When It Hurts So Much You Can’t Even Turn It Into Words

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

I only ever experienced real writer’s block once in my life.

March 2014 was the worst month of my life. My grandfather died, my girlfriend broke up with me, my father decided to never speak with me again, and I had to struggle with quite a few serious health issues.

Not the end of the world, but the closest thing to my world ending I had ever experienced until then.

When it comes to writing, my mantra is, “Punch the damn keys.” I once wrote that, “if done right, tears turn into gold.”

I was a self-defined, proudly self-made, struggling artist. I lived and breathed art and thought suffering and pain and heartbreak to be the secret ingredients to creating real art.

There was a lot of pain, and thus I sat down to write. I couldn’t. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what to write, or that I didn’t feel like it. I just couldn’t. I’d open my computer, stare at the blank document, and cry.

For the rest of the year I republished old content on my blog over and over again. That was all I could do.

I tried to write about my heartbreak. I tried to write about the grief I felt over my grandfather’s passing, but to be honest, I’d much rather trade all my pain and suffering with a couple of other artists who needed a bit of tragedy in their lives to be more authentic.

I didn’t want it. I didn’t want the solicitous solitude I felt creeping all around me whenever I sat down to write.

One way or another, the people I loved had left. I tried to turn them into art, but I couldn’t.

It’s a tired truism that writing about what hurts us is the most valuable kind of writing there is. I often offer this advice myself. It’s also said that writing can heal. To me, whenever I sat down to write, it felt like I pressing a finger against an open wound.

Do you know what scar tissue is? It’s tissue that’s become impervious to heat or cold or touch. It feels nothing.

Our hearts can become scar tissue. Mine, unfortunately, was just broken.

The myth of the struggling artist has been propagated for centuries by folks who encourage one another to make use of their pain. We worship the brutal honesty of someone who’s been through hell and back, the same way we used to devour gladiatorial combats.

Hemingway advised us to “bleed on the page.” Gene Fowler told us to sit staring at a blank page until drops of blood would form on our forehead.

If you follow this advice, odds are you will end up with a heart so covered in scars it cannot feel anything at all.

The same way someone who sustains a massive injury goes into shock, so too can we overwhelm the soul.

It’s no surprise that writers have this love-hate relationship with writing. What reasonable person is willing to go through emotional trauma for the sake of writing some words on a piece of paper?

Like many other writers, I write in order to figure out who I am. I am trying to draw a map of my soul. I am trying to understand the way my inner narrative works. I’m always trying to figure out why and how I feel and think and do.

I don’t write to be understood. That’s not the point. I express myself differently when I try to be understood. I write because I want to understand. I use words like a sharp knife, cutting myself open, trying to figure out what does what and why.

Yet, all throughout 2014, I couldn’t do that.

I like to dissect my own feelings, emotions, and actions. I like to do the same to others as well, yet all throughout 2014, the act of sitting down to write required more courage than I could muster.

I tried to write about her, the one who couldn’t wait to leave. I kept picturing her, as she closed the door behind her, smiling, free at last from the unbearable burned of a love she no longer desired.

I tried to write about him, the one who didn’t want to leave at all.

The books I read offered no comfort. That was it. There was no comfort, no clarity. There was only pain.

The Portuguese have a word for it. Saudade. The love that remains when nothing can be done anymore. The way we miss what can never be returned to us.

And we always, always miss the most the people who will never come back.

Here’s the funny thing about writing: we all know that our stories can never come true. There’s no magic that can ever give life to the heroes and villains that inhabit our stories. Nonetheless, we always write with the vague hope that somehow, someday, our stories will come true.

I couldn’t write about those who had left, never to return to me again. This was real life, stranger than fiction, more painful than death, the kind of thing that breaks you apart.

I’m a writer. I love writing. It’s all I wanted to do with my life ever since I was fourteen years old, and not being able to write was a fate worst than I could ever have imagined.

When it hurt so much that I couldn’t even turn my pain into words, I understood that there’s a fine line between being brave enough to write your truth, the uncomfortable truth, even though your heart hurts and your fingers shake against the keyboard, and writing about a pain so intimidate that words could only diminish it.

Hemingway was wrong. Bleeding on the page doesn’t make great art. It only leaves a big mess on your desk.

