Capture your pain on paper

Lynn Haney Trowbridge

“Writing is turning one's worst moments into money”

— J. P. Donleavy

Have you ever spent a season in hell? Perhaps you were knocked flat by a life-threatening illness; heartbroken from the death of someone you cherished; or left reeling from a rancorous divorce.

Anyone who’s been through those dark nights of the soul knows ‘closure’ is an overrated word. In unguarded moments, the door on trouble swings open and the demons return. That’s when Johnny Walker beckons from the whiskey cabinet. Resist. Booze can marinate your brain, fatten your liver and - veteran tipplers tell me - love isn’t that great after the fourth drink.

Try writing instead. This addiction doesn’t cost money and you can fume, caterwaul and curse your fate on paper instead of driving your relatives nuts. If you’ve got a funny bone, tickle it. Publishers look for bright spots in dark tales. Best-selling humorist Erma Bombeck once said, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”

Two of my former clients, David Fitzpatrick and Jim Rinere, each realized their dream of writing a book for publication. Both are on intimate terms with what Winston Churchill referred to as the “black dog” of depression.

David Fitzpatrick is a gifted writer. His memoir, “SHARP: My Story of Madness, Cutting, and How I Reclaimed My Life,” was published by William Morrow. Beautifully written and haunting, it received kudos from literary critics and represented a victory for David over the mental illness that cost him years of his life as he struggled in hospitals and group homes. Fortunately, he took notes (about 40 journals worth). And his Irish genes on the matrilineal and patrilineal lines equipped him to mesh humor with sadness.

“My 17-year struggle with bipolar and self-injury used to be a giant force, a tsunami,” David said. “Once I started putting my pain on the page and shaping it into a narrative, I was no longer seeking release from my torment by carving my body with razors as I used to do. It took me years of course, and loads of false starts and stitches and the usual melodrama, but in the end, a voice started to emerge and I found he wasn't such a bad guy after all.”

Madison resident Jim Rinere also snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. To look at this successful businessman and entrepreneur who would guess that he once almost committed suicide on I-95 at exit 59 in Guilford. Jim not only lived but he penned a memoir titled “Peace in Truth: Breaking Through the Demons of Depression to Live a Peaceful and Happy Life.” “Writing the book was cathartic,” said Jim. “It was a huge part of my healing because I was getting all the sh_t in my head down on paper.”

Now, Jim’s a savvy survivor. He knows readers have little patience with emotional diarrhea. They want a well-told story. As a former All-American Lacrosse player, he was trained to set goals, acquire skills, and practice, practice. So he buckled down and learned the craft of writing. Armed with technique, he developed a narrative arc for his memoir while threading in characters, theme, setting, pace – and a soupçon of wit.

Young scribes take heart. You don’t have to wait until middle age to set your pain to paper. I had a Pakistani student who was almost raped by two policemen on a lonely stretch of road in the Lahore province of Punjab. Reflecting on the experience she said: “I’m determined to make a change in my country. But what can I do right now? I’m only 17.” So she embarked on a novel about injustice and the treatment of women in Pakistan, and she set down her Lahore encounter with the cops as her essay in her successful application to Harvard. It’s a safe bet that she’ll publish a book that could do brisk sales. There are worse things in life than cashing royalty checks.

Lynn Haney Trowbridge is an author and writing coach who works with seasoned pros as well as beginners on their novels, memoirs, essays, book proposals and movie projects. Contact Lynn at 203-843-0544 or

Connecticut Media Group