Let Your Voice Be Heard

“Wow, I don’t know how I can compete with that,” she said.  “That’s a tough act to follow!”

Jennifer, like everyone else in the class–a Creative Nonfiction Workshop–was a would-be writer, and, also like everyone else in the class, shared the same nervousness and reservations prior to a critique of her work.

writerworkshopstart

 

Every week, we would read two essays, submitted by fellow Workshop students, and would then critique the essays during the next class.  This particular class, held on a cold upstate New York November evening in the late 1990s, featured two essays that were very different in scope and tone.  The first one, which we had just reviewed with glowing praise, was a ten-page tour de force of a young man’s experience backpacking through Europe the summer after he graduated from high school. It told, in clipped, precise prose, his adventures traveling through the small towns and rural beauty of France, his foibles in Paris, even a near-arrest in Switzerland.  It was an engaging, oftentimes edgy, irreverent, and highly entertaining piece.

backpackeurope

 

Jennifer’s essay, on the other hand, was quiet, short, and homey.  It told of a stormy January day when she was six years old.  She was home–school had been canceled due to the weather–and didn’t know what to do.  Her brother was sick in bed, and her mom was in the kitchen baking chocolate chip cookies.  So Jennifer joined her, asked if she could help with the baking. It was a day, she wrote, that on the surface appeared ordinary and run-of-the-mill.  Baking cookies in a snowstorm?  Not the stuff of blockbuster movies or prize-winning novels.  But the experience left a lasting impression.  She said she could close her eyes and return to that day, could still smell the sweet aroma of the cookies as they baked, the tender touch of her mom’s hand patting her on the shoulder.  She said whenever she felt overwhelmed, unsure, scared of what the world might have in store, she would pause and reflect on that day in the kitchen, the windowpanes steaming up, the snow falling outside, softly.

chocoloatechipcookies

 

But in the wake of the essay that had preceded hers, Jennifer felt intimidated.  “I wish we’d have looked at my essay some other week,” she said to the class, eliciting a few laughs.

The professor, a tall woman with thick glasses who always wore her hair in a ponytail, took the moment to pursue the topic.  “Why do you say that?” she said.  “I don’t mean to preempt the class’s thunder, but I loved your essay.  It moved me deeply.”  This seemed to comfort Jennifer.  She let out a relieved breath, her shoulders falling back, more relaxed.

“My story just seems so small,” she said then.  “I mean, backpacking through Europe?  Really?  And I just write about baking some cookies with my mom.”  She shook her head.

There was an uncomfortable silence, but then the professor said, “So, what’s wrong with small?  I think there’s this old lie that says writers need to see the world, do all these incredible things, maybe save the planet a few times, and then write a masterpiece about all of it.  But you know what?  That’s not life for most people.  Here, let’s take a poll.  How many of you have climbed Everest?”  A few murmurs, no hands.  “Been to the moon?  Dived in the Marianas Trench?”  No one said a word.  We just listened.  “It’s the quiet moments, the little moments, we all have in common,” she went on.  “As writers, we just need to share our stories.  I think that’s the most important thing.  No matter how ‘small’ your story is, let your voice be heard.”

mteverest

 

I think that was the only time that semester our professor veered off topic quite like that.  She normally was laser-focused on the essays themselves, without any editorializing.  This just added weight to her words that day.

As I drove home after class, I knew that I would never forget.

**********************

It’s easy to feel the way Jennifer did that day.  I know I have, plenty of times.  The old insecurities arise, threatening to sabotage the creative process and prevent the sharing of ideas.  Questions and accusations are quick to malign and judge and condemn:  What do I know?  Who would want to read anything I write?  Do I really have anything important or worthwhile to say?  Why am I fooling myself?  Who would listen to my advice or believe my characters or be interested in my stories?

writersquestionsanddoubts

 

It can be crippling if we let it.

