I recently attended the American Association of Writers and Writing Programs, held, this year, in Chicago. Almost 10,000 people attended. The majority of these dream of writing an important book that makes money, wins an significant award, or makes a bestseller list. The lines for a coffee stretched out the door. The lines for writing fame seemed even longer.
Writers feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the odds against winning a laurel wreath of recognition, when so many are in the race. Overwhelmed by competition for readers, when there is so little reading time. Rather than a celebration of the joy of writing, the conference reminded us of these grim realities. Workshop panels and side conversations frequently turned to the difficulty of getting an agent or publishing horror stories. (I have one that I'll share here some day.)
But this totally misses the point. 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.
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, a fragment of mankind's hope. And hope is the fuel for, not only continuing this life's journey, but actually enjoying it.
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. No, the 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.
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. Jump into the river of creativity and splash around playfully. It's true that there are a lot of us in here. But the river is wide.
Don't you want to tell your story? For information on how the Community Writers' Program at the Writers' Colony will support new and established writers in this area, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 479-292-3665.
In the next column: How the critical voice stifles the creative voice.