For all my life, one true thing can be said: great writing comes from my sadness. Even in my deepest despair, there is always a voice in the back of my head, pen and paper at the ready, whispering ‘remember this for later’. I am not alone in this, of course, as we know many an author, poet, playwright have dredged their most famous works from their bleeding hearts. But why do we do it? Why linger on unsavoury memories when it is so much sweeter to be happy? Let’s unpack that together.
When you find another voice that openly says the words in your head, it unlocks a kind of empathy you seldom find anywhere else.
Collectively, we all want to feel a little less like outsiders; the chorus call of ‘I do that too!’ washes away the shame that is often reserved for negative feelings. When you find another voice that openly says the words in your head, it unlocks a kind of empathy you seldom find anywhere else. We celebrate with those whose laughter synchronises with our own, but equally, we find solace knowing that other hearts have known sadness too. The first time I read my poetry aloud to a room full of people, I felt exposed, as if everyone there would go home having heard all my secrets, but as I spoke to people afterwards I realised that no one searched for the meaning in my life, they heard the words and applied them to their own lives, their own struggles. People search and find what they need from your writing, and that gave me the confidence to write from a more personal place. For me, poetry is sometimes less about why I need to write it and more about who needs to read it.
That being said, is it healthy to find yourself in a constant state of wallowing for the sake of good art? Absolutely not! So here’s the good news: you have the ability to turn pain into passion and reclaim your voice using your words. Now more than ever, people are experiencing a shared trauma and we can use our words to comfort one another during lockdown. The last 100 days or so have been an entirely different world to the one we knew, and in the absence of face to face contact, video calls replace hugs with grandparents, seeing friends through phone screens and condolences are sent in the post. In years to come, we will remember these words and recall the togetherness of being alone.
Here’s the good news: you have the ability to turn pain into passion and reclaim your voice using your words.
Trauma plays a huge part in a person’s life, but it doesn’t have to remain centre stage forever, and for me, part of taking back that spotlight was spilling everything stuck inside my head onto a page. It will be messy and mostly illegible, but once it’s all out there, you can leave that rage right there on the page and focus on making something great. The thing you found so hard to talk about before, becomes a project to work on, a haiku to perfect, a painting to dissect. Some of my proudest work has come from my darkest moments. We can’t rewrite the past, but we can reframe it and maybe make it rhyme, until we can hold it at arm’s length and say ‘I made the best out of that’.