And sometimes things happen, events take shape in the world around us–perhaps at the personal level, the local level, or maybe at the national or even global level–and we feel the need, the conviction to say something, do something, make some kind of meaningful difference.  In the face of such a conviction, however, it is all too easy to succumb to the doubts.  You are just one person, after all.  One voice among billions . . .

insignificantoneamongbillions

 

And what do you even write, anyway?  If you generally focus primarily on fiction, do you now need to scrap your “business-as-usual” projects and start crafting op-eds and social commentaries?

oped

 

These are the sorts of questions I have asked myself more than once over the past few weeks.  I am deeply concerned–troubled, even–about what 2017 will bring.  And I admit–it has been hard to focus on fiction at times, hard to get lost in story and characters.  I am thisclose to finishing the first draft of the sequel to The Eye-Dancers.  And yet–is this novel I’m working on too small, too unimportant, just as my classmate worried her essay was twenty years ago?

thisclosesequeltoosmall

 

But no.  No, I don’t think it is.  And when I feel as though I should be writing something else, blogging about something else, I stop, take a breath, and remind myself.  Because though The Singularity Wheel is even more “out there” than The Eye-Dancers is, and though it features parallel worlds and quantum mechanics and a weird intergalactic virus that can snuff the protagonists right out of existence, it also, it is my hope, explores themes and ideas that are universal and enduring–themes like discovery, friendship, our connection to the universe and each other, understanding, and love.  And in the climate of 2017, when so many are so divided by so much, these are themes worth writing about.

themeslove

 

So I write.  I write.  And I hope you will, too.  One voice becomes two, which in turn becomes four, and it expands exponentially, rising in pitch, impossible to ignore.

voicesjoiningexponentially

 

When that nagging inner critic tries to sabotage your attempts and tells you to deep-six your efforts, that what you have to say is too “small” and lacks the scope to make a difference in a world so much in need of healing, fight back.  Write that story.  Craft that article or poem.  Post that blog.  And realize that your truth, your message, your courage to speak out and speak up is like a ripple in a pond, spreading and multiplying.  And inspiring others to join you.

ripplesinpond

 

Now, more than ever, let your voice be heard.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

56 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. authorpradeeps
    Jan 12, 2017 @ 20:12:28

    Very interesting post, not just the content but the images that you’ve used effectively. Thank you!

    Reply

  2. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Jan 12, 2017 @ 21:22:20

    Thank you for addressing exactly what’s been bugging me lately, Mike. And know that, as of now, I am riding your ripple.

    Reply

  3. maguinolbay
    Jan 13, 2017 @ 01:59:55

    Wow. Thanks. I have lot of ideas but just like your classmate decades ago, I am inhibited by my writing style. You see, I dont write as well as you do. I write not because I want to become famous, not really. In fact, my blogging started because my children wanted to see their faces in the internet. Thank you very much for this very inspiring article.

    Reply

  4. Karina Pinella
    Jan 13, 2017 @ 03:00:35

    Well said. We all have a story to tell, big or small. It is in the heart of the beholder to find the depth and breadth of our story.

    Reply

  5. stormy1812
    Jan 13, 2017 @ 03:01:00

    So no lies, I related because my name is Jennifer and I happen to write ha! It’s also possible that because I’m a whopping 4’8″ that I totally relate to small haha! No that really isn’t it. There’s also the fact that so many times I have been so filled with doubt about what I write and what not. Lately, I too have been real worried about what’s around the corner and trying to not feel overwhelmed by what feels like daunting tasks of getting involved but like you said, even the small things are so important. As for the writing part of this, man you hit another important note for me! I worry far too much that my life is so boring and uneventful and yet as a writer, there’s still material even in the little things that I do experience. It’s about all the relatable things that make us connected even when we think we have no connections. Most of the relatable things are those little things – not the grand. Pretty amazing really. So on a couple of personal notes – I know I’ve been absent for far too long but what a post to come back to! 🙂 In my absence, I’ve been promoted to editor at a sister newspaper (as of last September) and still working much of the same type of work but for a different town. I’ve been absent from my own blog but will hopefully get back to it quickly here. Lastly, was watching that show “Stranger Things” on Netflix and there were elements of it that made me think of The Eye-Dancers. I’m looking forward to the sequel. 🙂

