When you imagine success as a writer, what does it look like? Do you see yourself sitting on the couch across from your favorite late night host, exchanging witty banter about your latest bestseller? Do you think about receiving honorary degrees from prestigious schools just before delivering awe-inspiring commencement speeches that go viral on YouTube? Do you see yourself traveling from your writing cabin in upstate New York to your cottage on the Cape to your creative hideaway in the Pacific Northwest? Do you picture yourself on set, consulting with the director on the film adaptation of your latest runaway hit?
It’s okay. There’s no need to blush.
Maybe you have more modest dreams, but many of us would admit – if pressed – to having Big Dreams for our writing careers. There’s nothing wrong with that. We writers are known for our imaginations, after all. We have Big Ideas and Vision and are pretty damn adept at daydreaming, too. Why not go for that brass ring and envision a life as the next Stephen King or JK Rowling
Anything is possible.
I confess that I’ve wondered what life would be like as an iconic author with a rabid following. If I think about it for more than a moment or two, I will admit that it’s not a life I’d enjoy. I don’t like to leave my cats alone for too long and am easily overwhelmed by crowds of more than two or three.
Still, I would like to make my living writing essays and stories instead of web copy and white papers. More to the point, I’d like for my work to be read by thousands, even tens of thousands. I’d like to be able to reach a Big Audience and make a Big Difference with my Big Ideas. I’d like to be able to change the world with my words.
In her post, What It Takes to Change the World, the lovely and insightful blogger and career coach, Jennifer Gresham, takes a look at the mechanics of change. Hint: It might not be as much about Big Things as you think. Often, change is the result of many small and unassuming actions.
I think it is especially so with writing.
Though our story may be about a Big Idea, that idea is conveyed one word, one scene at a time – in bits and pieces that eventually come together to tell the whole story. There is no single, defining moment; all the small moments add up to create a shift in the reader’s perception or understanding. It is the combined collection of minute observations and subtle events that ultimately affect a change of heart or mind.
A bigger (longer) work does not have more power to change than a smaller (shorter) work. A poem may transform a life as much as a novel; a short story may break open a heart as readily as a screenplay. With writing, it’s not about quantity as much as it is about quality. A single, well-written essay has a better chance at delivering life-changing insights than a thousand-page tome of questionable quality.
Though I hope to someday publish stories and even novels, at the moment my published work consists of short-form blog posts and columns. It is easy for me to marginalize these pieces as insignificant, as simply stepping stones on the way to Something Better … Something Bigger. But, each of these pieces – no matter how small or ordinary – has the potential to create change.
Though I tend to refer to them as “just my little columns,” I have had dozens of people tell me how much they enjoy reading my bi-weekly installments in the local paper. Sure they are short, little essays, and sure the paper is a tiny local publication with a very unimpressive circulation, but that shouldn’t take away from the work. If my words can improve one person’s day by giving them hope, making them laugh, or helping them see something in a different way, I have created change with my writing. I have made a small difference.
And that, as Jen points out, is how you change the world.
So the next time you’re tempted to belittle your current work or your modest writing aspirations, don’t. Remember that each word, each scene, each idea that you share has the potential to inspire change in someone’s heart. The change may be small, but even small change has a habit of rippling out into the world and creating more change. You never know how far your words might reach. You may not wind up on late night TV, but that’s okay. You can change the world right from your own couch.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.