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Why It Hurts To Write: An Analysis of Pain in the Writing ProcessBy Kate Murray and Gregory Bortnichak

Nominated by Arnold Sanders, Associate Professor of English 

From the Author: One of the things that scared me the most about finishing college were the memories I had from the two-month period I had dedicated to researching and writing this paper. It was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life.

The actual writing did not commence until after a full month of research had been accumulated, summarized, and organized by my dear friend and co-author, Kate Murray. Kate and I then met nearly every night for another few weeks for free-form stream-of-consciousness discussions about everything the sources brought to mind, and just how on earth we were going to synthesize all of them into a cohesive piece. My best guess as to why we chose the topic of “Pain in the Writing Process” is that we were both hurting from the mere anticipation of writing this particular essay, and we needed help figuring out why.

In order to make the narrative voice more consistent, as well as to accommodate personal needs of my co-author, I agreed to the majority of the writing and began a ceaseless two-week battle between the Paper and I. In a way it became my trip to the literary sweat-lodge. I hoped to bring back something that could transcend mere facts and theory.

The end result was something I could barely recognize. I had a very hard time revisiting this paper for final edits. Whenever I would try, I was strangely overcome with an eerie feeling that I was traveling back to an old home filled with memories that may best be forgotten. It was a challenging experience, through and through, that reminded me of how brave anyone is who willingly experiences trauma to produce a piece of honest writing.

To anyone who struggles with their craft: I know there is someone, somewhere who will find themselves in your words. Jack Kerouac describes the challenge of an artist quite beautifully: “[they] fill empty space with substance of our lives.” Culling that which is everything out of the ether is no small feat. Be proud.

From the Faculty Nominator: Greg Bortnichak’s and Kate Murray’s collaboratively researched and written English 221 paper combines excellent interdisciplinary research to reach conclusions that are important for all serious writers, as well as for writing teachers and Writing Center tutors. I was impressed by the coherent authorial persona from which the paper appears to arise, even though it was produced by two experienced writers with distinctly differing personal styles.  They connect the classical and modern philosophy of pain with neurological and social-psychological studies to explain pain as a spiritual, biological, and intellectual event. This contextualizes their thorough survey of recent research on pain as part of the composing process experienced by writers of academic prose, poetry, and fiction. Their description of how pain functions as part of intense intellectual effort suggests ways writers can endure pain or even use it creatively.

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