I had another post queued up for today, and then Uvalde happened.
It’s hard to write about anything other than the grief, rage, and helplessness many of us are feeling at yet another shooting in our country, yet another mass murder of children in schools—a place where they should feel safe, a place where they should be protected and their parents and guardians have every right to expect them to be—while a handful of politicians and special-interest groups ignore and override the overwhelming majority of Americans’ desire for sensible regulation of weapons in this country.
I’m not going to talk directly about what happened here in Texas on Tuesday. I can’t, and I’m sure all of you are processing this in your own way. I also wouldn’t try to speak on the crushing grief so many families and loved ones felt this morning and will feel each morning, every day, every moment, for who knows how long.
But I can talk about what role our writing, our creativity, might play in moments of pain like this, when it may feel futile or trivial or escapist.
Write to process pain
Whether your own pain or the empathic pain we feel for others who suffer, finding an outlet for it, a way to let ourselves feel what we’re feeling, to try to relieve some of the pressure of that pain that may be bottled up inside, unarticulated, can help leach out the poison. It’s the basis of talk therapy and journaling.
Before we can process anything, before we can heal, before we can turn our pain into something potentially positive, we have to know what we’re feeling…to let ourselves feel it…to find a way to understand our own reactions. As writers we often do that through our writing.
And in navigating and sharing our own deepest and most vulnerable, raw emotions, perhaps we help others find a way to the same for their own.
Write to make sense of the senseless
There is no reality in my imagining where something like the slaughter of children could ever make sense. But if we remain lost in our fury, our pain, our bewilderment, our frustrated helplessness, or whatever emotions are overriding everything else at any moment in our lives, then we cannot find the distance to fully understand what happened…and what we might do to keep it from happening again.
Story illuminates the world, a lens through which others may find some measure of understanding of their own tragedies, their own pain. Working through difficult and painful things in our writing may offer insight and aid to others amid their own struggles.
Write to find a way into action
Writing is useless if it simply feeds on itself, like an ouroboros so caught up in consuming its own tail it eventually ceases to exist.
Story’s power lies in its ability to affect people: to make them feel, to make them think, and ideally to make them act.
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is often cited as a major societal influence in the fight for the abolition of slavery; Will and Grace helped set the stage for laws guaranteeing equal rights for marriage; the movie JFK led to the release to the National Archives of long-sealed records about the Kennedy assassination a mere year later.
Story has the power to change the world, because it has the power to change people, who drive change in the world.
Write to connect us
It’s easy to feel alone in our suffering if we hold it corked up inside us—and that feeling of isolation almost always makes our pain keener.
But sharing that is a form of connecting with others in similar situations. We may not recognize our exact experiences in someone else’s, but there’s every chance we might connect with the resultant emotions, those near-universal connective fibers among us.
Author Michael Lewis tells a deeply poignant story near the end of this interview of the loss of his 19-year-old daughter and her boyfriend in a car crash last May. In the immediate aftermath, author Dave Eggers, a neighbor and friend, appeared on his doorstep with food and said, “I’m not leaving. I’ll be right outside, in my car.” He simply gave the gift of his presence, and that created a connection Lewis didn’t realize he desperately needed—and one that he says he will never forget.
Sharing another person’s experience, in whatever way, unites us and makes us feel less alone.
Write to give voice
Not everyone will tell their story, and not everyone may have the reach you might have, as an author. Many people have been—and are—so marginalized that their stories may not have had opportunity to be heard.
Perhaps your writing can serve as an amplifier, a way to give a voice to those who may not have a voice: to draw attention, to share your reach and your readers and help spread their stories.
Write for hope
The world can feel damned bleak at times—especially, it seems, in our times lately. Writing can help you find your way out of anguish and hopelessness as you create worlds that might be possible, progress that could happen, triumphs of people’s better nature over our worser ones.
As my friend, author, and deep thinker Jason Stanford recently wrote in his excellent Substack blog, every dystopian story starts in bleakness and despair…but the story isn’t about that. It’s about the human transcendence of such hardships. Give us a model for it, and a reason to believe it’s possible.
So why does writing matter in the face of so much suffering and pain in the world?
Editor Susan De Freitas recently published a Twitter thread and an excellent article on Jane Friedman’s blog about this topic that seems prescient now, and urgently relevant. “Wherever you are, if you’ve been struggling with this question, Why write when the world is on fire?, remember: Your words are water.”
Let them flow, authors.
I can’t seem to think of a meaningful question to ask here, friends. If you want to just share the space and your feelings, I’m here for it.