Writing About What Hurts: everybody has a story to tell

By Julie Tyler

As everybody knows, pain can be downright horrible to experience the first time it bites us in the A$$. And oftentimes it hurts even more to talk it after the fact.

What, then, is it like to write about what hurts? What does such writing offer both writers and readers?

In this series, Writing About What Hurts, I explore answers to these questions to make room on FromNothingToNovel for more somber content than we usually put out there. While we want to retain our encouraging and sometimes cheeky flair, we also want to include stories that represent a range of human experiences.

To launch this series, I will share my journey with thyroid disease. Although my trusted friends and family are familiar with what I’ve gone through, I’ve only now, four years after the diagnosis, decided to talk about the ordeal publicly. Here are my goals:

  • Reflect on painful experiences
  • Explore best practices for transforming pain into a work of literature
  • Support other writers who write about hurts of their own
  • Invite current and new contributing authors to share their experiences

First, here’s the hurt

Early 2013, I stepped shakily into the University of Tennessee Medical Center, flanked on either side by my parents. I was going in for a second operation, one week after the first, which revealed I had malignant tissue eating away at my thyroid gland.

I was terrified enough to ask my parents, “Y’all … am I gonna die in here?” My parents, of course, kept their faces cheerful and said what they knew to be true: “No, gal, you’re not gonna die in here.”

Hours later I was stitched up and discharged and everybody said the worst was over. I wanted to believe them, because heck, the malignant tissue was gone and my next step was to get on Synthroid, a hormone to replace what my body could no longer produce. I was ready to feel good as new.

But I didn’t. It turns out that Synthroid, the T4 version of the chemical my body is supposed to convert to active T3, doesn’t work efficiently for me. Over the past four years, my original dose of 100mcg rose to a whopping 175mcg, as doctors attempted to address my symptoms of hypothyroidism. And more recently, an open-minded doctor agreed to trade 25mcg of my T4 dose for a straight shot of T3. Yes, there is a such thing. We wanted to see if the straight shot could bypass the conversion that my system refuses to perform on its own.

These adjustments have helped, thank God. And full-body scans indicate there’s no more malignant tissue inside me. By all accounts, I’m lucky. By all accounts, my experience could’ve been a lot worse. I am grateful for the recovery I have experienced and the support of people close to me. 

What happens after the hurt?

Even after years’ worth of pharmaceutical adjustments, living without a thyroid still takes a toll, because no amount of replacement hormone can ever perfectly mimic what my body used to produce naturally. But as much as those little pills disappoint me, I commit myself on a daily basis to dealing with the hurts, past and present, in productive ways.

For my own edification, I read everything I never wanted to know about thyroids, hormones, and the inadequacies of Western medicine. I also lay plans for a longer project about the pharmaceutical side of thyroid disease, so I can depict, in fiction, the ways in which conventional treatments can limit patients’ quality of life.

Do you have a hurt that you want to write about? Maybe it’s a medical issue, like mine. Maybe it’s heartache from a broken relationship. Maybe it’s losing a loved one or surviving a traumatic experience. Whatever it is, it’s worth your effort to see a project through.

One of our contributors Joan Hicks Boone has already completed a memoir, The Best Girl, that lays bare one of her childhood hurts. As she explains in her recent post, this form of writing offers us valuable opportunities to heal at the same time that we help others.

So how do we start? Tears aside, it’s easier than you might think. By surviving a painful experience, you already have the raw ingredients of a great story. You’ve got conflict, tension, high stakes, and hardship. You’ve also got a protagonist putting one foot in front of the other in order to succeed.

If you liked this article, check out my next in this series, 5 strategies that help you put the pain on paper.

If you write about what hurts, what do you gain and what do you hope to achieve by doing so? We’d love to read your ideas in the comments!


  1. Julie – such a great post about your journey with thyroid cancer and the after effects. As a nurse I know how hard regulating hormones can be.
    Thank you for mentioning my writing journey in your post. I have been on quite a journey, writing about the various things that happened in my childhood. I think your post also points out how hard it can be to share painful/traumatic things publicly – bet to remember that even writing about it in a personal journal can be SO therapeutic. Joan


    • Thanks, Joan. I never thought I’d write about a medical topic, as I don’t have any professional training in that field. Although some days I wish cancer had never come to me, I’m excited to use the experience for something good. I’m particularly looking forward to getting deeper into the science of thyroid disease and combining that with anecdotal data to develop a nifty work of fiction — hybrid genre of some sort.


  2. Writing about pain has allowed me to find my voice to face the situation and resolve it. Seeing words in a screen is like looking at yourself in the mirror. It’s not always pretty, but if you’re willing to be open with who you are, and willing to get past it, you will grown as person and even see a side of you that’s maybe new or was lost.


  3. Wow, thanks for sharing this. I totally think writing about what hurts is absolutely a way to let people understand who you are, and how they can deal with the issue themselves, if they ever experience it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I feel like every pain is an opportunity to first grow and second help others find their growth when going through similar pain. It can be awkward talking about it that’s why I feel like writers have a unique opportunity to reflect and help people at the same time!


    • YESSS! Very awkward to talk about hurts when they’re happening and it’s tough to know who the right people are to tell things to. I learned that the hard way, as they say. But now that the pain is (mostly) over, I’m excited to write about it. I’m a fiction rather than memoir gal, so the characters in my next project on thyroid disease may not resemble me at all. Thanks for your comment, Jen!


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