Tap the Source: Writing from the Heart

On February 21, 2012, in In Memoriam, Writing Tips, by rsguthrie

Our son, Brody

Today is one of those days—you know the ones. The bad anniversaries. As humans we have this quaint habit of putting a date on everything so that we can remember it later. Wedding anniversaries top the list. Birthdays—the anniversary of our own birth into this big, wonderful world. New relationships have the lovestruck one week, one month, and six-month anniversaries.

But not all dates are remembered so fondly. 9/11 comes to mind. Dates that go down in infamy. We remember those, too.

Four years ago I really learned what it means to write from the heart. Most of us think we’ve experienced tragedy in our lives, and we have. Most of us know, however, that tragedy is relative. It’s relative to others’ lives and it’s relative within our own life.

In 2002 I had cancer. I was also married that year. In fact, the scar from the removal of my tumor was still Frankenstein-fresh the day I said my vows. The chemo and radiation were in lieu of a honeymoon. I thought that year I had experienced tragedy. I thought then I was writing from my heart.

Kahlil Gibran wrote:


“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”

Sounds a bit counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Not to me—not anymore. Gibran knew. Everything we love, hate, admire, scorn, and yes, mourn, is contained in (or carved from) the heart. He went on to write:

“Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

It took my son dying for me to realize these truths. Such loss is every parent’s nightmare. We can’t imagine it, nor should we be able to imagine it. Not really. The closest comparison may be the loss of a limb, but I’d trade all of mine to have him back. The carving of which Gibran spoke goes deepest in the death of a child, I think. Is there any loss more abhorrent to the laws of God, Nature, Physics, or even common sense? The youngest among us dying first?

The death of a child creates destruction within a parent’s heart the way a twister razes the countryside, leaving nothing in it’s path.

Or does it leave nothing? It leaves emptiness, yes, but as Gibran posits, that emptiness is fresh space in which to pour the joy of life. What we then discover is that so many of those joys indeed do come in the form of memories—memories of the child we lost. We weep for that which has been our delight.

As writers, part of our job is to tap into that source. The heart. The place in the soul where all of these human emotions are carved and reborn. When we write from this place our words are steeped in an authenticity and verve that cannot be conjured by simply stroking ink on a blank page. Think about it: you’ve read words before that are just black color on a white page, haven’t you? And then you’ve read a passage that sings to your soul; a book or a chapter or even a sentence that seeps into your heart and makes you feel.

If you write from the heart it means you care about the words you are placing on the blank canvas. Whether you write of joy or terror or wonder or pain, as Gibran implies, they are all from the same source and therefore are, in so many ways, of the same core. Our human core. That which separates us from all the beasts on the earth.

Our soul.

And it is on this day that my soul aches, yet at the same time the negative space in my heart has begun to fill again; fill with those wonderful memories of the time we had with our little boy. He’s gone but his memories still make me smile. The joy he once gave us refills the space his leaving carved inside. And when I write, regardless of what it is I write about, I connect to that place.

I tap the source.

Four years. It’s a long time and then again a blink against the ages. Time roars past. Armies pick up and put down their weapons a thousand times over. We can’t stop it. Time. The best we can do is to plug in.

Tap the source.

Try it. Your writing will be all the better for it, I promise.



18 Responses to Tap the Source: Writing from the Heart

  1. “that emptiness is fresh space in which to pour the joy of life….”

    This line; it speaks.

    I got here from a link your brother posted and I am glad to have found this. I recently experienced loss and have found that my writing about living life is much more buoyant. I wrote about it before, but the words were just words. Now it is my life rolled into those words.

    Thank you for writing so painfully and beautifully about writing with heart.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Hi, Alycia. Thanks so much for commenting. I’m truly sorry for your loss, but I’m happy that you, too, have found some strength and that you’ve connected your writing more to your heart. I didn’t mention it, but I think that’s another way our loved ones go on: in our writing. And that’s something that will last forever. 🙂

  2. Trish says:

    Rob, I remember when my parents died, people would come up to me and say over and over, “time heals all wounds”. They were wrong. Time never heals wounds. Rather we find a way to heal ourselves. It’s done as you say. We fill that gaping wound with memories, memories of time spent with those that passed and new memories, created from the person we have become because of that precious time shared.

    As writers, we are indeed fortunate to be able to tap the source containing those memories. It is an incredible gift given to us. And if we truly write from the heart, allow the reader to feel our emotion, it is in that moment when I believe the memories we have go dwell in another and live on forever.

    This piece you have written today, The Letter to Brody, it has all touched me and I’m sure others. Thank you for sharing your memories. I promise next time I write from the heart they will be there with mine.


