Writing Through Grief:
How do you do it? How do you cope?
A good friend of mine, suddenly and unexpectedly, passed away several weeks ago. He was a groomsmen in our wedding. There are several pictures of him scattered throughout our house. It still doesn’t quite feel real, even after going to his funeral. It’s almost as if I have to remind myself that he’s gone.
He was our circle of friend’s Robin Williams. He always knew what to say to make you laugh. Or would suggest the perfect pick me up activity to keep you from feeling down about whatever storm you were currently weathering through. He wasn’t universally loved. He definitely rubbed some people the wrong way.
You either loved him or hated him. He marched to the beat of his own(at times, obnoxious) drum. Which is a quality I really envy because I’m simply not built that way. I care too much.
When someone passes, it never gets any easier. It really doesn’t. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or hasn’t lost someone close to them. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Time simply transforms how you experience that grief. You’ll stop crying. Eventually. Life will get busy again. But when another human touches your soul, you’ll always be reminded of that loss.
They’ll come up in a conversation. Some new thing will be created that that person is going to miss out on. If only they could see it now…
Artists: The Misery Experts
There’s this idea that creatives, or at least writers like to throw around that, honestly, is a morbid and harmful ideation. Some would argue that be a successful writer or really any successful creative artist, one needs to be somewhat tortured.
Hemingway himself said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”
I suppose there is something to say about the proliferation of great artists who didn’t have easy or happy lives and created masterpieces.
- Jane Austen never married because she was in love with a man she couldn’t be with.
- Frieda Kahlo suffered from many physical complications as the result of a traffic accident when she was 18. She had a volatile relationship with her husband, mostly due to infidelity and was never able to carry a child to term.
- Kurt Vonnegut’s mother committed suicide.
- I don’t think I need to go into detail about Sylvia Plath.
Honestly, the list is almost limitless.
[Although quick side note? If you have a mental illness that you aren’t dealing with, PLEASE, seek help. Depression, Bipolar Disorder, etc… untreated is NOT helping you to be a better artist. And this is a myth that more artists need to stand up to actively eliminate.]
But heartache is essential to a good story, right?
How do you write a story about heartbreak if you’ve never experienced it? I suppose there are elements of truth to that. If you have a privileged, easy life where nothing bad or difficult ever happened to you, or you didn’t go through some profound struggle at some point, your art is going to lack depth.
But honestly, who hasn’t struggled at this point in their life?
That isn’t to say you go LOOKING for heartbreak either, my friends.
That’s just crazy.
Don’t do that.
Granted, many, if not most people read or absorb some other art form as a means to escape. To vicariously live out an alternate reality, if only for an hour or two at a time. Or if your lucky, the whole day. But one constant in that escape is one necessary ingredient: Empathy.
If your reader can’t empathize with your characters in some small way, even if the plot is completely other-worldly, you aren’t going to hook your readers. Frankly, your audience isn’t going to give a shit.
This is where the hurt comes in. The pain. The sorrow. Those seeds that are essential to brewing empathy.
The problem? Pain doesn’t always result in empathy. It also can result in bitterness and resentment. And that’s something that not only hurts you, but will also damage your art.
So, what do you do? How do you, as an artist, allow yourself to use the pain of life’s uncertainties into something positive? How do you allow yourself to heal through your craft?
To put it simply?
Don’t. Stop. Creating.
Don’t stop feeling.
Write if you can. Take a break if that feels best. Binge watch something on Netflix. Listen to new music. Draw. Color if you can’t draw. Breathe.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that creating, whether its words or music or coloring in my Game of Thrones coloring book is my self-care. It’s what gets me through it all. Creating or exposing yourself to something beautiful that wasn’t there before, helps.
Be good to yourselves.