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 15, 2017 @ 20:12:18

      Great hearing from you, Jen! I always enjoy your comments.:) And yes–absolutely, it is our “little” moments that really mean the most and they are very much worth writing about. Doubt goes hand-in-hand with writing, I’m afraid.:( I think every writer has felt doubt at one time or another. The key is to keep writing and knowing, deep down, that your words can make a difference. And thanks for the tip on “Stranger Things”! I will have to check it out.:)

      Reply

  6. jjspina
    Jan 13, 2017 @ 04:23:01

    Wonderful post as always, Mike! Keep on writing. You definitely have something to say that all will want to read! All the best in 2017! ❤️

    Reply

  7. Lyn
    Jan 13, 2017 @ 07:46:13

    Insecurity…it can be a real killer to creativity can’t it Mike :/ I feel the same way about my MS when I compare it to The Eye Dancers.

    Reply

  8. joannerambling
    Jan 13, 2017 @ 19:43:00

    You thank us for reading I thank you for writing, I when younger had struggles with insecurity but the older I get the more I can’t give a shit, I live my life the only way I know how, I try to do more good than bad things and hope I am loved

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 15, 2017 @ 20:15:12

      Thanks so much, Joanne! And your outlook is great–too often I struggle with insecurity and doubts. I hope to be able to conquer those more and more going forward . . .

      Reply

  9. Christy B
    Jan 13, 2017 @ 19:59:29

    Thank you Mike for reminding me to keep going with the draft for my next book.. and for remembering that what we write can really make a difference xx I can’t wait to read the sequel!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 15, 2017 @ 20:16:50

      Thanks so much, Christy! I am so close to finishing the first draft of the sequel, and the next chapter is a particularly daunting one, but your comments help and inspire me to get at it and write away!:)

      Reply

  10. Katie Marie
    Jan 14, 2017 @ 13:46:20

    This was lovely, sharing small moments can be very effective. Insecurity about writing can be a real killer, this was a nice reminder to move past it.

    Reply

  11. evelyneholingue
    Jan 14, 2017 @ 14:20:01

    I feel for Jennifer too, Mike. And your teacher was right to remind her and all of you that “small” isn’t necessary an issue. I just finished Bruce Springsteen’s memoir and talk of a small boy (in many ways) who wasn’t stopped by his apparent limits. In fact his skinny body, his blue collar roots and New Jersey origins ( a blend of Italian and Irish blood) became his force, his uniqueness and his success. It’s sometimes hard to remain true to ourselves, but in the end it’s only this “trueness” that resonates with others. When we act and are fake, nothing happens.
    And I relate so much to your sentence: “I am deeply concerned–troubled, even–about what 2017 will bring.”
    I wish you the very best for 2017 in all aspects of your life as well as to the readers of your great blog.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 15, 2017 @ 20:19:33

      Thanks so much, Evelyne! Your ongoing support has meant so much.:) I am a fan of Bruce Sprinsteen, so I will need to read his memoir, too.:) I hope your 2017 is off to a wonderful start!

      Reply

  12. reocochran
    Jan 16, 2017 @ 03:51:58

    Look at already the ripples you made in a few days. Mike, the message in the class was so valuable. I know it isn’t exclusively about writers but “Desiderata” talks about each of us having a story to tell, which emphasizes no matter whose story needs to be shared, everyone has one. 🙂 This was a great post and I would rather listen to a small homey story than a worldwide travel story, told in a factual yet bitter or biting humored voice.
    I am sure your continuation of “The Eye Dancers” will be fascinating and entertaining, Mike! 🙂

    Reply

  13. stockdalewolfe
    Jan 16, 2017 @ 04:10:37

    Great lesson here, Mike. Thank you, Ellen

    Reply

  14. Ste J
    Jan 17, 2017 @ 16:52:34

    On a smaller level than an essay, in novels it is often the single sentence or image that makes the book memorable. Whether it be of a big event or a small detail. In War and Peace, I found it to be the way the light shone through the leave of a tree. One sentence in 1500 pages and that is what I always think of first.

