The Most Important Thing You'll Ever Do: WRITE

5 Reasons Writing Is Important to the World

The Most Important Thing You'll Ever Do: WRITE

I find myself a little trepidatious as I sit down to write this post. I just downed my morning coffee, and the caffeine is kicking in and latching onto my nerves, making my fingers just a little trembly.

Why am I nervous?

Because this is such a big post. And such a deeply personal post.

Let’s face it, people, the world’s a mess right now. I think the vast majority of us agree on that, to one degree or another, regardless our worldview. And what are we doing about it? What can we do about it?

We’re just average people. Normal people. People who get scared and confused. People whose own little howling demons somehow have the ability to overwhelm us even more easily than the monsters that seem to be crunching our world for breakfast right now.

We’re just folks who put words on paper. We’re just people spinning little tales that make us happy or fulfill our own fantasies: romance and superheroes, dragons and femme fatales. We’re just writers.

That doesn’t seem like much right now. It certainly doesn’t seem like enough.

Why Am I Writing? What’s the Point?

Stories have always been my language. I told myself stories all through childhood. I read voraciously. I playacted constantly, pretending I was characters in my favorite books. My imagination spun webs of wonder and possibility all around me. Life was never just what it was. It was always more. It was always a portal to something bigger, something that mattered: a story.

I thought that’s what the world was. I thought that was how everyone saw the world.

Then, of course, I grew up. I became a writer, not so much because I wanted to do anything big and important, but because that something big and important was already a part of me. All that passion and wonder of storytelling was something that just flowed out of me. I couldn’t help but share it.

You-cant-depend-on-your-eyes-when-your imagination is out of focus Mark TwainExcept it seemed most people didn’t see stories the way I did. I’d close a book or come out of a movie, and the world would be shining because of the power I’d just experienced—the portal to immortality I’d just glimpsed. But others would just shrug. “Yeah, it was fun.”

Slowly, disillusionment crept in. I have always maintained, based on my own experiences as much as anything, that stories should be more than mere entertainment and escapism. That, indeed, they must be. Yet everywhere I looked, it seemed that’s all other people were getting out of their stories.

Is that all stories are? A soporific drug to numb our minds against the difficulties, confusion, and sometimes downright horror of our lives?

Is that what I’ve spent my life in pursuit of, as both a reader and a writer? Am I and a small handful of others the only ones who see stories as more and are affected by them on a soul-deep level?

Are Stories a Force for Evil?

Depressed yet? Let’s take it one step farther. Disillusioning as it may be to think of stories as a mere neutral force in the world, what if it’s worse than that? What if they’re actually a force for evil?

Anjelica Huston’s wicked stepmother has a line in Andy Tennant’s Cinderella retelling Ever After that always makes me snicker. She self-assuredly puts down her step-daughter with the pert declaration:

People read because they cannot think for themselves.

Anjelica Huston Ever After

It’s obviously a ridiculous statement. Just the reverse is true.

Isn’t it?

Those Who Tell the Stories Rule Society PlatoNo culture in history has ever been so saturated with stories as ours. Books, movies, television. Mass media connects us all and is undeniably used as a tool for propaganda. As writers, we are influenced by popular fiction in all its forms, even as it grows ever more violent, ever more gratuitous.

Sometimes I find myself asking, “Am I sharing my truths—or someone else’s?” Could it be that my stories and I are only contributing to society’s downward spiral. Am I helping at all? Or am I maybe even hurting?

A few weeks ago, I watched the documentary Kingdom of Dreams and Madness about Studio Ghibli and beloved Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, as he was working on what was thought to be his final film, The Wind Rises, about the inventor of the World War II-era Zero fighter plane. In it, Miyazaki mused that animation is like aeronautics:

You know, people who design airplanes and machines. No matter how much they believe that what they do is good, the winds of time eventually turn them into tools of industrial civilization. It’s never unscathed. They’re cursed dreams. Today, all of humanity’s dreams are cursed somehow. Beautiful, yet cursed dreams.

The Wind Rises

He went on to say:

Personally I am very pessimistic. But when, for instance, one of my staff has a baby you can’t help but bless them for a good future. Because I can’t tell that child, “Oh, you shouldn’t have come into this life.” And yet I know the world is heading in a bad direction. So with those conflicting thoughts in mind, I think about what kind of films I should be making.

Personally, I have always considered myself neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a realist. It’s my blithe answer: “I’m a realist.” But Miyazaki’s words hit me in the heart. I am, I think, a pessimist (or perhaps have become one), and yet, in my stories, my writing, I wake up and seek optimism every single day.

