opportunities to grow.

    I believe a regard for the “otherness of others” as well as sensitivity are components of worthwhile art. We must all walk a mile in another’s moccasins to realize empathy. But there are obviously successful artists who have not had time to suffer. Just check prime time television.

    A departed chum of mine used to confess he’d be a “much meaner bastard” without the opportunity to “rid his demons” onstage. Therefore I vote for “the deeper the wound, the greater the creation.” But conversely, I don’t think masochism infers artistic success.

    • says

      Hi Ritch,

      Welcome to the Roadmap Blog and thanks so much for adding your unique voice to our chorus of responses. I loved that you brought theatre into the discussion–broadening this question of the role of adversity in the making of art. I hope you come back. I’ll look forward to you being a regular contributor to our forum.

    • Hazel says

      Thank you for sharing.

      You have brought a different perspective in that most of us here were thinking just about writing. You have expanded our thinking in another art form.

      Well done.

      • Ritch Brinkley says

        Hazel,
        Thanks for the kind encouragement. I don’t know if writers are as hungry for an appreciative audience as are actors, but Laura perfectly reflects the principle of “permission to excel” for me (i.e. being given impetus to move forward by a respected expert). As for Laura and my continued participation: “Dat, you can bank on”- (and I don’t mean a Spanish bank) Muchisimas gracias.

  24. beverly Boyd says

    Does Writing need to come from Suffering? Roadmap prompt: April 9, 2013

    I sit here stumped on how to start. It shouldn’t be so hard. My first reaction to the prompt was “No!” and that is still my response.

    The part of me that has not suffered some of the life events that many of us on the blog write about often makes me feel that I don’t belong in this group.

    The part of me that often does not make responses to the writing of others feels like I am just being a voyeur. I can too easily get caught up in their pain and have it haunt me me all day if I think about them and how I might respond. One time a sponsor identified this as a compassion trap.

    It isn’t that I haven’t suffered. I spent many years pouring my pain out into the journal writing. In the mornings after the children were gone and I wrote for an hour and shared it with trusted friends and sponsors in twelve step programs.

    I lay on the table and cried for the first year of my Rosen Bodywork training as fellow students touched one spot after the other where emotions and their tears that I had not had the luxury of time to shed had been held for years. My back was like the map of Illinois with its dots for small and larger towns covering its surface. Almost anywhere I was touched, painful, though welcome, tears were released and witnessed.

    Some of those tear causing events and sieges I have written about in these pages. Most of them are the stories I don’t need to tell about myself any more. I have already told them enough times to myself and to others, and have learned and changed as a result.

    I was writing before I suffered, though writing was only one of the things I loved to do and did fairly well. Though we were poor, my childhood until I was eight years old was as close to idyllic as I can imagine and I have shared about those days. An experience with a queen bee bully in fifth grade, fortunately, was short lived and we moved so the next four years though different than the first eight were not times of suffering.

    I think what makes me a writer is a love of stories, both reading them and telling them. When I was young I loved stories of earlier times: Little House on the Prairie”, Tom Sawyer”, Nancy Drew Mysteries, “Little Women”… When I liked a book I eagerly read everything I could find by the same author. Our house was across the street from the library and in the summer I was over there almost every day getting another book to read.

    Now I like to write about earlier times so younger people can know what it was like to live when there were no freeways or television; when we ran freely in our neighborhoods, collected newspapers and tin cans for the war effort, played in vacant lots, waded in open creek beds and played nightly games of hide and seek.

    For me, compassion is both an asset and a trap. It helps me to understand, even feel, other’s experience and how my characters might act in their life. If I get too caught up in it I can easily lose a day to depression. That kind of suffering I surely don’t need!

    I have a good memory for details, which I always took for granted, but I’ve learned that not everyone remembers as clearly as I do. I remember which foot was in the air as I walked across the room and first heard the news the President Kennedy had been shot.

