How to Write About Pain

Sometimes life can slam into you and catch you off guard. I tried surfing for the first time this week so I was literally slammed into by waves. I’m sure my surfing experience will become the basis for a whole other blog post, but for now I’ve learnt that although the waves will keep coming, you don’t have to pick yourself up alone. When I couldn’t muster up the energy to write this week, my writer friend Rachel Kang kindly offered to take over for me. Although she lives halfway across the world, she has been such a light and a blessing. I know you’ll gain so much from her words.


Poison.

That’s the name of the first song I ever wrote.

I’d been sick, battling an incessant bout of sore throats. I later came to learn that this bout of sore throats wasn’t just a bout of sore throats—it was a bout with strep throat and, all those weeks, the strep throat had gone undetected and untreated.

I remember asking to sit on the sidelines in cheer practice and asking if I could just mouth the words without singing in chorus because I had no voice to yell or sing with.

These bouts with strep throat led to me developing, Rheumatic Fever—a rare disease that comes from untreated strep throat. It’s a triggering autoimmune condition that unleashes the antibodies in your body to fight against your own body.

It stole my heath and my heart; it stole my voice—my physical voice and my literal voice.

So I wrote.

I needed a song that reached the deepest depth of how I felt. So I wrote. I needed words that surfaced the sinking shoreline of my soul. So I wrote. I had no listening ears, none that would linger long enough to hear my broken heart day after day after day after day. So I wrote. I wrote because a journal doesn’t care how sappy you sound. It doesn’t fold in and close up when you set fire to its pages.

Like a punching bag, hanging high from the ceiling on chains that choke tight around to keep it suspended, a journal never gives—no matter how strong the punch is, it holds its own.

That’s why I wrote. And that’s why I think you should write, too.

I’ll never forget the words I penned for my song, “Poison.”

I can feel it
I know whenever it’s there
On my lips, on my tongue
I can feel it tear
At the voice 
That sings so strongly 
So weak, so fatigued
I can’t go on

Those words still touch me deep in places no other words can. And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, it’s because I wrote these words myself.

I’m sure there are places of pain in your heart—places where the sun hasn’t shined, places that are deep and are dark. Places begging to be seen or heard or understood. Begging for release and relief. So, here’s how you write about those places and that pain:

  1. Let your pain be personal before you make it public. Social media has made sharing our stories so easy; it’s become second nature to us to type up the things that we think and are feeling and to share them. I believe there’s a very defined differenced between writing to reveal and writing to heal. Writing to reveal makes sharing your story about others. Writing to heal keeps the process personal and preserves the purpose that your writing was first intended to serve. Writing that isn’t shared publicly is more prone to endure the practice of patience. By practicing patience, we give our hearts and our minds the space to process what is hurting, where it hurts, why it’s hurting, and what needs to happen to make sure that kind of hurt doesn’t happen again.

    Pray and push through your pain before you jump to promoting it. Sit with your pain before you seek to share about it. Rest, before you run to rush and tell the world about it. Linger in it for a little while, and then lean into the lesson that will inevitably come from it.
  2. Believe that journaling is a validated form of writing. Often times, people think that because their story of pain involves another person that they can’t write about it. That couldn’t be anymore far from the truth. The beauty about writing is that it can be all things: it can be a blog post that is public or a handwritten card that is only ever read by one. Writing can be quickly typing up an Instagram post that gets 1,000 double taps and hearts, or it can simply be a journal entry, to be seen by no eyes other than your own.
    The words in your journal are no less validated than the ones from that famous author on the pages of that book between your hands. Your writing doesn’t have to be popular in order to be powerful and your story doesn’t have to go public in order to be justified.
  3. Pick your poison. You’ve got to write in the way that best allows you to process and push through pain. When I write in my journal, I feel as though I’m able to write to release, to vent. But — it always just stops there; it’s never enough. When I write a song, though, I feel like I’m actually able to heal. I feel more free, I feel more moved to cry and sing and fight through how I’m feeling. When I blog, I feel as though I’m able to organize my thoughts. And, yet, I always feel like blogging is not a time for helping myself. Rather, my focus naturally rests heavily on writing to see others be helped. But, that’s just me personally.
    Writing your way through pain doesn’t have to look like someone else’s way. It doesn’t have to look like writing a best-selling novel or a sappy diary with lock and key. It might look like writing letters to yourself. Or keeping a notebook of poems by your bedside. Or an unpublished blog. Or iPhone notes in your phone whenever tears come bubbling to the surface.
  4. Don’t use published writing as way to get back at people. I learned this from a wise acquisitions editor from Revell back in 2012. There is a stark difference between writing that seeks to simply share a sentiment and writing that seeks to destroy. The closest thing I can compare this to is the kind of tension that takes place between rappers at odds with each other. Think Tupac and Biggie and their endless battle between each other through song. Decades later, both of their bodies laid in lower caskets beneath the ground, there’s no taking back or redeeming the violent words or the legacies they left upon this earth.
    When you look back on your words, do you want them to be written in such a way that they point to the rage and strife that you held against others? Or do you want your words to paint a picture of a person that pushed through their pain without dragging the names of others through the mud? A person who knew hurt (deeply and widely) but still found a way to heal, and help others too.

And your writing doesn’t have to be perfect. And you don’t have to bare it all or worry about doing it right. You need only to hold a pen in your hand and to touch its tip to the page. To make strokes and traces letters that form words.

Your heart will find its way from there.

Where do you see yourself falling on this list of thoughts on writing about pain? Do you feel as though this is something that you’re already doing, or trying to do? Or is writing about your pain hard to even think about, let alone write about?

Originally published on January 7, 2019 at www.rachelmariekang.com

Rachel Kang is a writer and editor. She is the creator of Indelible Ink, an online community for writers and want-to-be writers. She has written for (in)courageThe Daily Grace Co., and Charlotte Magazine, and is unapologetically passionate about words, stories, the creative process, deep cups of tea, and you. Hellos always welcome at Instagram.

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