Can You Write What Hurts? (part 1)


There’s not any one thing you can do to make yourself a better writer, but this is close.


Lots of little things (and lots of big things) will make you a better writer, and we’re putting together a book to show you each and every one, but time after time I see brilliant passages in new authors’ works, and when I point it out, they say well that part actually happened or it’s based on real events in my family. People can spot truth. We talk about it differently. It’s interesting.

It doesn’t have to be pain but I connect with it on a different level. Maybe it’s just me but maybe not. I remember in The Fourth Descendant I asked about Michelle at the park. It seemed very real. It was made up but Allison, the author,  said she identified with a period when she had two small kids and her husband was working late every night for months at a new job. Another friend wrote about a drug dealer but the part about the relationship with the girl – forbidden by her parents because of his career choice – rang true. Because it WAS true.

In both cases the pain came through. The longing. The emptiness.

You can do that. And it doesn’t have to be pain.

Talk with joy – like a head over heels school kid – about falling in love. The satisfaction of watching your baby learn to read. The emptiness of a passionless life or the bursting feeling inside when you absolutely have to tell someone you love them.

Dip deep into that emotional bucket and paint with abandon. Odds are you won’t. It’s hard. It’s scary. Potential embarrassment awaits if you do. 

Also applause.

Once you receive the reward for being so brave, you  will never want to be timid in your writing again.


Are you brave enough?

I’ll even break the meme down for you, so you don’t miss a drop of its essence.

  • Write about what hurts. It’ll hurt to re-live it. Do it anyway.
  • Write clearly about it, in a way that everyone who picks it up will understand. That also means brevity so they don’t have to slog through uninspired prose. Some “sober editing” might have to follow to purge nonwords from the mix, but don’t take out the emotion, just hone it razor sharp.
  • Write hard about it. That means crack the fucking whip on yourself to open up and let the damn tears fall on every inch of your keyboard as you continue to pound it out and don’t even think about stopping until it’s all there.

Go where the pain lives. I say this to get your attention. It doesn’t  have to be pain. But often it is. Nobody wants to read a story where nothing happens but they don’t want to read one without feelings either.

Go there.

TUESDAY I’ll explain my way of doing this (there are many ways), as inspired by Allison’s comment below. Wednesday and Thursday I’ll give examples.

45 thoughts on “Can You Write What Hurts? (part 1)

  1. I agree with this Dan. I wrote an honest story about my mum not too long ago and what happened to her after her brain surgery went horribly wrong. It was painful to write and it hurt but it also brought me so much comfort and support.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That was powerful advice and very true. I think why some of us shy away from this is because it makes us feel exposed and vulnerable. And embarrassed like when I stayed at a hotel and was sure no one could see inside my room on the 23rd floor. So there I was drinking coffee wearing a towel, looking out the window with the shade up and the construction workers in a building across the street waved. They waited 5 days before doing that. So describing deep emotions takes courage but as you pointed out it can be effective and something everyone can relate to. Thanks for that fantastic advice.

    Liked by 2 people

    • If I listed all the embarrassing stuff I ever did like that, I could fill a book. It’s called Chase Me Until I Catch You and one day I’ll finish it, but right now it’s mostly a collection of stories that are pretty darned personal and LOTS are embarrassing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Plot twist: that park scene was ultimately cut from the final draft because of its placement on the opening page – it was deemed not hooky enough. However, I saved it. Maybe I should do a deleted scenes post.

    I wish you had shared a place where you’ve written this way. Not a lot of authors have moved me to tears but you have, and in two instances that come to mind immediately you had written from a painful place. This is something you do effectively.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And it doesn’t have to be pain. Most of my realistic stuff that really connects with readers is comedy. For whatever reason, comedy is harder to write, so I used pain examples – but there are still humorous nods in them, too.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I wrote my mother’s life story, that ultimately goes into my childhood. Sad to say the least. Broken as a child, I found it hard to find all the pieces in my adulthood. When I discovered that I could write it, not knowing at that time that I had the gift of writer. Alice Had a Palace my debut story, and memoir, healed my soul and let me move on with my life. A pained story of survival and humbled human nature. If you love a tear jerker, you have found it. only available as an e-book at this time. It is a multigenerational read, 1000 pgs. Ten years in the making, I healed every day that I went deeper into my subconscious. There were days when I cried the whole time I was writing. During the edit I was scared to go back over the events of the story. When the day came, and the story was told, and ready, I rejoiced in my healing. Also a story to heal those that have suffered a similar life. Abuse and dysfunction on a ten plus scale. Thank you Dan, for giving me a platform to speak of my book. You will cry a bucket of tears for Alice, my dear late mother. No therapy could have given me the healing the telling of the story did.

      Sincerely, Brenda Rae Schoolcraft.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I totally agree – I also find that it can be cathartic to write about painful experiences. But humorous experiences or even thoughts can also, as you say, ring true. I think part of being a writer is that we, luckily, have the ability to express our pain, pleasure, humour, excitement in a way that lets the reader experience it too. Be brave – honesty trumps embarrassment!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Right, and keep in mind, this can be expressed through a character, not necessarily a 1st person “I.”

      I have a video clip where I was doing an interview of an author and she started laughing. To keep the interview light, I made some jokes and then she REALLY laughed – and so did I. It was so much fun, I kept the clip. I can’t watch it and not smile.

      Putting together the two additional stories you’ll read later in the week, I teared up at both of them, but when my now six-year-old daughter came into the room and asked me to explain what I was doing, and I tried to tell the stories to her, I almost couldn’t speak, I got so choked up.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This I find is very true for me in my writing. I have even picked up on it in a friend’s work. They wrote a piece about someone who lost it emotionally and I felt a connection with the character. Turns out my friend had felt that despair at some point in their life. In another story the main character had no real depth and its because my friend felt no connection with that character or anything in that character’s life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We are lucky to live in a time when we can contact the authors of work we like and ask about a particular scene. Some will tell us, others won’t, and i see why. Like Hemingway said, don’t tell them it’s hard work, let them think you were born with the ability to write.

      I’m sure a LOT of authors would be afraid to admit the best parts of their made up stories aren’t made up at all, as if that somehow diminishes the craft of conveying the experience to others.

      100 people watch a beautiful sunset.
      Eighty would like to write a book with the sunset in it.
      A few will try.
      Less than one will do it well.

      That’s the deal. But opportunity dances with who’s on the floor, so we at least have to try.

      I find that readers love prose when they love the author, and they love the author through interesting characters and compelling stories told honestly.

      Liked by 2 people

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