I was having lunch with a group of writers at a conference last year when we fell into tales of strange dentistry. The woman across from me confessed to using a dentist who didn’t believe in Novocain. “What do you mean, didn’t believe in it?” I asked.

“He didn’t like it. Wouldn’t use it.”

“He drilled without Novocain? On you? In the twenty-first century? And you kept going to him?”

She nodded shyly.

“For how long?”


This seemed a bit like paying the Inquisition for their exacting spiritual counsel, but it also made sense to me in a way. The dentist knew it was just pain, after all. Pain can’t actually scar you. She’d be fine. Which she was.

Though she did eventually decide to use another dentist. She made this decision the way I have made many decisions in my life: by recognizing that what I had been calling normal was actually suffering and that I was done suffering.

Pain is great information – it tells me what I’m believing. If I feel the pain of failure, or poverty, or lowliness, jealousy, and greed I know I’ve begun telling myself stories that aren’t true. I would never choose Novocain to block that pain; it’s just too valuable. But I also have to remember to find another story. I have to remember that pain is only normal when I am telling painful stories.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion.

"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at:

Follow wdbk on Twitter