1. MustWrite
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    MustWrite Member

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    Sufferers make the best writers?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by MustWrite, Sep 21, 2013.

    Ok, I'm curious. I've heard it said several times that people who have had an easy life [as much as there is such a thing], a good childhood, etc, don't make good writers; that you need some pain to have the depth.
    So, I was wondering how many of you, those passionate people who keep writing despite all the difficulties, have had a difficult life?
    I'm not prying for any details here, I can say of my own life I have endured more pain than I wish to remember, or even write about, but I do think it has grown me as a person.
    And do any of you disagree to this assumption? -Sorry if you feel I'm insulting anyone's "easy" life, of course everyone suffers, but some of us definitely have it harder than others..
     
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  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't say that the problem is an easy life, but an uncomplicated and unexamined life. A simple life full of un-questioned assumptions isn't a life that gives a person much to write about. Suffering is often complicated and it often causes one to question assumptions, so it probably does produce more to write about, but I still wouldn't say that it's the suffering itself that does the job.
     
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  3. ScaryMonster
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    ScaryMonster Active Member

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    I wouldn't say that its necessary to have suffered to be a good writer, but it couldn't hurt!
    I apologise for my appalling joke. I think any real experience helps, it gives the writing believability.
    Suffering can also be a spur to some to write as can Joy, but you cannot really understand something without knowing its opposite.
     
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  4. HarleyQ.
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    HarleyQ. Just a Little Pit Bull (female)

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    Extensive knowledge, my friend, is what can give you the illusion of experience. Think about it.

    On a serious note, take depression for example; you don't have to have suffered through depression to write about it believably, but you do need to do a lot of research about it to write something that won't offend anyone.

    No; you can understand anything you'd like without knowing the opposite, to even the fullest extent, but you cannot fully appreciate something unless you know the opposite.
     
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  5. ScaryMonster
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    ScaryMonster Active Member

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    I stand corrected. But would someone who only knew suffering really understand it? To such an individual suffering would be the norm.
     
  6. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I honestly don't know the answer to your question. But I had such a difficult life, that most people find it hard to comprehend how so many things could happen to one person. And I'm a pretty good writer, at least, my stories have so far had no problems in attracting reader attention. I believe that my life experience gives me lots of advantages, as well as disadvantages, but it definitely shapes my writing and I can't see myself running out of stories to tell, ever :)
     
  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think the keys are imagination and empathy.

    If somebody has a strong imagination and empathy, they work hard to figure out how another person might feel if something bad happened to them. They might even ASK or do research.

    If people have had bad experiences themselves, they're not always the best people to write about them. (There are always exceptions!) Why? Because people need distance and insight, if their writing isn't going to become a huge, miserable wallow.

    That's not to say that people who have had hard lives can't write about them, and write well—but I don't think it's a prerequisite. It might actually be an obstacle, unless they learn to see beyond the experience itself, and develop a good way to write about it.
     
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  8. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    It helps having a bad and traumatic childhood to grow into an emphatic person - but it won't make you a literate person, which I feel is a more important first step towards getting involved in writing... Also, hard life is not something that necesserily predates the development of an artistic sensibility, which is another prerequisite for a writer... but again, it may help - I think it helped me, but I know a bunch of people with far worse life stories who care neither for aesthetics nor for writing (nor any other meaningful or artistic activity for that matter - but they still have great stories!)
     
  9. HarleyQ.
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    HarleyQ. Just a Little Pit Bull (female)

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    Realization could occur, or it could not. Think of abuse victims; not all victims go on to date abusers, but some do.

    (I'm feeling we should discontinue this discussion, or others might end up off topic as well.)
     
  10. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    To be honest, I don't even know anyone in my age group who's had it easy. Everyone's got some hurdles to overcome, some smaller, some bigger, and a writer can draw from smaller things and expand that feeling to apply to a bigger thing. Say, you broke a finger, maybe you can transfer that experience to describing a broken hand. I don't think the amount of suffering makes a writer. They too have to learn to write, put their pain on paper.
     
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  11. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    Research helps, no matter how much you suffer. I'm no orphan in Cambodia, but I have the imagination to be one!

    That being said, suffering does help a bit. I've suffered through a good lot and I can put those experiences in my characters.
     
