• Prompt: “All sorrows can be borne”

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 14 comments


    Writing Prompt: Write a response to the following line from Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen): “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” If you’d like to share — and we hope you will! — post it in the comments below.




    WriteByNighter Susan H. brought this line to my attention a few weeks ago and I’ve been sitting on it, wondering what to do with it, knowing that I wanted to do something. But in the end, I decided what could I possibly do that would be better than throwing it out to you all as a prompt?

    So in the comments below, write a response to this line from Karen Blixen, which is from a 1957 New York Times interview (paywall): “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.”


    Here’s some more from that interview, which puts the line above into some context:

    “I am not a novelist, really not even a writer; I am a storyteller. One of my friends said about me that I think all sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them, and perhaps this is not entirely untrue. To me, the explanation of life seems to be its melody, its pattern. And I feel in life such an infinite, truly inconceivable fantasy.”

    Now if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to go write my own response.


    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you reach your creative potential. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres. Browse our book coachingmanuscript consultation, and publication assistance services, and sign up for your free writing consultation today.

    david blog


    WriteByNight writing coach and co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.



    5 2 votes
    Article Rating
    Notify of

    Newest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
    Kay Starks

    I have yet to pen my deepest sorrow. But I do believe that writing is a way to heal and free the soul from some pain


    This is a poetic statement of writing as therapy. Blixen is being specific to writing, but I think it’s true of all art. It’s probably also true of wood-chopping but wood-chopping is less given to sharing. Working out (or at least dealing with) your traumas and annoyances through your art must be a common motivation for artists. It leads to the idea of “the best art comes from the artist’s suffering” (the Van Gogh syndrome). For writers, this idea probably is a prime motivator for political or dystopian writers (Orwell, Huxley, Swift, and many others). In this case, concern about… Read more »

    Sandra Fox Murphy

    Written in February, in anticipation of your prompt, David. Poetry as therapy. In the Gray Space Between Rise and Fall To all the bent and broken by years and circumstance, be heartened. Don’t take the turn toward despair but in the resolve of life, straighten your spine and spit at Frailty … you are not feeble but bear boorish barbs tossed aimlessly. Walk the path. Inhale. Deep. Hold it—hold the elixir of breath and presence. Exhale,                         slowly. Rely on your hands— let them gather  your artistry, wrangle your pain into beauty of stitched gardens or the joy of kneaded dough… Read more »

    Dennis Morris

    All sorrows can be borne… True for some, false for others. For the few, the sorrows are so deep, so painful that no story told, words written or poems crafted can bear the weight. Story telling and writing help those that can still move forward, if only an inch at a time. They bear the weight. I write to quiet my busy mind, soothe the heart and find a reason to move forward. The words below sum it up for me On Writing Poetry Many love to write what few will ever read that’s the way it seems to be… Read more »

    David Lemke

    Pleasant fall late morning, birds chirping, bees buzzed, I get a voice mail. “Dad, I love you.” That was it. Nice, but it wasn’t. I called him back. No answer. I tried again, same. Called his significant. “What is happening?” She tells me. Where is he? She tells me. I call 911. Hours later, I get a call, they arrived in time. He’s in intensive care. Days later, I get to talk with him, details come out. It is said, all sorrows can be borne. Sure, until they can’t. Six months later, it’s better, they’re back together, but it almost… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    This is a serendipitous prompt for me. Journal excerpt, 3/13/22, 8:57 PM. Reading Benjamin Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World becomes an experience in recursion. Specifically, the tension inherent in Labatut’s melding of nonfiction and fiction, injecting more and more of the latter into the former as the book progresses. That, in and of itself, recalls the melding of nonfiction and fiction in Axel Munthe’s The Story of San Michele, though Labatut deals with an additional layer, that being the “nature” of “reality” (as in, does either truly exist?). Add in Ursula Hegi’s Intrusions and the transformation of the author into a… Read more »

    Sid Kemp

    True and simple, yet doing it gets really complicated really fast. At least that is my experience in 54 years as a writer and 40 years as a writing and creative coach. Writing is discovery and self-discovery. And I deeply appreciate WBN for Justine’s frequent affirmation of just how painful the life of a person who’s soul insists on being a writer or artist can be. The key is, perhaps, that stories are a way of holding pain, of bearing it as we draw it out. They are also a way of cleansing ourselves and the world as we discover… Read more »


    Did I really bring that to your attention? Yesterday when I read it in your prompt I was taking credit for it in my mind, but then I couldn’t remember actually doing it. I don’t have a coherent response, only the beginnings of some kind of response. First of all, the statement may be more true for Isak DInesen than for others because she is such a genius, a witch of a writer, and I can feel healed by reading just one of her sentences sometimes. Next thought When I worked at the Legal Aid Society a young homeless man… Read more »

    Cheryl Kesterson

    “I can’t find my wallet.” I stared at my husband as thoughts of exaspiration bubbled up in my mind. “When did you last see it?” I asked. “I had it at the store that we stopped at on our way back from the airport. Maybe I left it there.” I called the store and waited as the phone rang long enough for my irritation to ramp up even more. I hung up. “OK. Let’s go.” We drove back to the store, my steps hitting the concrete floor harder each time I raised my foot as we looked everywhere and talked… Read more »

    MJ DelConte

    Let’s forgo the context of the quote and view it differently as we would the remaining 30 flavors of Baskin-Robbins. All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them. I like it. Alone, it’s dark. Deep. Passionate. It resonates with me because my voice is spoken from the shadows. Demons. Chaos. Darkness with little light so as to plant the seed for hope, but not give it any rain to germinate and blossom. Consecutive sunny days during a polar vortex when the daylight is blinding but too dangerous to venture outdoors.… Read more »

    Frances Wiedenhoeft

    Sadness, sorrow, if the purpose of this emotion is the being way to seek comfort for anything from a disappointment to loss to trauma then what better platform to seek comfort than through writing and sharing your writing.
    On a personal level I have had my share of loss and trauma. Writing, veteran writing groups and publishing created a circle of support I hadn’t had.
    The actual writing process writing sorrow, loss and trauma has sometimes been excruciatingly painful but in the end I find the writing has saved my life.

    Bob Algeri

    All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.

    Feelings of deep distress transported me into an imaginary cycle of events, and I found myself reeling from feelings of deep anxiety.

    NH Author Robert Algeri

    Phillip Holt

    It seems to me the effect on the writer of putting their (our) best thoughts on traumatic or at least enervating experience sets those thought in perspective. It acts as therapy, by getting it outside of use while remaining part of us. And sometimes we can make something good out of the bad.

    Charity M Starrett

    This is absolutely true! Our family spent ten years struggling with my daughter’s severe mental illnesses (schizophrenia + bipolar). I wrote in my blog about it in almost every single instance. At some points, writing literally kept me sane. In others, it helped me to find answers and a plan through the mess. When COVID happened, I wrote a short story that gave me hope for a brighter future.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x