A few weeks ago I attended a writers’ retreat that ended up being one of the most creatively intense experiences of my life. I dug deep into my own soul—and with the help of a few insanely brave writer friends—dragged what I found there out into the light.
It was cathartic, but it was also scary as hell.
Sometimes looking into your own wounds—those deep, dark ugly wounds you’ve been carrying your whole life—is like looking into the abyss.
As writers, we always hear about how we should mine our own dark places for creative gold, how all the hard experiences we’ve gone through will be fuel for our writing fire. I truly do believe that…but yet…
When it’s YOUR wound it’s really hard to keep that perspective sometimes.
Facing our emotional wounds is one of the most intensely difficult things a writer can do. The only thing that might be harder is sharing what you find. Our first urge is to deny the wound, and then when we finally look at it, to turn away from what we see. The thought of showing it to others, the idea of owning our wounds makes us cringe.
But sometimes your work as a writer won’t let you do anything else.
My wound has to do with my father. I had an extremely complicated relationship with my dad for my entire life. My first book examined my years of alcohol addiction and dysfunctional relationships with men, and traced both issues back to events that occurred in my childhood that had to do with my dad. My second book was about getting sober, and again, my relationship with my dad surfaced. My third book was about my struggle with workaholism and romantic obsession and…yup…you guessed it. Again, we come back to my dad.
Then I decided to try my hand at fiction. I was tired of rehashing my past over and over again. So I wrote a novel about a boy who is kidnapped by a man who was severely emotionally damaged by the Vietnam War, and this man pretends to be the boy’s father. I wrote another story about a man who becomes something of a cult leader after his father tries to kill him. And another about a couple of teenagers who are both lost because both of their fathers are absent, one physically and the other emotionally.
Fathers who are abusive, absent, or addicted. Fathers who try to kill their children or harm their children’s mother. Fathers who pretend to be a father when they really aren’t. Fathers who can’t be trusted. Fathers who disappear. Fathers who don’t come back.
Freud would have a field day with my stories.
Every time I finish another book I look back and I can see the themes and symbols clearly. I know exactly where they came from and I’m not in the dark about any of it. But every time, too, I know I didn’t plan to write those things. They just came out of me. As dark and distorted as they may be, those things are part of my truth. Sometimes pieces of a person’s truth can only be seen through the distortion of story. Sometimes you can only see through the glass clearly when you’ve taken the time to intentionally obscure the view.
I have asked myself at least a hundred times if I should hide these things, these truths, my stories, away somewhere in a drawer and every time the answer from my heart comes back so loud and clear it’s unmistakable:
You need to share these things with other people, my heart says.
They have wounds just like you do.
They feel like they’re all alone too.
They need to know that they’re not.
So whatever it is writers—shame, self hatred, an eating disorder, a very bad choice you regret to this day—whatever it is—if you are a writer you are meant to share that wound in some way. Because someone else out there is in pain about something similar, right now, and they need to hear your voice. They need to know that they’re not alone in their wounds, just like you needed to know that very same thing once upon a time.
If you’ve suffered, if you have a wound that is still healing, then you have all that you need to be a writer who is of service to the world.
Look at your wound. Write from your soul.
The Universe will take care of the rest.