This guest post is by Gemma Hawdon. Gemma lives in Melbourne and writes novels, short stories, and articles. You can read her blog, Gemma Hawdon, Copywriter, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@gemmaleehawdon).

Have you ever tried to write about a personal tragedy or painful experience? How did it make you feel? What complications arose?

Emotional Conflict

Photo by Sippanont Samchai (Creative Commons)

How Do You Write About Tragedy?

A year ago a close friend of mine took his own life. As a means of reprieve, I set about trying to write about him. I ended up with a string of memories and details that made me laugh or cry or both. Too painful to continue at the time, I left it alone and carried on with other things.

A few months later I picked up from where I left off, this time allowing myself the creative freedom to just write wherever it led me. I began to play with the truth, altering elements of what I’d written, expanding the story; even making things up.

I soon felt torn between conflicting minds: should I stay true to the facts to honor my friend and the relationship we had? Or should I draw from my experience to create something with relevance and appeal to a broader audience?

What Is Your Motivation to Write: Release or Therapy?

When you feel morally conflicted like this, it’s often helpful to figure out why you’ve chosen to write about a particular subject:

Is it for release or therapy?

In which case, allow yourself to write freely, without judgment. This is a private and personal experience, often not for the public eye.

Do you intend to publish what you’re writing about?

If so, are you presenting your story as truth? This can often complicate the process of writing. You feel responsible for the feelings of those involved. You worry about what they’ll think, how they’ll react. It might be necessary to discuss what you’re writing with those concerned. That way, you can gain an understanding of how they feel about it and know your limits: which details are safe to include? Are there details you should leave out?

Are you writing fiction?

All writers draw from personal experience for inspiration. In fiction, we have the scope and freedom to alter and expand on the truth. We’re not using real names or specific details. However, it can still present complications when drawing from experiences that are raw and painful, or from stories that are not our own.

Writing is an emotional business

It’s only natural to feel conflicted when writing from a place of vulnerability, but often we produce our best work when we write from the heart. It’s a form of expression, release and inspiration. If you’re finding it difficult to write about something, you may need to ask yourself why. Is this a story you want to share? How will it affect the people involved?

I finished the story about my friend. In the end, I decided to keep to the truth and wrote about all those small, treasured details I never want to forget. I saved it in a file named ‘personal’. For the time being anyway, it’s not a story I feel comfortable sharing.

How about you? Have you ever written about a personal tragedy.


Try writing about an event or incident that’s personal. In the comments section, tell us what emotional conflicts arose? How did it affect your writing? If you were to publish this story, do you think you would change anything?

Write for fifteen minutes. If you feel comfortable, share your story in the comments section below. If you don't, then feel free to save it in a file named personal and keep it to yourself. Either way, happy writing.

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