One day last year, I was nearly doubled over in emotional pain, feeling directionless, asking what I should even do with all this pain. A little voice in my head whispers, “Write, dummy.”
And I remembered why I became a writer in the first place.
When I was 10 years old, I had a moment staring at a piece of paper filled with my handwriting, amazed that the thoughts and feelings that swirled around in my brain could be emptied onto paper. They could exist somewhere else and leave me alone in my skull, where they had previously lived. This practice freed me in a way nothing had before, and nothing has since in quite the same way. (Not to say I haven’t tried.)
I recently saw a tweet asking how essayists write about really personal issues.
Putting your pain in writing, especially when the emotion is fresh, hurts like hell. But over time, it becomes the most liberating act you can do. Expressing your pain on paper helps you process in ways ruminating, avoiding, and other useless diversions never will.
Here are 3 reasons why it’s totally worth it to write about pain.
Reason 1: Writing about your pain actually frees you from it
After my dad died when I was 17, I received a soul-reviving gift: a guided journal called the Angel Catcher. It was a safe place to pour out everything my swollen eyes could no longer handle.
When you’re grieving, emotional pain sits on your chest like a paperweight. You feel helpless. Like it’s impossible to move forward. But there’s magic in the physical act of writing — you’re doing something!
Your words don’t have to be beautiful, publishable, or even legible. Sometimes you need to write things just for yourself, and that’s ok. But you may find that once you get them out there, and you process the residual feelings, there may be universal value in there for someone else.
Reason 2: It connects you with others
Oh, catharsis. There’s strength in shared pain, particularly because emotional pain can feel so isolating. Writers who are brave enough to put that darkness on paper — I mean, damn. They sacrifice their own privacy so the rest of us can feel a little less alone.
Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” Exposing our vulnerable selves, the non-Instagram worthy shit, is what fuses us together. It humanizes us. Your written pain could be on a bestseller list, or it may just be in an email to a friend (that’s how Glennon Doyle started writing, actually).
Be brave enough to share — you never know who you may impact.
Reason 3: It clarifies how you feel
There’s tremendous power in naming our feelings and sharing them with others. In fact, research shows it lowers stress and increases emotional support at the same time.
When you label an emotion — “Hey fear! Yep, I’m talking to you” — it weakens it. Steals its fire away. Absolves you of shame, like I talked about in this piece for Elle. Now that you’ve revealed its identity and hiding spot, you’re in control. When you write about it, you expose it even further. And that’s when the bravery comes in: this thing may have almost fucking killed me. But I’m here writing about it, aren’t I? I’m getting through it.
If you’d like to continue this conversation, I’m teaching a class this Saturday, February 13th, on craft lessons from sad songs!