Acceptance and Writing: Suffering Borne Well

Acceptance is “the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered,” according to the Oxford Dictionary. Daily we accept things—situations, people, rewards, criticism. Though we might blush at being the recipients of some good we feel is unmerited, acceptance of gifts and blessings is often easy. We welcome comfort, security, favor, and praise, as they encourage us and assuage our anxieties about ourselves and our world. Acceptance of suffering and challenges, however, comes less naturally. We balk at pain, and well we should, as pain is the body’s way of indicating something is wrong. Pain is a warning signal.

Perhaps we forget, though, that acceptance is not the same as approval. We need not endorse the cause of our suffering to receive it with grace. There is merit in suffering well such that clergyman and social reformer Henry Ward Beecher observed, “Suffering well borne is better than suffering removed.” Pain breaks us down and reforms us. It shatters our fragile assumptions of safety and misconceived notions about what is good, then builds something stronger and more robust in their place. At least suffering can do these things if we allow it to. What it requires is acceptance.

How does this relate to writing? Writing is a challenge and a struggle—it is often painful. Whether you are experiencing an agonizing block to adding to your manuscript, smarting over the ridiculous mistakes you made in your first drafts, tender from critique as you realize someone saw those mistakes, or aching from rejection after rejection by agents and publishers, if you are a writer, you know what it is to hurt. The funny thing is that it is self-inflicted. We enter this life, perhaps unknowingly, as soon as we pick up the pen or sit down at the keyboard. Every step is another step into the sorrow of an artist—the persistent sense of unfulfillment, of being on a journey and not knowing if you’ll ever reach the destination. It is a pursuit of perfection with an acute awareness of your own limitations. Writing is suffering.

Yet we accept this suffering. We accept it in all its stinging, aching heartbreak, but why? I think we realize that something beautiful can emerge from it, and I do not mean the printed volume. Mary Tyler Moore put it well when she said, “Pain nourishes courage. You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.” It takes great courage to be a writer—to pour one’s heart and skill into a mere few hundred pages (I have wondered whether a bookshelf, much less a single book can contain one’s heart) and to submit it to others for their perusal and interpretation. Some eyes are kind and insightful, to be sure, but there are vicious critics out there too, ready to devour our resolve and mettle. Yet our valor and daring run deeper. We have accepted the call.

We think we are receiving a challenge and suffering when we write (and we are), but it might in fact be a greater gift and blessing than we could have imagined. Perhaps we ought to blush at this—the opportunity to create, to explore, to take chances, to fail and pick ourselves back up, proving ourselves stronger than we ever thought we could be. Perhaps we ought to revel in our weaknesses and limitations because it is our awareness of them that shows our boldness and dauntlessness in striding ahead. When we accept writing as a gift, albeit a painful one, we prepare ourselves to be recipients of a glory not our own. It is a glory bestowed on those heroes who step out, knowing they will fall, determined to get back up and return to the fight. We will not give up.

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