Write Through Your Pain

Life is always happening. Pain and pleasure and heartbreak and happiness fluctuate for all of us in a never-ending cycle. Don’t allow the difficult times to take away your creative spark. Keeping your muse in your life during periods of emotional and physical pain helps you stay grounded and brings a positive note into a dark time.

I’ve been having a rough month. It started with a visit to my father, who has early-onset dementia that has now progressed to the latter stages. I wanted to ensure I’d see him at least once more before he forgets who I am.

My month has continued with a benign cyst on my head that’s become infected and excruciatingly painful. After toughing it out for a week, I’ve finally accepted the obvious truth that it won’t magically disappear and I’m having minor surgery to have it removed later today.

I’ll never regret the visit to my father, but, of course, it’s painful to see my once-brilliant scientist dad struggling to make mental connections and speaking nonsensically. The trip also brought up emotional pain over the difficult relationship I had with him, now that he no longer exists as that person.

My physical pain seems easier to endure, except for the fact that it makes thinking, working, writing, creating—and even washing my hair—much more difficult. This may become worse before it gets better, after my scalp meets a scalpel this afternoon (ouch!).

But, though intense for me now, these events don’t come close to being the worst physical or emotional pain I’ve felt. We all endure pain in many forms throughout our lives. And, as I experience this rough patch, I find myself remembering yet again the importance of remaining creative through the bad times.

Because if I let go of one of the things that gives me the most pleasure in my life—the creativity that makes me who I am—then I make a bad period even worse.

So I’m offering some ideas for staying creative through painful periods in your life:

Accept the pain. Pain is part of life. We all experience both physical and emotional pain. Not accepting this leads to more suffering because your angst about being in pain adds an additional layer of emotional pain to what you’re already experiencing. And the energy you use being upset, angry, discouraged, etc., about your pain could be used instead for healing and creativity.

Dial down your goals. During a difficult period, you may not be able to spend the amount of time or energy on creative pursuits that you normally do, or that you feel you should. This is okay. Try to write for just 15 minutes. Or even 5 minutes. Anything you do will give your muse some creative juice.

But don’t abandon your creative life. If you put off creativity every time life gets hard, you will only live half a creative life. Creativity adds a positive note to your days when things are tough. Don’t let it be a casualty of your pain.

Show yourself compassion. Don’t add to your suffering by beating yourself up for not sticking to your creative goals. Forget about your creative performance for the last day/week/month/year. Today is all that matters. Just perform a small creative act today.

Write about your pain. Writing about your emotional or physical pain can help with healing or can just lead to some fantastic writing when you dig deep into your suffering and allow it to exist on the page. Try writing a journal entry, an essay, a fictional piece or a poem about your experience.

Don’t write about your pain. Sometimes writing about something completely unrelated to your life is the best way to let go of your pain and embrace your creativity. Try writing a fantasy/sci-fi story or writing about characters whose lives engage you.

Do something  completely different. If writing is your primary creative outlet, try making something from clay, gardening, knitting, singing…whatever inspires you. Sometimes life difficulties lead us down new paths, either for the moment or for the long haul.

I’ll help you slay your Perfectionism Dragon,
Herd your Inner Critics into a soundproof room,
Send your Procrastination Monster whimpering back to his cave,
And defuse all your creative blocks.

To schedule a free 30-minute telephone creativity coaching session with me, or for more information, click here.


76 Responses to “Write Through Your Pain”

  1. 1 Missy May 25, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    I’m disabled by frequent debilitating migraines. My journal has a recurring theme, “I’m sick of hurting.” It does make me feel a bit better to release the frustrations via my journal but I find it difficult to be creative when in pain. I’ll use your suggestions and hope things will turn around for me while having bad days.

  2. 2 K a b l o o e y May 26, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Oh my goodness — I’m so sorry to hear about all this. And I’m sure having a trying relationship with your father in the past makes it even more difficult, if that’s possible. From the (too many) friends of mine who have lost parents
    this way, I know how emotionally hard this journey is. And being in physical pain yourself has to compound things, so I’m glad you’re having the cyst dealt with. Your writing advice is marvelous, esp. the warning to be kind to yourself and lessen expectations. And it’s pretty amazing that you can still turn your gaze outward and try to help the rest of us as you go through this. thanks, Sandy

  3. 3 Heather Conroy May 26, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Great advice for the ups and downs of life. That there will aleays be. Peace to you Sandy.

  4. 4 Ami Mattison May 27, 2010 at 5:35 am

    Thanks for the great advice, Sandy. I so agree that we need to maintain our creative life in times of pain. For me, if I can’t write, then I also do some other creative activity, like sketch, color, or play the guitar. Good luck with your surgery, and sending you positive vibes!

