Many of us are lucky to have people around us who understand or at least support our writing habits and dreams. But even with the best support, sometimes it feels like my writing is silly in the face of so many other pressing world problems. How do you keep writing when it seems inconsequential?
Do you ever feel like your writing doesn’t matter? As we write letters or emails to legislators, fight injustice in our communities, work to preserve the environment, or tamp down panic in the face of a new illness, some days writing feels inconsequential.
It’s easy to forget why we keep returning to the page each day. Especially when we’re distracted or sick or in crisis. But we can address the difficult things in our lives and still make a little space for the life-giving practice of writing.
I spent some time this week thinking about why writing is so important to me and reminded myself why writing matters.
3 Reasons Your Writing Matters Right Now
Ever wonder why does writing matter? Or worse, does writing matter? Here are three reasons writing matters. To put it more boldly, here are three reasons your writing matters right now.
1. Write to remember the past
Remembering the past can be comforting, painful, and every emotion in between. But those memories often give meaning to our present lives.
I lead brainstorming activities with my students each year, helping them step back in time to pluck story seeds. I’ve had them draw a childhood home and annotate the special places. We’ve described childhood bike wrecks and trampoline injuries. They recount building forts and going camping and all kinds of other shenanigans.
Flannery O’Connor once said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” She reminds us that growing up provides us with a rich understanding about life—enough to get us through any current difficulty.
I’ve written those childhood exercises with my students for years and I always discover something new down those old roads that offer hope. We write to remember who we've been and what we’ve learned.
2. Write to process the present
My grandmother passed away a couple years ago, and I received dozens of spiral notebooks with her records of daily life. Everything from details about the weather and what she’d planted, to meetings she’d attended and quilts she’d worked on. She told herself jokes and made to do lists and worried over her children and grandchildren. Her notebooks were the place she processed life.
Some of us, like my granny, journal to process life. Others write stories to help us make sense of the world, identifying problems and solutions, revealing everyday heroes and villains.
Those stories give us language to recognize shared humanity, even as we experience life in different parts of the world and universe, settings we may never visit with characters we may never meet except in our imaginations.
3. Write to imagine a new future
In episode 3 of the Character Test podcast, Shawn Coyne talked about the importance of telling better stories to help people live better lives.
It stuck with me, because we sometimes perpetuate problems by rehearsing them using old scripts. For example, I hope by now we’re pushing back against harmful stereotypes in stories that always put certain ethnicities in the villain role or only present women as helpless damsels in distress.
We need stories that embrace the complexity and fullness of people, which requires imagination in some contexts where prejudice and “the way things have always been” tend to dominate.
It comes down to how we respond to the uncertainty around us. At the end of the podcast, Coyne stated his personal code: “When a difficult event comes, the choice for me is the question of whether to create or destroy.”
Stories Matter Today
Stories connect us and help us make meaning of the time we have here on earth. Whatever challenges you are facing today, don’t discount the power of writing.
What keeps you writing when it feels like it doesn’t matter? Share in the comments.
Set the timer for fifteen minutes and choose one of the exercises below.
Past: Take five minutes and draw a childhood home or place you remember vividly. For me, it’s my grandparents' acreage. Then, for ten minutes, walk through it in your mind and on the page. What did you learn there and how did you learn it? Write one memory beginning with “I remember…”
Present: Start a journal list of your day. Include the mundane and fantastic and everything in between. Choose one event and explain it in detail—what it entails, why it matters, what it means. (One time I did this exercise, I started with “folding my six-year-old’s laundry” and it ended up reminding me how much little things matter.)
Future: Make a list of three problems bothering you today. Drop a character into one of those problems and give them the agency and guts to change that world for the better. Don’t make it easy—the more obstacles they overcome, the better.
When your time is up, share your writing in the comments below. And if you share, be sure to leave feedback for three other writers!
Sue Weems is a writer, teacher, and traveler with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. When she’s not rationalizing her love for parentheses (and dramatic asides), she follows a sailor around the globe with their four children, two dogs, and an impossibly tall stack of books to read. You can read more of her writing tips on her website.