How Grief Can Make You A Better Writer

Most every person, at some point, experiences a tragedy. Not many in this life go unscathed from a pain so considerable that it knocks you down, takes your breath, and leaves you wanting for the words to express it.

Many people who feel deep sorrow cope with it in one of two ways. There are those who shutter themselves away from the world, dissolving into their own grief—unaware of those also in agony even in their own midst. Then there are those people who turn towards others, offering consolation even as they seek their own comfort.

It may be unknown whether the determinant of this choice lies in genetics or personal constitution. What I do know is that those who choose to face the world, bear the unbearable, and help those in doing so are often the people who intuitively understand that grief has a purpose far beyond the pain of it.

Writers are these people. We understand the value of feeling even when it’s agonizing to do so. Most of us are, by nature, empathetic—we feel what others feel.

What makes a good writer good is the ability to fully and vividly express emotion in writing. After all, a story is nothing more than an empty telling of events when void of the joy and the pain we all keenly feel.

What happens, however, when a writer feels grief so sharply that she turns from her pen and page?

What happens is that writer deprives herself of the cathartic balm of expressing, and so releasing, the painful emotions through her art. She also robs others of experiencing a comfort—an emotional elixir—found in books.

A writer who feels great grief and chooses to turn towards, not away, from the world in the expression of it causes a few more people to be able to face it. It’s the choice that distinguishes a great writer from a good one. And isn’t that what we all, as writers, want—to be a great writer?

So, how do we use our grief to be better writers?

The following are five ways you can use your pain to produce your best work:

  1. Feel It: Before a writer can evoke emotion in her work, she must first feel that emotion. By nature, people are designed to avoid pain and therefore, many of us box, bury, and run from anything that hurts. It’s a deep-seated mechanism of self-preservation, but it can be ironically destructive—to a person’s soul and a writer’s work.
  2. Harness It: Strongly felt emotion is powerfully chaotic. When feelings, especially painful ones, are allowed to surface, they are frenzied. As a writer, the use of these emotions is only productive if they are harnessed. It’s imperative for your readers that you channel these feelings in a way that can be clearly understood and keenly felt.
  3. Use It: Once you have controlled and organized your emotion, you must use it. Utilize it to write tragedy, understand you character’s pain, and to give authenticity to the expression of grief.
  4. Express It: Experiencing and understanding anguish enables you to more perceptibly and beautifully express this emotion, which is then manifested in your work. The ability, as a writer, to more clearly articulate complex sentiment enables you to differentiate your work as writing that brings awareness and change.
  5. Free Others With It: When a writer’s work has the ability to emotionally reach a reader, it then has the potential of affecting, changing, and ultimately freeing that reader from their own grief. And when a person is relieved from her pain, her own possibilities become endless. Being able to give this gift to a reader is the true gift of a great writer

Thank you for reading. I look forward to your comments.








8 thoughts on “How Grief Can Make You A Better Writer

  1. When you tweeted the link to this blog post just now, it seemed urgent because carrying out writing is of course important for many reasons, if you are so inclined. I see how beautifully you’ve explored what grief does to the process a writer has. What a nice exposition, if you will, on how grief shapes the page.

  2. I found this helpful – I’ve been struggling to find focus for my writing – poetry- in the midst of overwhelming grief. I’ve recently been feeling more determined to try again and will re-read this post as I, hopefully, do so. I had thought it overly self indulgent to try to express my grief – anger and loneliness in my poetry, but you’ve allowed me to feel that maybe I should. I know lots of poets do, but my best work has always been fun stuff for children, so it’s been doubly hard as its my children I have lost….but I’ll try to try.

  3. Thank you, Rob, for taking your time to express your thoughts and for sharing your personal experience. I will not profess to understand your pain but as a parent I can say that I feel deeply for your loss and I am sorry for it. It’s my humble opinion that you should focus this pain into your poetry. It could provide an outlet for you and it could also help others to find a way to manage their own grief. Something quite beautiful could manifest from something so tragic. After all, even in the darkest hour there is a sliver of light and only by being in that darkness does one see the brightness of that light. Let that light be your poetry. Thanks again for reading and sharing.

  4. In fact, a writer in grief is actually experiencing it.Hence, naturally, it helps him to be a better writer.After all every writer is writing what he has seen, heard, read and experienced.Therefore, it is quite natural.

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About Sherry Parnell