My grandfather died and I’m always sad about it, and I miss him all the time. That’s the story. That’s the most I’ll ever be able to write about it. That’s the heartbreaking truth.

The writing that truly inspires, the words that nudge the world a bit, are the words that describe a perilous and strange odyssey. Grief rarely transforms us. Pain seldom makes us better.

What doesn’t kill us makes us wish it did.

I didn’t write anything for almost an entire year because I hadn’t lived at all. I did travel to England, yet all I collected were memories I couldn’t share with the one person I’d always tell my memories to.

Writing that matters requires that we overcome whatever it is that is trying to bring us down. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, but it takes us a while to recover.

It took me a long time to realize this, to let go of my pain and focus on writing about the journeys I had completed.

Looking back now, I realize I was trying to write about a lesson I hadn’t learned. The wound was fresh, the blood still moist against the skin. There was no map to draw, because I was utterly and completely lost.

The most painful stories are not the ones worth writing about. The stories that are worth writing about describe our victory against struggle, overcoming pain and adversity in order to heal.

Orson Welles once said that if you want a happy ending, it all depends on where you stop your story, but I think that if you stop it too soon, it’s no longer a story. It’s just a bleeding heart, a desk, a chair, and a couple of pages filled with blood, tears, and all the memories you’d much rather forget.


  1. If you want the pain to settle down, you must stay still just like the mud in the water settles down. It is not possible to get a clear mind with shaking thoughts, in order to see through the water, you must wait.
    During this time, don’t try to find our what is there inside at the bottom of the glass, but try to figure out what is there left above. What is left can be called as learnings you earned from the people who left you.
    This is the place where you will find your answers and most probably your story. If you go deep, you will find darkness and …

    Liked by 8 people

  2. Love the honesty in this piece, thank you for sharing it with us. Totally get what you mean especially about having writers block when you expect that the pain you are going through is actually supposed to help you, infact, write! Can also relate to the part about writing to be understood. I find that my language changes when I write for others, or with the hope to be understood. But when i write to understand myself, not only is my writing honest, and better, but I also feel good about myself when I’m done!

    Liked by 5 people

  3. I can relate to your journey. I remember when my husband left there was this hollow place that even writing couldn’t fill. I tried but nothing worked. Just coping with daily trials was almost more than I could bear. I would say that I disagree about writing about pain, though. I am finishing a novel right now that is semi-autobiographical. I have journeyed back to childhood and relived traumatic events of my life. My step-father’s fists, my father’s abandonment, the self-hatred that grew with each taunt from the bullies, the kidnapping and rape. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever written, and the best. It is real and raw and testament of the human experience. Many times I sat at my computer crying as I typed moments I wished I could erase from memory.
    And what I got on the other side was gratitude. I had survived. Yes, parts of my life had been horrific, but this was the only one I had. And I am forever thankful. For life and the gift of being able to express it on the page.
    Blessings to you.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Hi Cristian, It is strange how this life is. Today is the 29th anniversary of my sister’s death from lymphoma. As I read your blog, so many emotions hit me. “Let go of the pain and focus on the journey I have completed” is exactly what I have learned to do. I wrote my memoir which is too emotionally raw for me to ever publish. I told God about it, wrote to God about it-I can’t look at those words without weeping from the loss, the anger. . .of those lost years. I have locked that memoir away. I needed to get those words out of me, to free myself. Now, all these years later I won’t take those pages out to even read to them. I suspect my grandchildren one day will read those words and cry as well. Now, I’ve decided to turn my writing to short stories and novels in which the main characters succeed in their struggles and see the light at the end of this dark tunnel and this valley of tears. God’s peace to you. Thank you for sharing your journey.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Written with such passion!
    I write A LOT, but the ‘hurt stuff’ sits for quite a while before it can go near a page.
    I don’t write well if there is too much emotion.
    I need distance, and then it seeps into my stories.
    By the way, I love this line:
    “What doesn’t kill us makes us wish it did.”

    Liked by 3 people

  6. What a piece Cristian. I can relate with your write up. We all have been through some turbulent moments in life. I sometimes find it difficult to write and share those moments with a wider audience. Sometimes I prefer to reflect and let the experience pass. Thank you for giving me the courage to share my story.

    Liked by 2 people

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