Yes, your writing matters.
I find comfort in unexpected patterns of discovery. When I am wrestling with a question, serendipity never fails to serve up a chain of touchstones that offer, if not an answer, perspective and guidance, or – at the very least – the knowledge that I am not alone in asking my question. This week I experienced just such Universal benevolence around the question, “Why bother writing?”
It’s a harsh question. I know.
But, I think it’s one many writers struggle with. In my case, I looked around at all the injustice and pain and suffering in the world and my desire to write seemed petty and insignificant in comparison. It felt frivolous and self-indulgent. Other people are out there doing Important Work – saving lives, inventing things, righting wrongs. And here I sit – hacking away at the keyboard, making stuff up, and sharing my inner thoughts with a certain amount of artistic hubris.
I have written before about navel-gazing and other writerly fears. But, this is a conversation I return to again and again in my head. It’s not an argument that is simply “won and done.” I may beat the feelings back for a while, but they always return to test my mettle.
When these well-worn doubts came a-calling this week, I was glad to stumble across allies who helped me stand my ground more firmly. This morning, in case you are battling similar demons, I want to share them with you.
The first voice I heard was a friendly and familiar one. Jen Louden is a tireless champion of the creative and authentic life. She is a kind and nurturing teacher who shares her own vulnerabilities openly. In her post, Why You Creating Stuff Matters, Jen asks, “Why are you doing this when the world is dying?!” (By dying I mean climate change.) “People are starving. Girls are being turned into sex slaves. Do something!” Jen answers her own question beautifully (and, I recommend you read her full response in her post), but here are a few lines that jumped out at me:
Here is what I believe – it makes all the difference. I believe women who create are women who will not allow our planet to burn.
… working toward creating work that has more meaning, creating books that will help others – has everything in the world to do with their happiness and shaping a fairer world.
The point of life is to make something good and beautiful in the face of meaninglessness and horror. To not give away your voice to false gods of cool shoes, Facebook likes, fat bank statements or to cynicism, resignation and anger. Rather to keep feeling, keep creating, keep enchanting yourself and others with the power of creation.
Her words are inspiring, aren’t they?
I shared Jen’s post with a group of writer friends and the lovely Ali Gresik, a talented author and creativity coach, offered her own heartening perspective,
“My conclusion is that the best way for me to serve the world is to be myself and use the resources I’ve been given. I was made to be a writer, and given the desire to write, therefore that’s the way I need to serve the world. Not writing just makes me depressed and useless to the world. So part of my job as a writer is not to let that tension between the perceived ‘frivolity’ of writing and the gravity of the world’s problems stop me from writing.”
Also inspiring, no?
Finally, just this morning, my inbox served up a post from Leanne Regalla’s blog, Make Creativity Pay. In 12 Truths Successful Creatives Know About Making A Living, Regalla makes believing in the value of your art her #2 truth, opening with a quote from Pablo Picasso, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”
“Creative expression is part of who we are as human beings. It’s one of our most basic drives. We can’t separate ourselves from it for long even if we try – and if we did succeed, life would be pretty dull, if not downright unhealthy.
Music, writing, and photography can all be ethereal, spiritual experiences, but they affect us and the world around us in very concrete ways as well.”
Each of these women, these writers and artists, answered my question in her own way. Each of them stood beside me in my moment of doubt and gently reminded me that art – including my own art – is important, and even Important. I know the question will never be fully vanquished, but I’m glad to know I have allies who will help me keep these false fears at bay so that I can keep hacking away at my keyboard. And, I hope you will make them your allies, too.
What I’m Writing:
This coming Tuesday is the last meeting of the Fiction I class I’ve been attending via the Grub Street writing center. I am sad to see our time coming to an end. It was only eight Tuesdays, but I have learned so much and been inspired to dig back into the hard but very fulfilling work of studying and writing fiction.
During this week’s class, my second submission was workshopped and I was delighted to the point of grinning with the class’s feedback. As I put it to them, they were totally “picking up what I was putting down.” There are, I think, few things more satisfying to a writer than knowing that her readers “get it.” Though the piece I submitted was only at the first draft stage, the class was engaged in the beginning of the story, my characters, and the possibilities they saw for what might happen next. It was so encouraging. I am now itching to finish the story, especially since they generously offered to read the rest once I’ve finished it.
Even if you are not participating in a formal class or writing group, I encourage you to find a few readers who will be willing to give you constructive feedback on your work. I realize that sharing is scary, and that finding the right reader is hard, but I believe that the benefits outweigh the risks. Even if you only ask your readers to identify places in your story where they had questions or got confused, that one piece of information can be invaluable in reshaping your narrative.
In a previous weekend edition, I shared Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist, but his more recent book, Show Your Work, may be an even more inspiring read. I can’t say for sure, because I haven’t actually read it yet; BUT my dad (who hardly ever reads anything) read it and loved it.
I hope you’ll think about sharing what you’re writing. It might be scary, but you never know how it might help you move your creative endeavors forward. There is magic in putting yourself out there.
What I’m Reading:
I love all the strange and serendipitous ways that books land in my lap. I love being in the right place at the right time when a bookseller is purging ARCs (advance reader copies). I love adopting books that have been abandoned on the sidewalk. And I especially love when a book seems to stalk me – showing up in magazines, conversations, and – finally – on the staff picks table of a favorite indie bookstore.
The book I’m reading at the moment came at me sort of sideways – a pseudo stalker. Karen Russell’s work has been hovering on the periphery of my reader’s mind for some time now. I’ve seen her debut collection of short stories, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, a number of times as I loitered in the aisles of my favorite Newburyport bookstore. I’d even cracked open and considered buying her first novel, Swamplandia!, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. But until this week, I hadn’t read her work. I’d only thought about it.
But then, I went to the library in search of the novel Big Fish. (I’ve been thinking about watching the movie again, but first wanted to read the novel.) Fortunately for me, the librarian (a dear friend) sent me to the wrong section because there is, apparently, another book called Big Fish by a different author. ANYway … long story, short … after realizing the mistake, I turned around and there, practically jumping off the shelf at eye level, were two of Russell’s books, Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove. I snatched them both up.
I decided to read Vampires in the Lemon Grove first and am utterly enchanted. I am only a few stories in, but – wow. I kind of hate Russell, but I’m also kind of falling in love. I feel a writer’s obsession coming on. Her stories are so original and so beautifully written. I am swept away immediately, taken in by the characters, and intrigued by her ideas. The language is envy-inducing. And how she manages to pack so much into each short story is almost miraculous. I can “feel” the weight and depth of her worlds far beyond the few pages that hold the story.
I can’t wait to read more.
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
- 7 Pieces of Wisdom That Will Change the Way You Work via @99u
- 15 Quick and Easy Productivity Super-Hacks for Busy Bloggers via @problogger
- How to Write by @jseiden
- How to Put Your Writing in Public by @zen_habits
- Stephen King Still Fears Failure. How About You? via @JaneFriedman
- Why Thought Is Mostly A Waste of Time by @seandsouza
- The Step Back by @pjrvs
Finally, a quote for the week:
Wishing you courage, confidence, and creative joy. I hope you also find wonderful reads in surprising ways and maybe wonderful friends to read your writing.
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 – occasionally – trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.