  5. 5 stranglingmymuse May 27, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Missy, I have chronic back pain stemming from a car accident years ago, so I know how difficult it is to try to maintain your creativity with ongoing pain. I hope you find my tips helpful!

    Kablooey, Thanks so much for your caring support! As for me turning my gaze outward and trying to help others with this blog post, I’m merely following my own advice. After waking in pain for yet another morning and childishly pouting to myself that I just didn’t FEEL like writing anything or posting anything on this blog, and that, really, WHY SHOULD I, ANYWAY, when my head was hurting so much, I decided to quit my whining and turn my pain around. This blog post is the result, dashed off before I went to get my head cut open (whine…) Anyway, writing it made me feel better, so I helped myself too.

    Heather, I’m glad you like the advice, and thanks for your support–and for your peaceful wishes!

    Ami, Thanks for the positive vibes! I’m feeling much better now. It sounds like you have lots of wonderful creative outlets. Good for you!


  6. 6 Sage May 29, 2010 at 4:52 am

    Pain … I understand emotional and physical pain all too well. I ride the wave a lot and find creating theraputic for me. I write better when I am hurting.

    I hope your head is ok 🙂

    • 7 stranglingmymuse May 31, 2010 at 10:02 am

      Thanks, Sage, my head is feeling much better now! I’m glad you find writing and creating therapeutic–it’s a wonderful way to help heal your pain.


  7. 8 SamuraiMarine June 1, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Great piece… Seriously.

    I suffer from depression, but I am one of those that is able to fight it off without meds. Mostly because I refuse to medicate, having seen what they can do to people, and that includes the positive and negative effects.

    I live by the Buddhist mantra that Life is Suffering. We see it, hear it and experience it every day in some way or another. But it is HOW we respond to it that makes us who and what we are. Strengthening us some days and weakening us others. It is just part of life.

    I have chosen to use my writing as an extension of my emotions. When I am sad, hurt, happy, excited, depressed or just blue… I write. Even if no one will ever read it, I write and save the work. Later, I will read it and many times find some little piece of enlightenment there. Something that I missed before. Through this, I have almost come to believe that we have these periods of emotional shift for a reason.

    It is nature’s way of hiding clues to life in our emotional fabric, giving us a reason to fight through the bad times and enjoy the good times… and embracing all of them.

    Thank you for a great article… I found you through StumbleUpon, but have added you to my list and plan on linking you to my Blog.

    • 9 stranglingmymuse June 2, 2010 at 8:19 am

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Though I can’t speak to your situation or to those who choose or don’t choose medication for depression, I agree with you in general that we have emotional shifts for a reason. Like you, I write for therapeutic purposes. I now have 30 years of journals, and when I look back on my writing, I often find moments of enlightenment. I can also see how the painful times in my life have helped me grow as a person. I honestly believe that if there is no pain and there are no bad times, growth would be near impossible. I consider myself fortunate to have been dealt a lot of difficult cards in my life — seriously! Because it’s made me who I am.

      Thanks again for sharing here, and thanks for linking to my blog!


  8. 10 Michelle Hedgecock June 4, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    Wonderful post Sandy! I hope your physical pain is going away, that you’re feeling better and of course, those emotional pains as well…although I know those tend to stick around, don’t they?! You have reminded me that during my most difficult struggles I wrote like a banshee, alot of poetry and journaling–even a song! I was able to write things in a way I’d never written before, it flowed out of me in an intense furry, and came from such a raw place.

    I rarely, if ever write poetry and looking back on the dozens of poems I wrote during those times, I read them now and think, “Wow! Who’s THAT girl?! Where did all this come from?” It’s so fiery and angry, and real and honest! LOL It’s so different than the writing I generally do now as far as the anger (I’m still honest and real LOL–articles, non-fiction, blog/book type writing), but I have to say, that is what I love about reading those old poems. They’re like knarly battle scars that scream “F* you–I survived!” 😉

    Like you and others commenting here, I found (find) it extremely therapeutic. I also treasure a watercolor I did during one of those times (painting in the rain–which I thought was perfectly, pathetically, comically symbolic), anyway I treasure it because it reminds of how far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown, and how that particular devastation taught me more than I was able to digest at the time, it guided me to accepting it as more of a blessing.

    You’re so right, our pain and happiness documented in our journals or in other ways–these are priceless creative, therapeutic releases to be encouraged and embraced!

    • 11 stranglingmymuse June 7, 2010 at 6:37 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Michelle. I love the image of painting a watercolor in the rain – what a beautiful metaphor for dealing with your pain in a creative way, combining the devastation with an artistic act of creation amid the solace of nature.

      I’m on vacation and only have a minute to respond here, but your comment moved me and adds a lot to what I wrote and what others have offered in this discussion of writing and pain.

      Thanks again!


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