As a writer, my aim is to entertain. My stories are fiction, filled with adventure, magic, mystery, fantasy, or humor. But there is another class of story that has nothing to do with escapism, in fact, it’s the polar opposite. These are true stories of real people’s experiences coping with some of the most difficult moments of their lives. Reading these can be cathartic and may make one feel less alone. This is the principle behind peer support groups. Listening (or reading) about how people have gotten through emotional or physical pain can help you navigate these extremely turbulent waters. The sharing of experience, strength and hope is very important on the road to recovery. In addition, recounting your own story can help others.
Along these lines, is a new book called Writing Hard Stories, Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma, by Melanie Brooks. Brooks interviewed a number of writers who have written books about the darkest times in their lives. These include the deaths of partners, parents, siblings, children, as well as growing up with racism, sexual abuse and illness.
Some of the authors interviewed include Andre Dubus III, Sue William Silverman, Michael Patrick MacDonald, Joan Wickersham, and Kim Stafford.
Writing Hard Stories is about how these courageous men and women were able to survive their trauma and write about it. All of them struggled to tell their intensely personal stories. It took years before some were able to finally pen their books. A few had such difficulty confronting their ordeals directly, that they initially wrote their travails as novels before eventually turning to non-fiction. Whether you’re considering writing your own memoir or want to know how these acclaimed writers kept going through the crises in their lives, this book is well worth reading.
Here are a few quotes from some of the authors in Writing Hard Stories.
“We all need a way to express or make something out of experiences that otherwise have no meaning.” Abigail Thomas
“Tibetan Buddhists believe that eloquence is the telling of truth in such a way that it eases suffering…” Kate Bornstein
Though the experiences that these writers went through were harrowing, this book is not depressing. It’s about triumph over adversity. Each one of their stories is a real-life hero’s journey. These writers are shamans who have gone to the brink of death and returned to bestow the boons of their wisdom to their tribe. (That’s us.) Wounded healers, all.