  12. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree @jennart. I don't write about my own experiences as an autobiography, that's something I don't really want to spend a lot of time thinking about, and also, I find it difficult to see any humour in it, and humour or at least amusement is an essential part of good fiction (to me anyway). But the dynamics, relationships, events, politics, personalities, philosophy, sociology, history and other aspects of human existence that were revealed to me via the difficult events make it very easy to conjure up characters and plots. Also, it gave me some enduring themes that drive all my stories, regardless of how far removed the storylines are from my personal experience. And then, there's motivation to pass on some of my 'wisdom' so all the suffering wasn't entirely in vain.

    I also agree that being able to write well is essential in being a writer, and that can't be overemphasised. I guess I was just very lucky for that to be my enduring interest in life (art in general, really), so the two sort of came together. That's not to say this is the only way to become a good writer, but I think it helps.
     
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  13. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    As REM said, "everybody hurts sometimes." The stresses of the very priveledged might seem laughable to people in worse conditions, but often happiness is based on expectations, which will be much higher for some people.
     
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  14. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    This!

    There is no single magic ingredient. Good writing requires a confluence of factors, and those factors differ from writer to writer.
     
  15. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think this is actually true. It's one of those things that sounds good, and there's a lot of anecdotal evidence to back it up. However, there are an awful lot of people who have had terrible lives who can't write, and don't write about it. Whatever the percentages are of people who have the skills and interest to write, it's probably about the same with people who have had "bad" lives and people who've had "good" lives. People who've had some traumatic experiences and happen to possess the qualities that make one have the desire and capability to write probably have a lot of things to draw from in creating stories. But there are a huge number of successful authors who haven't had what most people would consider particularly traumatic lives.

    What's important is the ability to be empathetic, to research, to really understand what it might be like to be various sorts of characters in various situations.

    Also, what one person experiences as extremely painful and traumatic, may be a mere bump on the road to another.
     
  16. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think, as Jannert said, the keys are imagination and empathy. Someone can have a bad/tragic/horrible childhood and they'll never grow into a good writer because it's all about them - no one had it as bad, no one can understand, yada yada yada. Their writing will most likely be just as shallow. Others who had a so-called 'good life' can turn into excellent writers because they grow up listening to others, feeling their pain. Do you have to suffer to be a good writer? No. Does it help? Not necessarily.
     
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  17. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I disagree. Plenty of good writers have had relatively easy lives. Some were born into rich families. Others had your average middle-class life (go to college, start a good career, etc.). And still a few others were part of the intellectual elite of their society. So leading a difficult life isn't a prerequisite for being a good writer. In fact, a good writer can write about the most mundane things and make them interesting, which leads me to one of my favorite quotations (which I've posted here on this forum before):
     
  18. Keitsumah
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    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

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    Overall, i think that you either write or you don't. Doesn't matter what your life was like beforehand (yes, suffering and experiences beforehand do make memories to draw upon, but nothing more in my opinion) what matters is if you have the story inside you. Has my family been killed in a house-fire and left me as an orphan? No. Was my older brother killed by wolves? No. Yet i have my character go through those things. I don't even think i know anyone who had those experiences.

    To me, writing is bringing your imagination to life and making it seem as if the author knows just what they are talking about when they could, in fact, not. The trick is to make the reader believe and care about the characters. Now unless your writing is nonfiction, i never think to connect a character's experiences with those of the author's.
     
  19. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Though I suppose, if you have some painful experience under your belt and you have the skill to write, you might be able to reach different depths in your writing than a skilled writer without that painful experience. Even an empathetic, skilled male writer may have trouble putting themselves in the shoes of a raped woman, and the latter, if she's experienced it and is also a skilled writer, may be able to transfer the horror through the words to the reader better. But still, sufferers don't, by default, make the best writers, so kids, don't hurt yourself to become better writers ;)
     
  20. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I have had a relatively easy life, my friend. At 19, I've not lived long enough to experience many great throes. I am sorry to hear of your own misfortune. As to whether or not it has grown you as a person is all a matter of what you did with the experience. All life is a collection of experience, and "good' or "bad" are only matters of perspective. Growth occurs once we take something away from the experience. We are undoubtedly changed by them, but we grow when we become more than we were before them.

