changing the world, one story at a time

There’s the often repeated advice to keep writing, because no one can tell your stories the way you can. I have no idea where this wisdom originated. It felt like pablum to me when I was a younger writer and had these words of encouragement directed my way, but I’ve since said the same to others who have needed similar bolstering — not because I lacked any advice of substance to pass along, but because it’s true.

Every writer has their own voice. Some are skilled at conveying the poetry of the moment, whose prose is filled with visual and sensory metaphor, who can make you feel the thrum of the hummingbird hovering by a cluster of daylilies to drink the flowers’ sweet nectar, and who can bring you to your knees with a single sentence. Yeah, I’m not one of those writers. Others excel at hooks and reels, at grabbing your attention and building suspense, keeping your heart pounding as you turn page after page, desperate to know what happens next. I doubt I’m one of those writers, either.

But I have my own voice and style. My work is similar to this author in one way or another, and similar to a different author in an entirely different regard. Similarity does not equal sameness. Unless we’re plagiarizers, my written work is just as unique as yours is, and the imagination feeding my stories is by necessity at least a few degrees different in any direction than yours.

This is a big reason that not every book is a good fit for every reader. Classics and best-sellers may have broad appeal, but that doesn’t mean these tellings will touch and be appreciated by every person who comes across them. Reading is a partnership between author and reader, with the author supplying the roadmap and description of the landscape along the way, but the reader fills in other details from their own imagination and experience, like the sharp scent of freshly mown grass or the acidic sweetness of a tomato.

Stories are important because they remind us and instruct us in who we are. Even “unskilled” and inexperienced writers can have riveting stories to tell and important perspectives to share. And every story has the potential to change the world, on a small or large scale.

I’ve been thinking lately about the “starfish story” — based on “The Star Thrower” essay by Loren C. Eiseley — and about how that parable of doing what you can to make even a small difference is worth the effort. It’s what made me think of that “keep writing because the world needs your stories” advice that writers keep passing around to each other.

Because I don’t believe that my stories will change the world. Not really. My stories are strange, funny, sometimes sad, and often silly, and I don’t expect them to appeal to a broad audience. When I can connect with the right reader, though, that’s when I feel the most satisfaction and know that my effort was worth it, because I’ve made a difference to that person.

Keep writing. The world needs your stories. Your story may not sell millions of copies or be enshrined for the ages, but it could change the world, one person at a time.

Posted in thoughts from the spiral.

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