    I love words: how they sound and choosing the right one. My father was a wordsmith. He loved words and in his sermons always used the simplest word or phrase that conveyed his thought so everyone could understand. He would gently correct us when we used the wrong word and explain the difference…for instance it was memento, not momento. The good English that was spoken at home…around the dinner table I believe trained my ear to know the correct words and grammar, although I often refer to a dictionary or other source for help.

    I go regularly to a senior writing group where the support and positive feedback are very helpful as well as hearing the writing of the others.

    Now that my several children are grown and taking good care of themselves and my grandchildren and I am free from the daily “nine to five”, I have the time to write. My learning curve right now is to know it is okay to have and assert my own agenda: to set writing as a top priority. Having been a caretaker most of my life this is not easy, but I am learning. Maybe a couple of the eight projects I have in the works will see itself in print one day.

    So the willingness and discipline to actually follow through on my priority to write is what I am working on at this time.

    • says

      Beverly, there is so much richness in this post of yours. I loved your stories about your father and how he passed his love of precise language on to you…And all your reasons for writing.

      And you give me hope that when this busy phase of my life is done, I too, will have time again to just write.

      In particular, I loved this: “Some of those tear causing events and sieges I have written about in these pages. Most of them are the stories I don’t need to tell about myself any more. I have already told them enough times to myself and to others, and have learned and changed as a result.” Because there is a time when our stories have played themselves out and reiterating them again and again and again, only keeps reinforcing their significance in our lives. This is always tricky because telling our stories initially is liberating and essential…but there comes a point when it’s time to put them down. And no one else can tell us when that moment is.

      I was also struck by this line, “The part of me that has not suffered some of the life events that many of us on the blog write about often makes me feel that I don’t belong in this group,” really struck me– and it’s the reason I posted this in the FAQ at the top of the page, and I’m going to repost it here in the hopes that more people will read it:

      “ABOUT OUR COMMUNITY:

      This community is welcome to all writers. It is primarily a forum for personal writing, though fiction writers are welcome to let their characters respond to these prompts—just let us know that’s what you’re doing.

      If you are new to our community, you may notice that there are a lot of posts about difficult, personal subjects. A subset of the writers who post here share a history of trauma and benefit from using this site as a safe place to share their words and to process their healing. Because of the first four books I wrote (The Courage to Heal, The Courage to Heal Workbook, Allies in Healing and Beginning to Heal), these writers feel comfortable in this virtual space and I am happy to provide a safe place for them. I welcome those writers here.

      However, I don’t want anyone who doesn’t have a history of trauma to feel that having a difficult past is in a requirement to post work here. I welcome ALL writers, whatever their history. I’m always thrilled to see pieces that are wry, humorous, silly, imaginative, ordinary, writing that reflects all kinds of life experience, not just difficult or traumatic experiences. You don’t have to have had a bad childhood to be a good writer—or to post your stories here.”

      Thanks again, Beverly, for this wonderful post and for being a regular member of this community.

      • beverly Boyd says

        Thank you, Laura, for your generous comments. Also, I’m glad you chose to include that part of the FAQ that applies here. I had read it but there may be others who had not.

        Because a sense of not quite belonging, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, seems to be an existential issue for me. I will not be surprised if that button gets pushed now and then, but your words help to remind me that that is only my perception!

    • Terry Gibson says

      Thanks Beverly. I envy you that father who always threw out quips about correct forms of words, etc. Some kids would despise that but, like you, I would’ve been in my glory! There is always such a wide range of experience among any group of people and, add to it, the many layers to each and every one of us. Will write my post following this one but, suffice it to say, that I also perceive my own way of not belonging here. Could that just be ‘normal’ to anyone? Thanks to you too, Laura for posting FAQ.

  25. Terry Gibson says

    I’m three weeks late on this post but wanted to put up the abbreviated version, in case anybody happens by some time. My original piece on this was much longer. Cutting it may leave it a bit disjointed.

    Suffering did not give me a love of language, or the facility for stringing words together like popcorn at Christmas. It does not set me apart as a writer or give me a ‘corner’ on the writing game.