    This is exactly right as far as I'm concerned. Having and "easy" or "simple" life leaves one to ask few questions. It can be uninspiring for those who are not naturally inclined to analyze and question. Struggle prompts people to ask "why" and to explore many ideas. It also encourages a full range of emotions. In simplicity, we don't too much pay attention to things.

    I mentioned that I have had an easy life. It is true by comparison. There have been the natural ups and downs as I've ridden life's sinusoid, but nothing overly complicated. But that hasn't kept me from being creative or imaginative. It just limited the emotional range I could portray, reducing the realism of my characters early on. I find that those who suffer more have a hard time portraying joy and positive feelings. And when they do, it's always tinged with more suffering. And oddly enough, most readers would say that's more real on the unfounded notion that things never just work out nicely. People like to wallow in negative emotions--we tend to feel them more acutely.

    I prefer to write whatever comes to me and if it has a happy ending so be it. Good writing isn't all positive nor all negative, and having such life experience does not a creative writer make.
    Good writing is good writing because it effectively conveys whatever it is trying to convey.
     
  21. kburns421
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    kburns421 Member

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    I agree completely.

    Just to add a little more of my opinion, I think it is experience, not necessarily suffering, and reflection on that experience that can make one a better writer. A lot of people just seem to let things in life happen to them without putting in the effort to think about them, feel them, delve deep inside them.

    However, I personally saw my poetry improve with difficulties/suffering. Keep in mind though that correlation does not imply causation. Maybe it had more to do with the fact that I had experienced more and had more or deeper things to write about. Or maybe it simply had to do with moods. Or maybe it had to do with the way poetry is often condensed emotion as opposed to stories or books which often focus on a lot more than just emotion. So I still think someone who has had an easy life can be just as great of a writer as someone who has had a hard life.
     
  22. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I really don't think that being middle class or upper class, a college graduate, successful in a career or an intellectual elite necessarily means one didn't have a very difficult life. Traumas come in various forms, poverty and underprivilege aren't the only modes of suffering. They might be the most obvious, though.
     
  23. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I agree, but I was speaking relatively. At one end of the spectrum, you have writers like Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi (both spent several years in Nazi concentration camps), and then you have writers like Jhumpa Lahiri (to use a contemporary example) and Thomas Mann. The problems and struggles of the latter authors seem quite insignificant when compared to those of the former authors.
     
  24. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sure, I was just pointing out that lack of money isn't the only form of suffering, as your comment seemed to focus on that. I believe there's a lot of suffering in silence going on in the world, and I do believe that particular type of sensitivity can greatly help a writer. Might even motivate them. And just because they have a trust fund, doesn't mean they haven't experienced tremendous pain. People who look on the outside like they 'had it easy' don't necessarily have to had it so. There's a lot of shame and stigma that surrounds certain forms of suffering (severe parental neglect, domestic violence, rape, childhood sexual abuse, severe bullying, illness, loss of loved ones to suicide etc) so many people suffer in silence.
     
  25. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    I don't think it's suffering per se that adds to a story teller's ability to tell a tale. It's life experience. We all have lives. Some are easier and some are harder. Most are both - easier in some places and harder elsewhere. And its the sum total of these that makes us who we are. And who we are determines the types of stories we are able to tell and the stories we want to tell.

    Everyone will know some pain in their lives and some joy by the time they are old enough to write. And they will know more by the time they are able to write well. Will the pain make them more empathetic to suffering? Quite likely. And at the same time will the joy make them empathetic to happiness? Quite likely again. So as a story teller you will bring your own life experiences to the table and those life experiences will help you to tell your tale. But if your life has been with too little pain (Not saying that there should be such a thing here) then maybe you won't be able to tell the painful parts of the story so convincingly. And if your life has been with too little joy, maybe you won't be able to tell the joyful parts of your story.

    So then, you have to bring your imagination to work to fill in the gaps. The things that you can't write so well because you haven't experienced them. And if you know others who have had the life experiences you haven't then maybe you can use their knowledge as well.

    In the end life experience is useful to writing empathetically. But I don't know that its completely essential. And in any case not all stories have to be emotional roller coasters.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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