    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks, Trish. I really appreciate the kind words. You’re right about time, or rather about wounds: they never heal completely — more like a scab-over that is always there, just a scratch away from bleeding. We learn better how to avoid the scratches, and what to do when we have one…but such deep wounds, they are always there. Thanks again for your thoughtful words, my friend. 🙂

    • Jodi Aman says:

      I always think that time is were the wounds are and healing is beyond time. Time is where we suffer!

  3. Rob, I am so sorry for your loss. Parents should never outlive their children. Wanted to pass along a blog for you to peruse in your spare time. I met Ara when we both first hit the road full-time RVing. He had left a lucrative career as a professional chef after his son died from cancer. I had lost my husband to cancer a few years earlier. We became good friends.

    His blog contains the most amazing photography and his writing is ‘different’. English is his second language but somehow his words turn into poetry.

    He travels full-time with his pitbull rescue, Spirit, who loves riding in the sidecar on Ara’s BMW. http://theoasisofmysoul.com

  4. I’m quite young, relatively (almost 28), so I’m told that I have yet to experience a lot of ‘life’s tortures’ that I can use to put into my writing. Part of me fears it terribly, but I think I understand what you’re saying here and I’m grateful to you for sharing.

    The loss of a child is something I cannot even imagine and your words here have touched me deeply. I’ll share this page and remember it as I continue working today.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Hi, Ileandra. Thanks so much for commenting. Yes, I can certainly see how daunting it must seem. The thing to remember is that things happen differently for every person. I was 35 years never having been in a hospital when I got cancer. Yes, cancer was bad, but I had 35 years of completely and total health to enjoy! I think the bigger message is probably “enjoy each day” — the old Carpe Diem edict. It’s hard to do. I don’t always have a great attitude and I still let some days slip by without tasting the marrow, but overall I really have learned to enjoy the moment more. Even at 28, you can, too! Don’t worry about whatever tragedies may or may not be in store for you. Know that when they come, there will be a reason…here is one of my favorite quotes that deals with this very dilemma:

      Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.
      Louise Erdrich

      • This is absolutely true, experience is not necessarily tied to age, things happen differently for everyone. By the time I was 24 I had surgery four times (2 cancer related and the first time when I was 19) been married to a man I didn’t know had multiple personalities, and then divorced, my Dad severed some fingers in a circular saw accident, was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition, and then got a heart transplant (10 days before my wedding). There are days I feel old, but these emotional experiences are things I can feed into my writing.

        I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your child. As a mother, my heart shrivels at the very thought of outliving my beautiful daughter. The emotion of your experiences in your words has undoubtedly touched me.

        • rsguthrie says:

          You are so right…age has nothing to do with it. You obviously have seen a cavern carved in your own being. I, too, am moved by your story, Ciara. But I’m happy that you, too, have used the experiences and pain to infuse your excellent writing. Bravo. 🙂

  5. I am so sorry about you losing your son. I cannot even fathom how horrible that must be.

    That being said, this is a beautiful post, and it is definitely one from the heart.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  6. You’ve created a very beautiful piece out of a horribly sad event. I’m sorry to learn about your son, and thank you for sharing.

  7. From a woman who too knew all about loss:

    “The path of love is not a path of comfort. It means going forward into the unknown, with no guarantees of safety, even though you are afraid. Trusting is dangerous, but without trust there is no hope for love, and love is all we ever have to hold against the dark.”

    Creina Alcock’s voice
    My Traitor’s Heart (A true story)

    Holding your heart close…

  8. Bert Carson says:

    My mentor, Nevil Shute, wrote this passage a long time ago. You’ve read it a couple of times in one of my books – I share it with you again, in honor of your son, Brody and our friendship, my brother —
    “I still think Connie was a human man, a very, very good one – but a man. I have been wrong in my judgments many times before; if now I am ignorant and blind, I’m sorry, but it’s no new thing. If that should be the case, though, it means that on the fields and farms of England, on the airstrips of the desert and the jungle, in the hangars of the Persian Gulf and on the tarmacs of the southern islands, I have walked and talked with God.”

  9. […] Karen Mahoney talks about the turning points that made her an author. R.S. Guthrie urges us to tap the source and write from the heart, and Kat Howard gives us a wonderful post on Madeline L’Engle and books as […]

  10. Jo VonBargen says:

    Your advice will have a new and special meaning to me forever after reading this, Rob. Thank you for opening the wound yet again to share this with all of us. So beautifully and eloquently rendered. The spirit of your son will live on in our thoughts every single time we remind ourselves to write from the heart. My own heart goes out to you and yours, my friend.

  11. Duncan Long says:

    Beautiful thoughts. Thanks so much for sharing these.

  12. […] get better.  He inked one of the most painfully beautiful posts I’ve read this year titled Tap the Source: Writing from the Heart. Read this and you’ll have a good understanding where R.S. draws his motivation from. I’ve […]

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