A Writer’s Relief Op-Ed: Using Our Gifts In Times Of Crisis

by | Apr 19, 2013 | Other Helpful Information, The Writing Life | 7 comments

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time_of_crisisSometimes, especially in times of crisis, it’s hard to feel useful as a creative writer. Many of us are introverts. Our talents appear on the page. One staff member tells this story about the usefulness of being a writer:

“Once, I autodialed a fellow writer who had the same name as the superintendent of my apartment building. I didn’t wait more than a second after saying hello before launching into a litany of complaints about having no hot water. After a minute, the man said, ‘Who is this?’ And then I realized I made a mistake. He laughed and told me not to worry about it. He also said it was fun for him to get such a high-stakes call; nobody ever calls writers telling them they ran out of novels or poems in the middle of the night and need it fixed right away.”

The point here is that, as writers, we sometimes feel we don’t have a meaningful way to contribute when there’s an emergency or crisis. But it’s important not to undervalue our own individual potential.

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Whether a crisis is national, personal, or both, writing can lead to greater understanding, comfort, and possibly, closure. Our writing can point to core problems that engender violence. Eloquence and well-wrought insights can affect our readers, family members, fans, and lawmakers. Our impact might not be measurable, but it’s real…only if we get out there and use our talents to the best of our abilities.

This doesn’t mean that all of our writing must be overtly political; Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird doesn’t advise writers that their work should have a “message.” Instead, she says the morality in a creative writer’s work should stem from “a passionate caring,” as opposed to a desire to teach, lecture, or instruct.

But whether the “passionate caring” of our writing is overt (in letters to the editor or senators) or implicit (tucked away in poems, novels, etc.), it is powerful.

Questions for WritersQUESTION: How do you use your talent as a writer to engage with the world in times of triumph or tragedy?

7 Comments

  1. Stephen L. Wilson

    QUESTION: How do you use your talent as a writer to engage with the world in times of triumph or tragedy?
    ANSWER: When the federal building was bombed in 1995, I wrote a poetic piece. When the Sandy Hook tragedy occurred on 12/14/12, I used that poetic piece to inspire authors from around the world to contribute to a charity anthology, with the proceeds to be donated to the victims of Sandy Hook. Within two weeks, I had compiled an eBook, Angels Cried. The first thing I did on the morning of 1/1/13 was to publish the paperback version. Even though the sales have been tremendously slow, the knowledge that we, as a global group, have done SOMETHING to help is comforting, and provides something tangible for the victims to hold, and know that others share their grief.

    Reply
  2. Jeanie Ransom

    One of my publishers is in Boston. I didn’t expect my editor to be working on my manuscript last week. In fact,I didn’t expect to hear from her at all.

    But last Tuesday, my editor emailed me that being able to lose herself in my manuscript was what was keeping her positive in the midst of such chaos and horror.

    I was so humbled that my little picture book served such an important purpose. And so moved, I sat down and wrote a picture book I hope will someday reach the right person at the right time to shine a little light into the darkness.

    As writers, I think we all should shine our lights in times of crisis. Even thought writers may not be first responders with the capability of saving lives, we definitely can and should respond as people try to make sense of what may never make sense, and begin the healing process.

    Reply
  3. AE Ballakisten

    I also turned to my pen and paper, wrote the poem ‘We Rise’ which friends turned into a video and posted on youtube. I have had the chance to share the poem with audiences here at Harvard a few times this past week. It is a blessing to offer our talent and inspiration to others at a time of suffering and anxiety.

    Reply
  4. Joe Lopez

    In times of chaos and confusion, I look for meaning. I search for words to bind up the broken pieces. I then use words to attach those pieces together to form a sense of wholeness. Words can be used to heal. Words can also be used to hurt. In times of tragedy and crisis, I use my talent, as a writer, to comfort and heal.

    Reply
  5. Carole Trickett

    I have read Bird by Bird some years ago. It seems like a good book to re-visit. Being a writer, social worker and teacher I am so drawn to “teach.” There are many issues I care about passionately which I have done in a memoir and poems. I have not used these avenues for political commentary.

    Reply
  6. Lenny Granger

    I counseled grieving children for a number of years and wrote a children’s book, “A Bright and Shining Morning,” coming out this spring, about the Twin Towers attack on 9/11. I think it is a way of comforting children, through the eyes of a child, who may have witnessed or been somehow touched by such mass violence as Sandy Hook and the Boston marathon.

    Reply
  7. Barbara McDowell Whitt

    On April 29, 2007 I wrote: Thinking about the abrupt and senseless ends of lives at Virginia Tech a week ago today leaves me feeling sad and listless. As one who doesn’t like to swat a fly or step on a spider, I am left wondering “Why?” Why did it happen? Why did America drop bombs on Hiroshima and and Nagasaki? Why did one of Adam and Eve’s sons murder their other son?

    There was a time when I started a list of violence-related terms that have become a part of our vocabulary: fire away, hit the bull’s eye, losing ground…. Why are people dying in Iraq? Why did God command armies to kill people? Why did God seek to kill Moses?

    Looking back on it now, marching into a small church in rural Iowa three times a day singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” in the 1950s wasn’t the right thing to be doing either.

    Reply

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