Have you suffered enough to write the great American novel?
It's a moot point for me as i have little interest in writing fiction---my life and times have been so interesting and yes i've had what most people would consider a bit more than normal share of hardships and traumas. They, along with some crucial positive experiences have shaped who i am.
In the discussion here https://ello.co/rumblepress/post/GHTN8N29X0EQvxKxl5pFKA @booksnips responded to @rumblepress's remark "I think you have The Great American Novel in you." with "Man, I don't think so. I haven't led a tortured enough life to do so, I fear". i made a remark about that and rumbepress responded and we both think this is a topic worthy of discussion for writers. i think for writers of all kinds--poetry, prose fiction and non-fiction.
Here are some things to consider, feel free to respond to any or all:
Is 'great' suffering a prerequisite for great writing?
If so how much is 'enough' suffering? What constitutes suffering?
Is it possible that suffering, hardships, trauma can give us a perspective on life that increases the meaningfulness of some of the nicer parts of life and so our emotional range gets expanded in both directions when we 'get through' the difficulties? Gibran once wrote that our pain carves the vessel for our joy.(Paraphrased) which implies as much.
Certain events we can probably all agree on are 'traumatic' with degree varying depending on exact nature of the event and at what age:
Abuse--verbal/physical/sexual; inflicted by family, acquaintance or stranger
Serious, debilitating injuries or illnesses, either our own or loved ones'
Death--of family, friend, beloved pets
Other events may FEEL worse for some of us than they do for others:
Divorce--of our parents, later in life our own, or grown children's
Losses: Friends, Home, possessions, family, self-image
Moving---age, reason for move, especially whether you chose or not being big factors in how it effects your emotions.
Poverty---lots of factors in how one feels about having grown up financially 'poor'. And lots of ways this can impact who we are, how we behave and thus what we may write about and how.
i tend to think, as i stated on the original discussion, that we may not be the best judge of our suffering--at least not until age and experience helps us really 'process' it and its impact on us. If we 'coped' fairly well at the time we may not attach the label of suffering or trauma to it even tho objectively speaking it qualifies. Many events suffered early in life, will be reprocessed at various stages of life. When we reprocess, we often reframe--hopefully with labels that move us towards mental/emotional health not toward fear/anger/bitterness.
Suggested exercise, which can be done before responding in general or after. If doing after first response gives you new insights, come back and share if you like, i'm full of curiosity about how others think/feel:
1. Make a list of the five most 'painful' life experiences you have had.
2. Take another look at the list of various human hardships in ¶ 4 above. How many and what kind were on your top five? More to my point, have you experienced some of these but not really framed them as 'suffering' or even difficulties because they were so entrenched in your life at the time, they seemed 'normal', perhaps you thought everyone endured them?
3. Can you identify 2 or more ways each of your 5 toughest experiences effected you? Perhaps in both good and bad ways?
4. How have your life experiences effected what and how you write?