Write what hurts, but only when you’re good and ready

Photo by Vidal Balielo Jr. on Pexels.com

Recently, as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and swamped everything else, my day job and my writing world collided. As I work as an anaesthetist (or anesthesiologist, depending on where you live), I found myself preparing for work on the front line of this crisis. My email inbox was full of protocols and updates, my days were loaded with simulation training, and to top it all off, I couldn’t stop scrolling through Twitter and news sites. As a result, my anxiety ramped up and my writing brain shut down. For several weeks, until I settled into a new routine and found some sort of equilibrium, I couldn’t write a word. Unless you count anxious tweeting. I did plenty of that. One of those tweets caught the eye of a reporter, and I found myself doing an interview about the impact of the pandemic preparation on my family.

Fortunately, we have been lucky so far in Australia. Thanks to good public health policy and favourable geography, our caseload is manageable and our government is cautiously beginning to loosen the lockdown. The reprieve has given us time to increase supplies of PPE and expand our skills and capacity to deal with a future surge of cases if and when it may occur. And finally, as we reach this point of control, I am once again able to access my creative brain.

A conversation arose on Twitter following the above news article, in which I was asked whether I planned to write about my experiences at work. The short answer was no, but it did get me thinking about the power of writing about hardship and when you should, as Hemingway once said, ‘write hard and clear about what hurts’.

My best writing always comes from a seed of truth. Mining painful moments, reliving psychological distress, can produce powerful, honest writing which resonates with readers. But here’s the thing: I can’t seem to write about painful events in the moment. I need distance, because with distance comes clarity. With distance you can see the big picture and process emotions so that others can, hopefully, relate. The more painful the experience, the more distance I need.

At this time, I want to write about everything other than COVID-19. Right now, although we’re in a good place, so many parts of the world are suffering. So many people are dying. And we are so far from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t know if I will ever write about my experience with the pandemic, but if I do, it will happen some time in the future, when I’m good and ready.

How are you coping right now? Do you believe in writing what hurts?

By Lisa Kenway

Lisa Kenway is an Australian writer and doctor. Her debut psychological thriller, ALL YOU TOOK FROM ME, is coming in August 2024 from Transit Lounge Publishing. An early version was long-listed for the 2020 Richell Prize. A 2023 Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre fellow, her work has appeared in Island Online, the Meanjin blog, Meniscus Literary Journal and elsewhere. Find her at www.lisakenway.com or on Twitter @LisaKenway.


  1. Great post Lisa.
    I think these crazy times have affected many in this way.
    For weeks I haven’t been able to do any writing or editing on my novel. Somehow seemed pointless.
    I have decided to just do braindumps on Covid-19 hoping it will get me back on track. For now Im not forcing anything. This is a time to listen to our hearts and just do whatever feels right.
    Stay safe Lisa.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree Lisa.

    Certainly my best writing is when looking back but my most therapeutic writing, I will say, is done in the moment.

    Good luck through all this. How fortunate are we to live in this country. Thanks for what you are doing.

    I hope the second wave, spike, curve is one of calm waters and not one of a tsunami or storm.


    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree Lisa – to write at our best we need time to reflect and understand our reactions. Right now, the situation is still very much evolving and I don’t feel inclined to write either.

    I do have a lot of feelings though around how some people close to me have shown themselves to be incredibly kind and community-minded, whereas others have revealed themselves to be seemingly ‘all about them’, wanting ongoing freedom for themselves rather than considering the greater good. One friend emailed me crossly saying the way I was talking about Covid-19 and how we should all stay home (this was when numbers were doubling every 3.5 days) made her feel ‘lectured at’ and guilty when she went to the hairdresser. As you can tell from just this comment of mine, I’m still upset and frustrated, and I think I need to move past those really high emotions before I can write about it.

    I’m sure what you feel the urge to write about will be much more important than friendship issues! Looking forward to reading your words one day, when and if you’re ready.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Fiona. I’ve had those feelings too, intense distress about the actions of others. Things that are out of my control, and seem less important with the passage of time. Take care, Fiona. xx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Like you, I cannot write about painful experiences while they are happening, I need distance. If you are in the middle of a crisis, it takes everything you’ve got to get through it. i have been able to write about my COVID experiences because I have been in a state of denial. Unable to comprehend how this has taken over the world, writing has help break it all down into manageable pieces.Thank you for your service at this difficult time.


    1. Thanks, Naomi. It’s great that you can write at the moment. I’ve been able to dip back into writing over the last week or so, and it’s helping me to feel more settled. Initially, it was too hard to concentrate.


  5. Thanks for everything you are doing Lisa. Your compassion and humanity really shines in this post. I really struggle to write about painful events and certainly agree that it takes time to process those events before putting fingers to keyboard.

    Liked by 1 person

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