When I checked in with one of my writing friends last week, the answer I got was, “I haven’t written in months. It all seems so futile.” Another friend, who writes romance novels, said, “I’m too depressed to write. I don’t even see how the world needs my books anymore.”
They aren’t the only writers I know who are having a slump or a block or a crisis. Whatever you want to call it, the more I talked about this with my friends, the more I saw a common theme in the nature of that obstruction. Everywhere I turned, writers were telling me that they didn’t feel like their work mattered.
In times of turmoil, it can feel like your fluffy rom-com or your cozy mystery or your picture book about hamsters isn’t important. It’s not tackling the big issues, you say. Or maybe you’re saying, I’m not writing world-changing fiction. If that’s the thought behind your current writing slump, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong.
Both the Talmud and the Quran put forth the idea that if you save one person, you’re saving humanity. Every person is a microcosm of the human race, and if your book can save one person, it is important.
I’m the last person to offer pep talks or optimistic platitudes. I’m not here to tell you that everything will be okay. Quite possibly several things will not be okay. Quite possibly terrible things are coming. What I am here to say is that writing matters. Books matter in a way that transcends empty platitudes embroidered on pillows.
Books matter, because they save people. I know they can save people because books have saved me more than once. My freshman year in college was a brutal experience. I’d just lost someone I loved very much and, as a result, stumbled into two ill-advised relationships. At sixteen, I was in over my head socially and academically. I took refuge in the library, quite literally. I hid in the stacks at all hours, reading. It was there that I found Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. In one of the darkest times of my life, when I’d stopped believing in love and hope and wonder, I found a book that made me believe again. I may have flunked that semester, but I am completely sincere when I say that book gave me the strength to come back the next semester and succeed.
While thinking about this question, I ended up talking to a lot of people about how books saved them, and I want to share some of those, simply to illustrate the breadth of the books that save people. [Read more…]