Write Through Your Pain

I’m dealing with a pulled shoulder blade and having trouble getting a new post up, so it seems appropriate to offer my previous musings on pain and creativity (originally posted May 25, 2010):

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.

12 Responses to “Write Through Your Pain”

  1. 1 HannahFergesen May 11, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Wonderful advice, and so true. It’s so easy to stop writing (or being creative) when all you can concentrate is how sad or heartbroken you are. So many people think that all writers thrive on this, that that is what makes them brilliant. But it can be crippling. Gardening is also wonderful during periods like this!

    • 2 stranglingmymuse May 12, 2011 at 2:29 pm

      Thanks, Hannah! And, though I’m not a gardener myself, I agree that it’s a great creative outlet during difficult times. I’m glad you dropped by and commented here…


  2. 3 dldselfnarration May 11, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Sandy… please take a tip from Band-aide… tomorrow won’t be much different today, with the excpetion that you may be able to play the violin!!! Take it easy

  3. 5 Patrick Ross May 11, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Sandy, I admire you finding the creativity within you to write this, even if it is following one of your recommendations, “Write about your pain.” It seems in this case your first responsibility is to your own mental health, but I grant maintaining even a slim connection to your creativity (or given the name of your blog, your muse) can help with that. I like giving yourself permission to scale back, however, or “Dial down your goals.”

    • 6 stranglingmymuse May 12, 2011 at 2:34 pm

      Thanks, Patrick. I agree that staying connected to your creativity can help with mental health. But if you’re putting pressure on yourself to get to your creativity, it can have the opposite effect. Being a recovering perfectionist, I have to remind myself to dial down my creative goals!


  4. 7 Barbara May 11, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    Sandy, I so needed to read this today. Thank you for sharing this previous post. I’ve been stumbling through the past months with a nagging neck injury that has finally been properly diagnosed as a herniated disc. I can sympathize with your pulled shoulder pain. Nagging, chronic pain can pull you out of yourself, if that makes sense. I’ve been struggling with the first point, “accept your pain,” so that will be my takeaway here.

    • 8 stranglingmymuse May 12, 2011 at 2:39 pm

      Barbara, I’m so glad this was the right post at the right time for you — thanks for letting me know! I’m sorry about your continuing neck injury. I have chronic back pain, so I know how lingering pain can color everything in your life. I do think that accepting the pain (while getting appropriate treatment, of course!) is crucial to living a full life — creatively and otherwise.

      Best of luck with all your creative endeavors, and I hope you’re feeling better soon!


  5. 9 herby June 19, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    I read your post and it inspired me to get in touch with something I’m working through. I hope you don’t mind my sharing.

    Requiem for the girl child I was

    She did what she had to do
    That little girl who was so brave
    She never complained despite knowing
    The she would see an early grave.

    She fought her way through
    The good times and the bad
    She learned to love and to hope
    To lose her was so sad.

    But she could not live
    For inside I was a man
    And live happily in denial
    Is more than a human can.

    So now I grieve the girl lost
    The brave soul who got me here
    The one who I locked away
    Out of guilt, shame and fear.

    For to acknowledge her
    Was to face the pain I feel
    To state that I want to be normal
    And to admit that I need to heal.

    The girl I was needs love
    She was so brave to survive
    From her I have a gentle heart
    And the courage I need to thrive.

  1. 1 Creativity Tweets of the Week — 6/6/11 « The Artist's Road Trackback on May 13, 2011 at 7:13 am
  2. 2 Creativity Tweets of the Week — 5/13/11 « The Artist's Road Trackback on May 13, 2011 at 8:33 am

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