I don’t exactly remember the high schooler’s question, but it was something about being hesitant to use her traumatic experiences in her writing.
I do remember my answer: “You don’t have to write about the bad stuff.”
Writing does seem help us deal with the bad stuff, but there’s no rule that says we have to pick open our old wounds just so we can squeeze some writing out of them.
There are painful things in my past that I don’t care to think about, let alone write about.
We all have pain.
It isn’t necessarily interesting.
I worry sometimes that young writers think they need to accumulate a bunch of painful experiences in order to exploit them for their writing.
That somehow trauma makes you more interesting or more authentic.
Flannery O’Connor wrote in Mystery and Manners, “The fact is that anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”
I always chuckle when I see the cover of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life:
“You don’t have to write about the bad stuff,” I said to the high schooler. “You can write about whatever you want. You can write about nothing but unicorns if you want to. It’s your choice.”
And even if we do write about our pain, it doesn’t mean we have to share that writing.
Sometimes you suck out the poison and spit it on the page.
Then you close the notebook so it doesn’t poison anyone else.