Do you realize that all great literature is all about what a bummer it is to be a human being? Isn’t it such a relief to have somebody say that? – Kurt Vonnegut
It is a bummer to be a human being, and it is such a relief to have someone say that. Life has its awesome moments, but being human (as compared to other species) has a lot of disadvantages, not the least of which is having the capacity to think and feel intensely – sometimes with reason and emotion clashing with each other like two gladiators fighting for their lives in the pit.
Everyone has his own coping mechanism, but I think that in this matter, we writers have one thing we can always fall back on: writing!
It may not always be the first thing that comes to mind when faced with serious life problems. When you are considering talking to a divorce attorney, or when you are facing bankruptcy, writing about your problem may not be high on your priority list.
When you’re dealing with a sick child and still have to take the other kids to school, do house chores, make sure all bills are paid, and continue to do your freelance work, perhaps the last thing you want to do at the end of the day is to write even more.
But there is a difference between writing for work and writing for yourself.
Writing for work does need skill and passion but it doesn’t necessarily mean baring your soul to the world. Writing for yourself, on the other hand, is a totally different story – especially if you write to deal with a personal crisis.
How do you turn things around when facing a crisis?
Channel your intense emotions into creating something.
“Write while the heat is in you.The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.” – Henry David Thoreau
You may or may not end up writing the best short story/novella/novel of your life, but being able to create something out of negative emotions is a feat in itself. While the anger and frustration surge like a tsunami, write down what you feel and think. You never know what will come out of it.
Don’t wait till you are too upset to do anything but wallow in self-pity or pretend the problem with solve itself. Don’t wait till you feel numb. Write when you feel like bursting. That’s when your writing will be at its best.
Use writing as catharsis.
Some people cry until there are no tears left. Others escape into activities like running, jogging, and other sports. Others turn to “medication eating“, which always reminds me of the stereotypical scene of a person sitting in front of the TV eating ice cream out of the tub. There are also people who channel their emotions into art forms like painting.
While not all of the above are healthy, they point to one thing: the need to exorcise (or escape, albeit temporarily) the demons people are currently battling.
Similarly, we can use writing as catharsis. When we write through difficult times, each word, each sentence, and each paragraph contribute to expurgating those negative emotions. It may take days, weeks, months, or even years, but when we look back, the process of writing may very well have kept us sane. Any psychologist will say that finding emotion release in trying times is crucial in keeping a healthy state of mind.
Inspiration from the best
This is one of my go-to pieces when I feel down. Even when I don’t feel like doing anything at all – even writing – reading this helps me to get off my bum and shake away self-pity and/or panic. I hope it inspires you, too.
…Describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty – describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place.
And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. — And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it.
A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it. – Rainer Maria Rilke
We can’t avoid bumps in the road of life, but we can make the most of what we have, and I honestly believe that with our vocation (and profession), we are cheating ourselves of some of the best learning periods if we don’t write through difficult times.
How about you? What experiences have you had with regard to writing through trying times in your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories.