This guest post is by regular Write Practice reader, Beck Gambill. You can find Beck at her blog, Beck Far From Home, and on Facebook. Thanks for joining us today, Beck!

I recently heard Horatio Spaford’s great song, “It is Well With My Soul”. I was moved, as I have been many times before. How is it that a song, a really old song, hasn’t gotten musty and useless over the years? Why do the words of others have the ability to touch our hearts so deeply?

Have you ever wondered how an author seems to be inside your head?

I looked up the story behind the song hoping to find some answers. It turns out Spaford’s writing didn’t come out of a vacuum, but out of his own suffering. His experience can teach you how to powerfully connect your own suffering to the larger, human experience.


Photo by Vinoth Chandar

Spaford’s Suffering

The story is compelling. Spaford was a lawyer who lived in Chicago during the late 1800s. After his young son died and he lost a large real estate investment in the Chicago fire of 1871, he decided his family needed a vacation. Due to a business delay he sent his family, wife Anna and their four daughters, ahead of him to England by ship.

On November 22, 1873 the steamship Ville du Havre was struck by an iron sailing vessel and sunk. All four of his daughters died, and only his wife survived. Horatio boarded a ship right away to meet his grieving wife in England. As he passed over the spot where his daughters had lost their lives he wrote the words to “It is Well With My Soul”:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well,
with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Horatio wrote this song in response to his own pain, but the words went on to comfort generations.

Pain is a common denominator and we all want to know someone understands. What better way to connect with your readers than to tap into the pain of your life, or that of another, and make it useful. When you offer pain up as a gift, it allows others a way to connect. Sharing pain makes it meaningful.

Use Your Pain

There are dangers to this kind of writing. It opens up the most sensitive places of your life and can make you vulnerable to misunderstanding and censure. You need to be aware of the potential consequences of such vulnerability. You also need to be careful not to make your readers responsible for your own emotions and healing. Sharing too much can be, well, too much. You don’t want your readers to walk away feeling like the victims of your emotional spew.

However, with the right amount of transparency in your stories will connect your readers to their own places of pain. Your words may even transform their pain into joy.

Have you been moved by someone else’s pain in a song or a piece of literature? What was it that moved you?


Think about a painful experience in your life and what you learned from it. Then write for fifteen minutes about that experience in a way that connects with your readers and shares meaning. It can be either a fictional or non-fictional piece.

Post your practice in the comments section below, and make sure to comment on a few pieces by other writers as well!

Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let’s Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).