It would be all too easy to write a January 2018 post heavy with angst and uncertainty. I could dwell on the unsettling political changes of the last year or so, both international and domestic. I could ponder what kind of world we will leave for our children and grandchildren. I could talk about challenge and sorrow within our community of writers and among my personal circle. What illustration would I select for that post? A ship foundering on a reef, with captain, crew and passengers struggling in freezing waters, and not a gallant rescuer in sight? A pallid writer in a garret, surrounded by empty gin bottles and screwed-up manuscript pages?
But no, I won’t write that particular post, and the beautiful image above is one of hope. In the winter landscape, through the mist and cold, the sun rises once again, heralding a bright new day, a day on which we deal bravely and wisely with whatever comes our way. A day on which we celebrate every small positive step and remember the transcendent power of hope.
Easy to philosophize, you say. But how do we find hope in a world gone awry? How do we draw from the creative well when the weight of things feels almost too hard to bear?
I don’t offer easy answers. I don’t offer answers at all, only possibilities. The rest is up to you.
Firstly, let’s talk about reading. I don’t mind my stories dark, gritty and confronting. But to satisfy me, a story must contain some note of hope or learning – something positive, however small, that the reader can take away at the story’s end. If that is lacking I won’t re-read the book, even if it’s won a slew of international prizes or been feted by the most respected reviewers. Of course, fiction must contain its share of tension and challenge. Our characters cannot grow and develop if we make their paths too easy. As for so-called happy endings, any story, true or imagined, has its winners and losers. But I have little tolerance for a story that ends in complete despair and darkness; one in which all hope dies.
But, you ask, doesn’t the unrelieved grimness of those stories reflect the way things are for many people in the real world? And shouldn’t we, as writers, be opening the eyes of readers to those stark realities? Of course. That kind of writing is vital, and it’s done all the time by brave journalists reporting on famine, war, tyranny, and injustice, often at great personal risk. Their responsibility is to tell the truth. To open people’s eyes. Their work has the power to change the world.
As writers of fiction, we too can inspire change. The power of storytelling – to teach, to heal, to entertain, to draw people together with its magic – is immense. In dark and turbulent times, it feels to me more vital than ever to include that note of hope or learning in even our darkest stories. Kill off most of the characters the reader loves, if you must, but leave the world of your book better, or one of your survivors wiser, braver, or more ready to cope with the future as a result of their experience. Your readers will take that scrap of learning away with them. They may become a little wiser or braver themselves.
Our writer’s voice is our most powerful tool for spreading hope in the world. But we can practice and share hope in many other ways. We can act within a small sphere of influence or a larger one. Hope grows in the most surprising places. Some suggestions:
- Create a vegetable garden. No room? Grow herbs in pots. Share. Build community.
- Plant a tree and look after it until it can survive on its own. Believe in the future.
- Write letters to your political representatives, letting them know what matters to you. Press for change.
- Exercise your democratic vote. Never forget how fortunate you are to have that right.
- Read to your children. Read to other children. Nurture a thinking generation.
- Join a political party you believe in. Make change from within.
And, of course, keep on writing. But don’t neglect self-care. Many of us finished 2017 exhausted and dispirited, and when you’re in that state, the creative flame burns perilously low. Give that flame a healthy body and mind to work in. Get enough sleep, eat sensibly, do an appropriate amount of exercise. Spend quality time with your family and friends. Find time to visit beautiful places. Hug and play with your dog, cat, or other pet(s) – their unconditional love has a great power to comfort and heal. You can’t fix the world right now, on your own. But you are a writer, and that means you can make a difference.
I’d love to hear your ideas for nurturing hope, whether it’s through your writing or in some other way.
Photo credit: ID 63127335 @alexugalek | dreamstime.com