When Writing Hurts

Image from Flickr by Mjnoon.Maha

Image from Flickr by Mjnoon.Maha

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing fiction or poetry, memoir or a diary—sometimes writing hurts.

In fiction, a good writer does more than manufacture characters—he breathes life into them, he makes their hearts beat, he hears their voices when he’s falling asleep and wakes with their thoughts and dreams. When they hurt, he hurts too. Sometimes they lead him places and all he can do is watch; other times he leads them, and often it feels like a betrayal.

I’ve grieved for characters even before I’ve written their story. I don’t believe every story should have a happy ending, but if I’m writing it’s because I believe the story should be told.

Like love, the hurt is worth it.

What about nonfiction? Journaling can be therapeutic, but when it comes to publication, it’s hard to judge the worth of your own story. If it hurts too much, you’re probably not ready to write about it. If the content is going to hurt someone else, the story had better be worth it.

I struggled with the choice to publish an essay about my emotionally difficult second pregnancy, knowing one day it could hurt my son. But when I compared that slim chance to the great possibility my essay could help other women, I chose to have it published. Factored into that decision was the lack of writing I found on my topic; it was a problem seldom discussed. It needed to be discussed. My son is strong and he knows how much I love him—he’ll understand. Maybe he’ll even think I was brave.

It was worth it.

Writing nearly always costs us something. With nonfiction, I consider that cost carefully; with fiction, I don’t consider it at all.

What about you?