I was talking with a group of fellow writers once, when a guy turned to me and said, “Don’t you hate that we’ll never be able to write anything good, like something raw and devastating, since we’ve never experienced anything traumatic?”
In the moment when he said this to me, I only nodded and thought about how I agreed with him because, no I wouldn’t say I’ve ever experienced anything particularly traumatic.
I had a fantastic childhood. Two loving parents and two brothers with whom I got along well. We had a nice house and never struggled financially. I mean, we spent every summer in Greece!
I went to a great college – Ole Miss. For which my parents so graciously paid (a THANK YOU to them is not enough, but THANK YOU). My grad school tuition was paid for through my assistantships. And at graduation, when the University President asked the graduating students who’d overcome adversity to get to that point to stand, I had no reason to stand.
Of course, school was not easy for me by any means. I struggled with self-doubt and panic over the pile of work I had to complete in order to graduate. I’ve struggled more in my adult life in general with relationships, life goals, and that sort of thing, but no, I’ve never struggled with life. Not in the grand sense. Nothing traumatic has ever happened to me.
So when this person said this to me, it got me thinking.
And I spiraled for several days – naturally.
Does it make me a bad writer that I’ve lived a good, happy life? That nothing bad has ever happened to me? Does that make my voice, my ability to share my story, less interesting or effective? Do I really have anything to say that people care about?
I mulled it over, considered his statement with every word I wrote in the days following that conversation. I let it get in my head that everything I wrote had no weight, no meaning, no heartfelt theme that would resonate with my audience.
I thought I sounded whiny. That when I wrote about relationships, I sounded immature. That when I wrote about my past, I sounded overly dramatic and again, immature.
I started thinking that I didn’t have anything important to say with my words, because my background is too flowery and eye-roll worthy.
But I was determined not to let that statement hinder me from being a writer, not after I’d come so far in my journey. I didn’t let it keep me from telling my stories, from telling them the way I wanted no matter what inherent perspective I might have. I am who I am, and I thank God for everything that I have.
So, no it didn’t stop me from writing…but it did stop me from wanting to share.
I began to second-guess myself not just as a writer, but also as a person.
What got me out of this slump was a Greek phrase I’d heard repeated over and over again in my family. I never used to use it myself, mostly because I’d heard it growing up and always thought it was more of a “grown-up” thing to say. I don’t know exactly when I crossed this line into adulthood, but I now use this phrase on a daily basis.
The phrase is this: Καθένας με τον πόνο του.
Got that? Good. That’s the end of this post.
Kidding, of course.
The essence of the phrase is that everyone experiences their own kind of pain. Whatever version of it, no matter the degree on a scale, it’s still pain. And even though it might not be more painful than someone else’s, your pain still matters.
I chose to apply this phrase to stories and experiences.
I feel like writers and people in general often have this rule that we have to write about something sad and depressing all the time, and in order to do this well, we need to have experienced something terrible – because “write what you know” and all that. This notion probably most often stems from academic, literary circles. And I admit – when writing about the human condition, especially in literary fiction, it can get pretty glum at times.
But I’ve never perceived writing as needing to be glum in order to be considered “good.”
I personally like writing happy things, because that’s my style. In a world where so many terrible things happen every minute, why not share a happy story from time to time?
That’s why I enjoy romance so much – I’m guaranteed a happy ever after by the end, in some form. It’s in the genre description!
But even romance can be dark and devastating at times. It simply depends on the story, author, and genre. Different genres call for different styles and conventions. The stories will differ between genres and from other stories within the same genre.
But that’s just it – stories will be different. Not better or worse, but different.
The point is this – we all have a story to tell.
And they’re our own. Our stories and experiences are not for anyone else to minimize. Just because they might be different from each other, it doesn’t make them any less significant or less relevant.
For my stories, perhaps they might be “too happy and immature” for some people. Maybe people won’t walk away reconsidering their life philosophies. But that’s okay.
It’s okay for me because this is how I find peace. I find peace in writing and sharing my stories – fictional or other, sad, positive, profound, or funny. I find comfort in putting my thoughts down on paper, and by sharing my thoughts and stories, I hope someone else might find that same comfort in the words.
Not everyone will. Not everyone will understand or relate to what I write about, just like I can’t always relate with everything I read. But I can certainly appreciate the story in many ways. And that’s the key – to appreciate the story so boldly being told. Because it does take great courage to tell a story, no matter the genre, no matter the level of devastation it reflects.
By sharing our stories, we might help that one person listening. There’s always someone who needs to hear our words. Always someone in need of encouragement and hope – even if it’s us who needs it.
So tell your story. Whether it’s on the internet, to your Book Club, friends, and family – share it for yourself in a journal – but share it nonetheless.
All your stories are part of you. They’re what make you unique.
Don’t let others tell you it doesn’t matter. It does. It all matters because YOU matter.
Let me say it again: YOU MATTER.