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  • Writing Hard Things: Approaching Difficult Topics with Sensitivity and Candor // with Autumn Konopka

Writing Hard Things: Approaching Difficult Topics with Sensitivity and Candor // with Autumn Konopka

  • 05 June 2024
  • 16 July 2024
  • Online
  • 11




"If we don’t strike a careful balance between candor and sensitivity, we run the risk of exploiting traumatic experiences rather than creating opportunities for healing."

Many of us use writing to process difficult experiences and past traumas. Such writing can be beneficial not only for the writer, but the reader as well – allowing those who have experienced trauma to feel understood and validated.

However, this is delicate work that requires careful intention. We don’t necessarily want to be “confessional” or gratuitously graphic; nor should we attempt to spare audiences from difficult moments by obscuring them with metaphor or ambiguity. If we don’t strike a careful balance between candor and sensitivity, we run the risk of exploiting traumatic experiences rather than creating opportunities for healing.  

Using the principles of trauma-informed practice, this class will explore approaches to writing about challenging topics – such as abuse, assault, suicide, mental illness, and other sensitive issues – in ways that make the work honest, affirming, and safe for readers to feel seen rather than sensationalized. 

Week by Week

Week 1: Introduction to the class & the topic

We’ll begin by introducing ourselves and establishing a common understanding of “hard things” and “trauma-informed writing.” Our discussion will focus on difficult subjects that we have both read about and struggled with in our own writing. Participants will be invited to consider a particular project (or projects) to focus on for the duration of the class.

Week 2: Writing to be Sensitive

As we begin exploring trauma-informed writing, we’ll discuss how to approach projects with self-awareness and how to set expectations for readers. We’ll discuss how unconscious biases, internalized assumptions, and/or cultural expectations can affect our writing and our readers. We’ll explore strategies for recognizing and resolving our own blind spots and limitations. Finally, we’ll examine examples of trigger warnings and other external/pre-narrative cues to help readers prepare for encountering our difficult material.

Week 3: Writing to Affirm

Writing about traumatic experiences requires honesty, clarity, specificity, and fullness. Weeks 3 & 4 will include writing exercises that challenge us to move closer to the difficult materials, rather than pulling back from the details. This week, we’ll focus on showing these experiences by focusing on the body’s sensations and physical reactions. 

Week 4: Writing to Affirm, cont. 

One of the greatest challenges in writing hard things is to make them more than just “hard things.” This week’s exercises will ask us to acknowledge the multiplicity of emotions that coexist in the presence/aftermath of trauma or difficult experiences. By including feelings like desire, humor, apathy, contentment, or excitement, we give our writing about difficult topics a fullness that honors the human experience. 

Week 5: Writing to be Responsive

As we write about difficult topics, it is important that we not only recognize our own assumptions and expectations, but those that exist within the larger culture as well. There are many tropes and conventions that do a disservice to those who have actually lived through trauma or painful experiences. We will look at good and bad examples of this and discuss strategies for recognizing and resisting writing patterns that may unfold almost unconsciously.  

Week 6. Writing to be Responsive, cont.

Writing about hard things isn’t necessarily enough. We have to think about how we present those things and whether we are reinforcing potentially harmful patterns. What’s more, this work gives us an opportunity to go a step further and write toward an optimistic reality. In our final week, we’ll explore ways that our writing can not just explore difficult topics but also model the kind of response to those topics we’d like to see, without being unrealistic or overly idealized. 

Who Should Take This Class

Writers of any type would benefit from this class, especially if they are interested in or practicing writing about traumatic experiences or sensitive topics. Even if trauma is not a central component to a writer's work, many would benefit from better understanding the impact that even "ancillary" trauma (something in a character's or subject's background or something that is part of a sub plot) could have on readers. The class is appropriate for writers of all genres, but the material will be largely focused on creative writers, with an emphasis on fiction and poetry.


This class will offer a weekly two-hour Zoom meeting from 7-9pm EDT (UTC -4). Click here to convert to your time zone. The zoom meeting day of the week is proposed to be either a Monday or a Tuesday and will be determined in conversation with the people who register. Zoom meetings will begin either June 10 or 11, 2024, based on the day of week chosen by the class. Zoom sessions will be recorded and class materials will also be shared in the classroom platform Wet Ink

About the Facilitator

Autumn Konopka is a writer, runner, mental health advocate, and trauma-informed teaching artist. Her debut novel, Pheidippides Didn’t Die (Manuscripts, 2023), earned honorable mention in the 2023 Writer’s Digest Self-Published E-Book Awards, and Kirkus calls the book “a compelling adult romance that captures the complexities of trauma dynamics.” A former poet laureate of Montgomery County, PA (2016), Autumn’s work has been published widely in literary journals, and her poetry chapbook, a chain of paper dolls, was published in 2014 by the Head & the Hand Press (Philadelphia). She holds a BA in English from the University of Pittsburgh and an MFA in poetry from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Dedicated to promoting the social, emotional, and mental health benefits of running, Autumn volunteers as an ambassador for Still I Run and as a coach for Girls on the Run. She lives with her family outside of Philadelphia. You can connect with Autumn at www.autumnkonopka.com, and at amkonopka (Instagram), autumnkonopka.author (Facebook), autumnkonopka (LinkedIn).

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