Suffering Aside, Write

I don’t know when it started, but there is this idea in the arts that you can’t be a truly good or legitimate writer/painter/musician/whatever unless you’ve suffered in your life (“suffered for your art”). The idea is that you have to experience life first-hand before you can express it in a powerful or true way.


Like most generalizations, this one’s probably a mix of truth and misconception (or falsehood). Do life experiences inform your writing? Yes. Big events in our lives change the way that we think – they change our perspectives: from the slightest shifts to big reversals. Is that going to change the story you tell and how you tell it? Very likely. Does that mean that you have to experience something before you can write about it in an informed or powerful way?

Well,… try applying that rule to science fiction or fantasy. Then, tell me what you think the answer is.

The raw fact is that you can’t experience everything firsthand (some things, no one can experience first-hand). That’s why writers do research. That’s why they need good imaginations. That’s why learning to tell a story in a powerful and meaningful way is hard. It takes practice. It takes work. It takes a willingness to share the ideas and emotions that exist in your past or were simply created in your mind.

It takes you.

Everyone living has experiences that are unique to them that can empower writing. The grief of losing a family pet is just as real as that of losing everything: the scale may make one seem less important, but it doesn’t make it less real or able to affect the reader. That’s why we have books and television shows and movies that cover everything from bad dates to broken families and even wars.

So don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t be a writer because you haven’t experienced enough. Write anyway. Tell the stories you need to tell.


  1. Oh hell yes, PS: I’m running a two sentence story challenge over at my blog. Feel free to join the fun!

  2. Hear hear! The same is often said of acting. Time and time again I encounter this attitude, and I agree completely with your response! That’s what imagination and empathy are for.

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