    However, it does move me to such depths—that the compassion and care I feel for others is robust, genuine and stubborn. My enduring task in life, in a quest for emotional and physical wellness, is to practice that level of tenderness with myself as well.

    I know I can write if I am happy. When I feel good about myself, I am blissfully accepting of who I am. Words just flow to my fingertips and the whole process is a natural extension of me. I love that! Unfortunately, I only see glimpses of this place.

    Sometimes, I can write myself into a corner. This week, some people expressed the thought and fear that they don’t ‘belong’ in some ways. This made me wonder aloud if that might be ‘normal’ or universal for all of us.

    I also have several ways of separating myself off here, telling myself I don’t belong.

    On this blog, I have shared some of the extremes in my life–the gut-wrenching turmoil I feel as a survivor of incest and rape. I find community in that; I am witnessed, encouraged, and steadied as I need it. We do that for each other out of compassion, love, and the many commonalities we share.

    However, when my post on a weekly prompt leans toward enjoying a healthy sexuality (or aspiring to), I shame myself for it. I have never had a negative response but I project that on people here … a nasty habit I acquired a few decades ago and still struggle with.

    I think I have somehow violated this sacred space and the thought of that upsets me so much! Even though I read the FAQ and know that all work is welcome here, as are our differences and similiarities, I still give myself a hard time about it.

    I needed to say this. Acknowledging it, makes me feel much better. I couldn’t let others say it (for their reasons) and not admit my shared feelings (for my own).

    I don’t want to trigger anyone here. It would upset me to know I hurt someone or made them uncomfortable. I don’t want to ostracize myself because I don’t fit whatever I perceive, perhaps wrongly, the norm to be.

    Finally, if the above is ‘suffering,’ it is one aspect of myself as a writer, a person, and a woman. Oddly enough, it has benefits. However nothing can make me a better writer than: tackling the entirety of my experience, plowing through and recording the push-pull motions in my brain, and embracing fearlessness–especially when flash frozen in terror.

    Oh yeah. Did I forget to mention that lots of reading, attentive listening, and getting out in the world helps too?

    • says

      Terry, I love that you posted this–even knowing that not too many people may venture back here and find it. I loved this, “However, it does move me to such depths—that the compassion and care I feel for others is robust, genuine and stubborn. My enduring task in life, in a quest for emotional and physical wellness, is to practice that level of tenderness with myself as well.” And also the vulnerability you expressed when you want to share the part of you that wants (and deserves I will add) healthy sexual expression. That’s as much a part of you as anything else and it deserves a voice, too. In fact, your expression will give others permission to share parts of their lives that they think should be outcast or embarrassing or otherwise unfit to share. So go for it. I, for one, will applaud you.

      • Ilana says

        Terry- I want to echo Laura’s comments. When one of us shares something that seems shameful or scary it give others permission to do the same. I think you are a vital part of this community and I have missed you when your voice has been absent. I also want to thank Laura for making it easy to see who posted and where. I would not have known to go back to this posting if it were not for the list of recent posts. I deeply love this community. The writing in it sometimes touches me right to the core. I find the comments on my own writing so strengthening. I learn so much from both. You, personally, are a big part of that. Thank you for posting here! IM

        • Terry Gibson says

          I wrote yours in the wrong spot, Laura. Anyway, Ilana, I’m hending you a sug too and saying thanks. Sorry my posts have been sporadic these days; I’ve been struggling and working hard in many ways. I’ll try to remember–before I’m in the thick of it–to express myself through these prompts. They’ve kept me not only alive but enthralled with life and writing since July 2011. Like Ilana, I thank you so much for that, Laura!

      • Terry Gibson says

        Thank you. I know I say it every time and I hope it doesn’t get old; I mean it with genuine feeling every single post. This one felt vulnerable and scary, as do the next two. Anyway, for fear of redundancy everywhere, I’ll no longer say, “… sending a hug” but “…. hending a sug.” :)

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