This blog was featured on 07/27/2016
[SWP: Behind the Book] Write from the heart
Written by
Lene Fogelberg
January 2016
Written by
Lene Fogelberg
January 2016

When I was a teenager in Sweden, I read a book by a Swedish Creative Writing guru. His tone was factual and dominant, he knew his business and he made sure we knew he knew. One of his memorable pronouncements went something like this: Never write with the blood of your heart, for it will surely run out quickly and then you’ll have nothing to say.

I held my breath as I read his words. I was a passionate girl, full of poems and words, and I had no idea how to not write from my heart. Also I felt a sense of urgency, I couldn’t explain why, but I felt I might not live long, and I needed to hurry if I wanted to write something that would endure after I was gone.

I loved to read and made weekly visits to our small town library, the bicycle ride home always wobbly with the heavy pile of books on the rack. My rides were accompanied by something else: a strange pressure on my chest, a lingering heaviness when I breathed, pulling the damp ocean air into my lungs as I pedaled down the cobblestone streets.

Growing up, it became an increasingly burdensome task to navigate around all the accumulating things I couldn’t do: dance, sing, take the bus, go to places that required climbing stairs. Later, I joyfully but with difficulty, gave my remaining strength to a wonderful husband and two young daughters. For by then we had realized I would never be able to get that university degree I had been studying for (the classroom was on the second floor and there was no elevator) and we politely declined most social gatherings, since unnecessary interactions just took too much out of me.

It became excruciatingly apparent that I was dying — the pressure on my chest, the difficulty breathing, the debilitating fatigue, the migraines — even though I was only in my late twenties. I visited doctor after doctor, but they only told me I needed to “think positive”. Reading and writing were among the few things I had strength enough to enjoy and they became my refuge.

And then everything changed.

My husband’s employer offered him a position in the US, and they needed him urgently: within a couple of months we had relocated to Radnor, a small town outside of Philadelphia. We’ll have a fresh start, we thought. We’ll be happy here. Among the tasks we needed to accomplish during the transition, was to get physicals in preparation for obtaining US driver’s licenses. The minute the doctor put the stethoscope to my chest, she said: “This does not sound normal”, and she sent me to have an ultrasound of my heart.

It turned out I had a fatal congenital heart disease. It turned out I had lived longer with this disease than anyone the US doctors had ever seen. I had finally been given the words of my condition. It was a relief and a nightmare at the same time. Within weeks I was scheduled for open-heart surgery.

When I think back on what followed I am filled with such awe, humility and gratitude, that I can barely find the words to describe it. Never have I experienced more pain, or more beauty. Perhaps the words that come closest are a miracle. A miracle that changed the way I looked back on my entire life. The years of pain and doubt shifted shape and became something else. A Beautiful Affliction.

I needed to sort through and understand the events leading up to my life being saved on another continent, so I started writing. There was really nothing else to do. Sometimes the stories you need to tell own you so profoundly that you can do little else than wide-eyed watch them unfold on the paper.

I learned there are no shortcuts when you write from your heart. You drill through every layer protecting your innermost secrets, and carefully, carefully, you pull those transparent secrets out into the light, where they squint and tremble, asking “why are you doing this to me?” Because I had no choice, you answer, because I had to know. And then slowly, painstakingly, you weave words into sentences, dressing the secrets, looking at them from every angle, measuring their height and width to make sure they are clothed in proper words.

In spite of what I was told years ago, by writing from the heart I found I never ran out of words. The human heart is surprisingly full, yielding more and more discoveries. And what’s in there, both the big and small things, matter. Because what can be found in one heart I believe, is destined to resonate with other hearts.

This article was originally featured on We Heart Writing.

Lene Fogelberg is the author of Wall Street Journal bestseller Beautiful Affliction, an award-winning poet and double open-heart surgery survivor. Born in Sweden, she currently lives with her family in Malaysia, where she is working on a novel that takes place in Asia. Learn more at www.lenefogelberg.comGoodreadsFacebook or visit her author page on Amazon:

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  • Thank you for sharing your story with us, Lene!

  • Lene Fogelberg Writing

    Thank you so much Nora! <3 I appreciate your kind comment, and I believe you are right, we need to think for ourselves and follow the whispers of our hearts.

  • Nora Hall

    This beautiful story of how you were healed of a terrible affliction and discovered a deep appreciation for the beauty of life is inspiring. It also shows how it's often wise to ignore the advice of the "masters" and think for ourselves as you did when you realized you must write from your heart.

  • Lene Fogelberg Writing

    Thank you Linda for your kind words. Writing from the heart, and reading, is truly healing and transformative and can bring us closer even though as you say, our circumstances are different. Wishing you the very best. <3 

  • Linda A Marshall

    What an inspiring story. Thank you for sharing it with us. I, too, have experienced healing and transformation through writing from the heart. I feel a kinship with you even though our circumstances are different.

  • Lene Fogelberg Writing

    Thank you so much Diana! That's so kind of you!

  • Diana Y. Paul Writing

    Such an evocative dazzling image of not only all of our writing processes, perhaps especially with memoir and debut novels!  Absolutely wonderful essay, Lene!

  • Lene Fogelberg Writing

    Thank you so much Irene! <3 

  • Irene Allison

    Lene, I love your courage. And thank goodness you heeded your inner yearnings to write from the deepest places within you. You've given a beautiful gift to the world. I love your book and it deserves to do well. Perhaps the greatest insight in all of this, is to listen, truly, deeply listen, to those gentle whisperings within. Thank you!

  • Lene Fogelberg Writing

    Thank you Jude! Writing indeed heals! 

  • Jude Walsh Whelley

    Truly touching and inspiring post. Writing definitely heals!

  • Lene Fogelberg Writing

    Thank you Nan for your kind words! Yes, sometimes we shouldn't listen to the so-called experts but follow one's heart.

    I love that quote on pulling the thread from your gut! Thank you Sakki for sharing. Fellow Swede Ingmar Bergman was indeed a fascinating writer. I think you're right that the creative writing expert. Everyone needs to be careful where one finds advice. 

  • Sakki selznick Publishing

    Ingmar Bergman said about writing that it was like pulling a blood-red thread from your gut. You pull and pull and you hope that it will be long enough to support a whole film. But if it's not, you still have to keep pulling. That is how I write, he said. 

    I would imagine that this creative writing "expert" was simply an artist damaged by life, and ready to create the same damage in others to "save them pain." 

    I look forward to reading  your novel, Lene, and thank you for this post. 


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  • Beautiful, Lene. What a gift to all of us that you didn't follow the advice of that creative writing "expert." I hope anyone who reads the above post and hasn't yet read Beautiful Affliction will put it high on her must-read list.