    I think sometime there needs to be a positiveness in our work, Jennifer’s work is the perfect opposite and focuses on the intimate details, rather than a vast scope. I think I would have enjoyed both equally for different reasons. I also believe our writings can always be presented in different lights according to context and that makes the text more diverse than no doubt we ever expected.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 17, 2017 @ 19:14:32

      These are great points, and it is remarkable, isn’t it, that small details in a long work can have such profound impacts on us as readers. I have felt that way, too. There are certain novels, such as To Kill a Mockingbird or A Separate Peace, where a few sentences/images here and there are branded in my brain, permanently. As writers, too, I think we subconsciously search for that special image and special phrase–hoping we, too, can craft a thing of such resonance and endurance.

      Reply

  15. penneyvanderbilt
    Jan 21, 2017 @ 13:54:46

    Reblogged this on KCJones.

    Reply

  16. sherazade
    Jan 23, 2017 @ 22:14:27

    Very interesting post bat… a little too difficult for my poor English.
    For now Ciao da Roma

    shera

    Reply

  17. sherazade
    Jan 23, 2017 @ 22:14:48

    *but

    Reply

  18. Sherri
    Jan 24, 2017 @ 13:15:00

    Great post Mike, just what I, and many others, need to read for the beginning of 2017. I share your trepidation for the year ahead…and also those same writing fears and doubts. I struggle with thoughts about my story being irrelevant and insignificant in today’s world, wondering how I can manage to keep up with my writing and blogging and social media, which is especially hard now with all that’s going on ‘out there’. But…you are right, we do need to let our voices be heard and Jennifer’s story beautifully illustrates that. It really is in those special, intimate moments of our lives that we find connection with others when we share them, those times that others might not think much about until they read someone else’s account of baking cookies with their mom when its snowing outside and remember how it felt when they did the same thing. And how important that was for them in their lives. Just as you’re doing with your sequel to Eye Dancers…your story and its theme is timeless and enduring and we need stories like yours more than ever! Keep writing my friend…and I’ll do the same 🙂

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 26, 2017 @ 19:02:06

      Thanks so much, Sherri! I was feeling a little bit uninspired today, but your words have inspired me and given me the boost I need.:) And yes, keep writing, indeed! I look forward to staying in touch and reading your great work throughout 2017!

      Reply

      • Sherri
        Jan 27, 2017 @ 10:53:33

        Oh I’m so glad Mike! We inspire each other, that’s for sure, and we will indeed keep writing and pressing on and keeping in touch throughout these days ahead, whatever they may bring. Keep smiling, keep writing and and see you again soon! 🙂

  19. Ipuna Black
    Feb 04, 2017 @ 01:22:50

    Thank you, Mike! You speak about the fears all of us writers have. It’s encouraging to know we are not alone. Every voice counts. I wish you the best on your sequel. 🙂​ The Eye-Dancers is very touching. I’m sure book two will be just as great.

    Reply

  20. Ipuna Black
    Feb 11, 2017 @ 04:10:49

    Mike,
    I know you are busy! If you have time, I nominated you for the Blogger Recognition Award. This is all new to me, so play if you have time. 😉​
    http://wp.me/p4oQp5-E3

    Reply

  21. pinchofdelight
    Feb 11, 2017 @ 08:44:19

    Very interesting post!
    Thank you for stopping by my blog, I really appreciate it! 🙂

    Reply

  22. Karen's Nature Art
    Feb 17, 2017 @ 05:06:13

    What a timely post… Thank you.

    Reply

  23. Knipperdeknip
    Mar 06, 2017 @ 20:28:15

    Hi, you’ve great talent to tell stories and a great memory as well I think! Keep writing because someone who writes stays forever….they say in Belgium!

    Reply

  24. natuurfreak
    Mar 09, 2017 @ 20:07:17

    Well done.Fine to read it.

    Reply

  25. isabelburt
    Mar 12, 2017 @ 18:41:49

    Good sentiments:)

    Reply

  26. Liz
    May 04, 2017 @ 13:05:21

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply

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