Last spring my dentist told me to have my wisdom teeth out. My sister, who had hers out two years ago, said, “No biggie. I cooked dinner that night and had a friend over the next day. I was back at work the day after that.”

My dad, who also had his out later in life, said, “I didn’t even need the pain meds. Besides, your mouth heals fast.”

Okay, I thought. Let’s do this. Last week I had my wisdom teeth out. All four.

You know that little pamphlet of information they send home with you at the end? The one that tells about possible side effects and caring for your mouth during recovery? Yeah, so check them off down the list, I had every possible negative side effect.

  • Swelling. Check.
  • Lock Jaw. Check.
  • Bleeding. Check.
  • Nausea. Check.
  • On and on…
  • AND ON.

I laid on the couch for six days in various stages of pain. In my waking moments, aside from cursing my family, I also thought about the writing I’ve been doing this summer. Without teaching, my calendar has been wide open. I’ve headed into my office each morning with a cup of coffee and a goal. 1,000 words. Everyday. 1,000 words.

I’ve been relatively successful, drafting a more complex story than I’ve ever had. I’ve found my main character’s motivation and developed a path with forward momentum. But when I was in pain on the couch, thinking about writing, I wasn’t thinking about my accomplishments. I was thinking about the pain. All summer I have felt a certain pain, a certain gnawing deep down in my stomach. A writing pain.

As far as I can identify, there are at least five negative side effects to writing, all of which contribute to the gnawing in my stomach. These are:

  • Empathy (for the pain I put my characters through)
  • Frustration (on the days when I don’t get 1,000 words)
  • Guilt (on the days when I do get 1,000 words but stop)
  • Fatigue (because I can’t rest with plot “what if’s” racing in my mind)
  • Longing (for excellence: a satisfying story)

While my wisdom teeth side effects are slowly going away, I find that I’m back to that other kind of pain. And this is where it’s tricky, because there is no relief. At first I thought writing more would be my aspirin. But writing more actually increases the gnawing pain. Perhaps the only cure is story completion. Perhaps these painful side effects are not something to be rid of, but something to be nurtured as fuel for the fire.


  • Empathy. Check.
  • Frustration. Check.
  • Guilt. Check.
  • Fatigue. Check.
  • Longing. Check.

What symptoms of writing pain fuel your journey to reach a story’s end?