That is no force for evil.

The Devil Has No Stories

Heroes of the City of ManPeter J. Leithart opens his book Heroes of the City of Man (an analysis of Greek epics), with the introduction “The Devil Has No Stories.” The more I study story theory—structure, character arcs, and particularly theme—the more I can’t help but find this an inescapable truth. (Although I don’t believe in a literal devil.)

Stories are, fundamentally, truths. Even when the author didn’t intend it to be so, even when he is unaware of it—even when the readers or viewers are unaware–a story is always a statement. If it is to ring true, then what it says must reflect reality—it must reflect what is true.

And what is true is always good—whether it is beautiful, whether it is dark, whether it is healing, whether it is painful. Truth is always a beacon, a guiding light pointing us back to the best things in life.

In that introduciton, Leithart wrote:

Somewhere, even in the stories of the most self-consciously rebellious storyteller, God’s story shines through.

In exploring stories, in sharing stories, humans are reaching for something better. Unwittingly, we are searching for the divine. We are trying to make sense of our world by seeking what is real, by rejecting what is false, and by exercising the greatest of our mortal gifts in pursuit of the immortal.

In his epic poem Mythopoeia (written for a then-doubting C.S. Lewis), J.R.R. Tolkien declares:

The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act….

5 Reasons Story Is a Power for Good

Caught Up in a Story Sarah ClarksonShortly after watching the Miyazaki documentary, I read Sarah Clarkson’s slim book Caught Up in a Story—an encouragement to parents to “storyform” their children’s lives. I read it primarily with an interest in finding appropriate reading choices for my young niece and nephew. But by the time I was finished, I knew I had read it mostly for me.

Clarkson argues eloquently for the unshakable importance of stories within our lives, especially during childhood:

Man still has the power to make sense of the world by telling a story about it.

Her affirmation filled a hole within me I hadn’t even realized had grown so deep.

Yes, writing is important.

Yes, stories matter.

Yes, stories change the world for good.

Yes, yes, yes.

writing 21st century fiction donald maassAs Donald Maass says in Writing 21st-Century Fiction:

[Great fiction] creates characters we become, brings us into their experience and makes that experience real. It then reveals to us through their inner journeys and themes of the story what it all means. Great fiction opens readers’ hearts and, once they are captive and pliant, then opens their minds.

Here are five reasons writing a story is possibly the most powerful act for good you will ever accomplish in your life.

1. Stories Give Us Good Truths

Every story is variation of Robert Frost’s “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” Choices are made; consequences are met. That is life. Stories show us the “good” truths—the possibilities for joy and wholeness, peace and sanity—when we make the right choices. No matter how escapist or fluffy they may seem, our stories are working out the hypothetical questions of life. “If I did this, then would this happen?” Stories are the answers, an affirmation that when we seek Truth, we find Truth—and it sets us free.

2. Stories Give Us Bad Truths

“But what about the great tragedies?” someone might argue. There are a lot of dark and depressing stories out there (just as there are stories that lead us deeper into our own dark temptations). Not every story will affect every person in a positive way. But “true” stories, even the dark ones, always shine a light on reality. Tragedies show us the “bad” truths, the truths that inevitably eventuate when we choose the wrong path and must face its consequences.

3. Stories Open Our Minds and Teach Us Empathy

What are we without stories? We are individuals, isolated islands, aware only of our own inner life and our own experiences. Stories open our eyes to the larger world, allowing us to discover faraway places and possibilities. But, even more valuable, we glimpse—if only for those few hours—another person’s soul. We see into the characters’ heads, and, through them, we see into the author’s. That wide-open wonder of untapped possibilities I experienced as a child? That is the power of story: it is a window into the greater truths of the world at large, beyond the minuscule limits of ourselves.

4. Stories Offer Us Archetypal Role Models

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in the midst of a difficult experience or faced by an overwhelming decision—and you were helped in remembering a character who endured something similar. Books change our lives because they reflect our lives. We relate to our similarities in fictional characters. Then, when we watch those characters throw off the shackles of their own fears and doubts and insecurities to make right choices and hard sacrifices, the reflection bounces back to inspire us “further up and further in” as we strive to fight the good fight in our own lives.

