To be a writer, you must understand pain. It is not an easy thing to do, nor is it something you can create for yourself. To be a writer, or at least, to be a good one, means that you must have lived, that you must have an understanding of the essentials of humanity. Not just love and hate, but more complex "feelings," or emotions. The sting of bitter betrayal. The yearning in your heart for something unattainable. The drive and ambition it takes to become as cold as steel. The feeling you get when you see a loved one walking down the road one day alongside a person you do not like and meeting their eyes, just for a second, only to see their confusion at your pain. These are the things we feel that we cannot describe, that there are not deep enough words for. It is the writer's job to channel these complex human emotions and translate them into circumstances and plots and themes that are relatable to their readers.
But why pain, as opposed to more positive examples?
Pain grows you. Pain helps you understand where other people are coming from. Pain gives you empathy. It is an understanding of yourself and others that cuts deeper than a simple conversation. To understand one's pain is to look them in the eyes and share something beyond words. To be broken is to glue yourself back up again, stronger this time.
Happiness makes you numb. If that were not so, then there would be no divide between the rich and the poor, no lack of understanding between the refugee and the rescuer. I believe that if we truly understood pain, we would not act and live as naively as we do here in America. Despite our differences, we could see the real being behind the face or body. We don't have to agree with their political leaning or way of living, but we can understand! And we could see what lies there instead. In my opinion, happiness and contentment, for prolonged periods of time, is the prescription for mediocrity and apathy.
(Joy, however, is not like happiness. It is not like pain. Joy is something you are, not something you feel. It is one's choice to be joyous, to keep hope alive and burning. You can 'feel' pain and joy at the same time, they are not the other's antithesis.)
This is only a snippet of what writers must understand, to truly understand the human condition and breathe life into characters they create from the graphite of a pencil tip. Struggles, motivations, ways with handling situations, these are our characters, and at the same time, they are us.
The balance therein lies not in allowing our emotions, whatever they may be, to consume us. Our experiences are what can shape us, but they do not define us. We can choose who we will be despite our circumstances. And perhaps this is where we as writers differ from our characters. We may wield the pen, but we are not the product of it. We direct our characters' paths and feelings, drawing on our own lives to help them fully express themselves. They are, in a way, the image of us. But not us. And this is why we as writers must live and understand what it means to be a human being, so that in turn our characters will reflect this, too. Because we are not writing these characters only to bury them. We write them because maybe they, the reflections of ourselves, can influence the real world around us. We've all been touched by a certain scene in a movie, or conversation in a book, in many different ways. We call some of the best of these 'classics' because they stand against the test of time. We relate to them, because in a sense, they tell us things about ourselves. And this is what I strive to do as a writer, to influence readers, whoever they are, and teach them something about themselves.
That being said, when I am lonely, or when I feel pain, or when I am caught in the middle of a maelstrom and can hardly see in front of me, there is a certain kind of peace about it. That this is life, this is what everyone who has ever lived before me and is living now and will someday live, experiences. The situation can be resolved in whatever way it must, but the feeling, the bare bones of the stuff, that is what grows someone into a deeper understanding. Whether the interpretation is true or skewed is irrelevant. We all feel the same emotions, and the varied nature of them is what makes us human. Writers have always influenced their readers in different ways. I doubt Kurt Vonnegut understood humanity in the same way C.S. Lewis did. And yet, their writings both bring to light so many facets of what makes us, us.
To be a writer, you must understand pain. Understand pain, I said. Don't go jabbing yourself with a pencil, you crazy kid. Live.