Tell Your Story

From the Director . . .Tell Your Story!

I recently returned from the American Association of Writers and Writing Program’s annual conference, one of the largest and most prestigious writing conferences in the world. Over 10,000 people attended. The majority of them dream of writing an important book that makes money, wins a significant award, or lands high on a bestseller list.

The lines for a coffee stretched out the door. The lines for writing fame seemed even longer.

Writers often feel overwhelmed. By the challenges of the business: agents, publishing, marketing. By the odds against winning a laurel wreath of recognition when so many are in the race. By competition for readers when there is so little reading time these days. Rather than a celebration of the joy of writing, the conference reminded me of these grim realities. Workshop panels and side conversations frequently turned to the difficulty of getting an agent or to publishing horror stories. (I have one that I’ll share here some day.)

But this totally misses the point. To write for fame is frustrating, for the odds are against it. But to write as a celebration of our own rare and eccentric personhood, our own frailty and beauty, is to light our individual candle and hold it up. Odds are that it won’t illuminate the world as a New York Times bestseller, but it might give a little more light to our own faltering feet and, perhaps, even our neighbor’s.

Raymond Carver says that if a depressed person on a subway reads about another depressed person riding a subway, he becomes a little less depressed, for he sees that he is not alone, not isolated, not singled out for misery. Through writing, we examine our pain, but we also see it as a part of the universal pain. We unearth our hope, and it becomes a fragment of mankind’s hope. And hope is fuel—not just so that we can continue this life’s journey, but actually enjoy it.

Just as no two zebras are alike, no two writers are alike. Each individual is a combination of his traits and traumas, history and hopes, fears and fantasies, pain and passion. Every person’s voice is his own. Through writing, as through any creative activity, we celebrate our uniqueness. And through our uniqueness, the universal.

So if you want to write, put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and just do it. Don’t edit, censor, or try to critique yourself at the beginning. Don’t worry about what might happen to your book down the road if and when it’s published, about who else is landing the agents or getting that three-book contract or winning the awards.

The truth is, none of that matters. What matters is the art; the act of putting words on a page and turning them into something meaningful.

That conference wasn’t just attended by would-be authors. Dozens of published authors—famous authors, acclaimed authors—were also there. Chances are, when they were starting out, they had the same doubts and fears we do now. But they jumped into the river anyway, and look where the current carried them.

So if you want to write, just write. Jump into the river. Splash around. Get creative. It’s true that there are a lot of us in here. But the river is wide.