The Two Great Pains of Storytelling
Storytellers often suffer from two types of pain.
These pains are a part of how we emotionally deal with the job of storytelling. They should not be approached lightly. If you are experience these pains you should avoid seeking the medical attention of alcohol, drugs, or the too extreme option of giving up.
Instead, try to understand why you feel the pain and how you can create to counteract the symptoms you may be experiencing below.
Pain #1 - The Roots
The first pain is the pain of holding onto a story. This happens when you’ve carried around an idea and let it grow inside of you. The idea begins to take roots that poke out through your body, begging for release.
There was a time when I couldn’t stop thinking about addiction. I thought about addiction as it’s struck my sister. I read into the topic searching for meaning. I formed deep sympathies with those suffering and then I held onto a story idea. I carried around the pain the character felt for too long. I was unable to explain my emotions and held it all inside.
The symptoms: This sort of pain is a swelling. It begins to appear at first in waves and then into your daily life. You’ll hear the character’s voice or constantly think back to the emotion associated with the idea. It will feel like your own emotions. You may obsessive seek out other stories or experiences in relation to your story. It will grow and grow inside of you until you start writing. You may deal with psychological symptoms of guilt, dread, anxiety, fear, shame while avoiding the story. You are essentially avoiding yourself.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” - Maya Angelou
The solution: Write down the story. You will learn to determine when a story or idea is taking hold of you strongly enough. It shouldn’t be ignored. Ignoring the roots can provide deep pain and if they sink back away, you may feel the slivers of a past story haunting you. You are not doing your job. You are not helping yourself or others understand the story at hand.
If this pain is a personal experience it often has to crystallize before you yourself can clearly see the experience and the meaning you need to create. I think that’s why it takes some author’s decades to write a memoir about a deeply painful experience in their young adult days (See: Wild by Cherly Strayed).
Pain #2 - Message in a Bottle Syndrome
The other pain is one of loneliness, and for storytellers it is a much more complex mixture of loneliness.
I choose to read and write because it is how I feel deeply connected to the world, how I can express emotions and sympathy towards others. It is how I understand and experience life.
But there are many times I feel lonely as a writer. The greatest loneliness is a frustration of self-worth. It arrives when are working away on a story we receive from some strange messenger of inspiration. We slave away for months, years, decades at times and we never know if that story will make it out to an audience or sometimes why we are creating it. This can deeply worry storytellers and cause them to stop submitting their stories into the world.
The Symptoms: You’ve been working hard on a story or considering a new venture but there is something holding you back. You feel it may not be good enough to pursue work or share your work. You feel beaten down by rejections. You begin to contemplate that nothing in this world is worth effort and that we are all going to die in the end so what is the point? Then you go back to bed. It is a fear of never succeeding. It is a fear of not being good enough you must confront.
You may deal with psychological symptoms of fear, self-deprecation, shame, guilt, a need for other’s approval. You are afraid that you’re not worthy. You are hurting yourself. You must choose and believe that you are worthy no matter what.
“A life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.” - Neil Gaiman
The Solution: Developing self-love and perseverance. Choose yourself as James Altucher would say and show you through his own self- publishing. You must deal with this emotionally by telling yourself I will find a home for this piece. I will practice to become great. I will take risks and put my work out there. The real risk is not having ears and eyes on your work, and that happens when you choose to go back to bed. You have to cultivate faith in yourself and your work and keep working hard.
This is much more difficult than it sounds and it can only truly be combated by practicing faith and storytelling daily. Each day you should write, edit, or send out submissions. Even if you can only find one hour or twenty minutes in your day. Every opportunity to share your work should be accepted. Every rejection should be taken with a grain of salt.
Push yourself forward daily and then look back and remind yourself how far you’ve traveled.
We must always remember: Though we feel lonely at times creating, it is our art and stories that combat loneliness in the world for others.
If you choose to work daily at this, I can guaranteed that your work will be heard and appreciated. That one person’s life may be changed by your story.
But if you choose to go back to bed then essentially you choose to give up.
That is the greatest loss of all. Show the world what you’ve got.