Writing Through the Valleys: The Painful Truth

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By Christa MacDonald

Pain, the emotional sort, is a killer of creativity. It’s hard to get the words out when your heart is breaking. Grief, angst, fear, whatever it is, nothing shuts off the faucet of inspiration like suffering. It’s tough to get motivated to write a light-hearted romance when your heart is broken. It’s equally challenging to write about God’s Providence when you’re facing a financial disaster. But if there’s a deadline to make (And isn’t there always a deadline to make?), you’ll be stuck at the keyboard anyway. Part of being an author is writing when you don’t feel like it.

C.S. Lewis said “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures…but shouts in our pains.” He also said “Pain plants the flag of truth in the rebel fortress.” Truth can set us free, it can shine out in dark situation, and it can hurt. Sometimes, it needs to hurt to get our attention. When we’re stubbornly walking in the wrong direction, it can take a painful event to steer us back. Other times there’s no sign of any purpose in our suffering. It can seem capricious. That’s when I try to remember that God is the Author of the Universe and that even if I don’t know why I know He does and I try to be content with that. Whatever the source or the purpose, pain can consume our thoughts like a fire burns through the oxygen in a closed room.

It’s tempting to take a few days off when pain is killing your creativity, but there’s a bit of danger in taking too long of a break. It becomes easier to give up entirely. Instead, I say use that pain. Write it out. Take a blank page and spill your heart onto it. There are no rules for this kind of writing. It’s like brainstorming, put the words down in whatever order they come to you. After the page or pages are filled, you might start finding gems in the dirt, bits of insight, parts of the message that’s in this experience. Or you might just have dirt, lots of angst with no insight in sight. That’s okay. The purpose is to get it out of your head so you can go back to writing what you need to. Gleaning any meaning from it is a bonus.

Now that the pain has been pinned to a page leave it there while you work on other writing. Don’t abandon it if you feel you can’t, but let it stay there and wait for you. Pick up your work in progress and get writing. If you start to feel the drag back to the pain, think of it as an actual piece of paper stuck with a tack to a cork board. Acknowledge that it’s there and that it can wait. It may take some practice but stick with it. This works for anxious thoughts as well. Pin them to the board too and only let yourself look them over (i.e. think about them) when you decide you’re ready.

Life as an author is often like a long trek through rugged country. Sometimes you’re up, and sometimes you’re down. The key is to keep walking.

I say use that pain. Write it out. Take a blank page and spill your heart onto it. #ACFWBlogs @CricketMacD #amwriting Click To Tweet

Christa MacDonald is a 2017 Carol Award finalist. The Broken Trail, published by Mountain Brook Ink, was her debut novel. When not working or writing Christa can be found ferrying her kids around, reading, or attempting something crafty. She and her family live along the coast of New England.




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