5. Stories Teach Us to Hope

We’re all toiling, like the Hebrews in the mud pits of Egypt, up to our knees in muck. We’re all struggling to do the best we can. In the midst of that struggle, it can be so incredibly, ridiculously easy to pour our entire focus into the mud at our feet. We begin to think that’s all there is. We forget to look up; we forget to hope. Stories remind us. They show us the big picture of another person’s struggle and they remind us we are not surrendering to darkness. Rather, we are walking through darkness to the light.

In M. Night Shyamalan’s movie The Village, William Hurt’s character insists, “The world moves for love.”

But when I hear his voice in my head, those aren’t the words I hear. What I hear is:

The world moves for stories.

The world is a story. In writing stories, we are capturing a tiny part of that. We are celebrating it. We are experiencing it, and we are sharing it. We are taking each other’s hands, and we are raising each other’s chins, and we are walking toward hope.

Write your stories. They do matter. They are enough.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Do you think writing is important? Why? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Wonderful post. Beautifully said, too.

    Comes at the perfect time for me.

  2. Yes, writing is very important.

  3. Thank you for this post!! It’s such an encouraging confirmation of what I’ve hardly dared hope by someone outside my own mind. I think as human beings, we need to know that our lives are intrinsically meaningful, and story has a beautifully intentional way of reflecting that meaning and purpose, even as it echoes the grander story of our lives at large.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, I think being a writer reflects that two-fold: we’re more aware of the intrinsic meaning of via the stories, and we also get to participate in sharing that awareness through our own stories.

  4. Thank you K.M. Beautifully and powerfully put.

  5. Becky Diaz says:

    I needed to read this article badly. Thank you so much.
    My to-be-read pile grows bigger everyday. As a reader I treasure it but as a writer I wonder sometimes, does my writing even matter? There is so much out there, so many books, so many great writers, why would my stories make any difference, be of any importance whatsoever? Why am I doing this?
    And usually hits me, I’m doing it because I can’t help it, because I need it. Reading and writing has been my passion since my childhood. Since I can remember it’s been my refuge.
    But it’s so good to know that others may need to read my stories too and use them as a refuge of their own
    Thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I don’t think the sheer quantity of available stories should be a deterrent to adding our own voices. A friend and I were talking a while back about how the “books that changed our lives” are usually *not* the big, obvious titles that are *supposed* to change our lives. Rather, it’s the random phrase in the random (and possibly otherwise forgettable) book that triggers something that stays with us forever. Even if our books never become big and powerful, you never know when a random little something might be exactly what someone else needed to hear.

      • I so much agree with this. And, everyone who writes and shares it with anyone is moving the craft along to the next generation, whether the individual stories are remembered or not.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Exactly! It’s still the old cycle of storytellers passing the stories down to the next generation of storytellers–even though we don’t do it orally anymore.

    • Becky – I know exactly how you feel. How will my story make any difference amongst the vast and endless supply of novels and stories out there? I think the answer is, it may not . . . but I will write it anyway. It will matter to me. And perhaps to somebody else 🙂
      Best of luck!

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        The only time you know exactly who you’re going to help is when you do nothing, because then the answer is always: no one. So keep writing! 🙂

  6. Very encouraging, Katie. Thank you.

    To sow seeds of good, for good, in all who read them….This is why I’ve wanted to write, why I’m writing now, why I hope the things I say matter.

    I’m glad you had the courage to spur us on with your words today.

    And that, I think, is good.

  7. Kate Flournoy says:

    YES. That’s all I can say. YES. Beautifully said, Katie. This is why I write— besides the wonder itching inside me to be expressed, the knowledge that I have the power to inspire others and satisfy a hunger screaming to be satisfied keeps me going.
    Story is truth. Truth is the end of the road for every human being, and so it’s always beautiful— never unneeded, never empty. Truth’s funny that way, you know? 😉

    “further up and further in”… love that reference. 😀

    • Hiya Kate! I’ll second that YES. I’ve been considering theme more deeply. Thanks to the wise teachings of our Jedi comrade, Katie.

      Keep writing sister!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I always say I’d write even no one ever read me, and it’s true. But there is undoubtedly a need for meaning, a need to know it’s not worthless and there is a purpose, whether big or small. And I truly believe there is.

  8. Nice post. You’re really waxing poetic and philosophical here. Stories do matter; and writing them is significant. There not one soul on earth who isn’t touched, shaped, or influenced by story.
    When we do them right, readers experience the internal struggles, the motivations and resultant themes that we craft. It’s a biological lure. You’re going to love Story Genius!

    We read to our children 15 minutes every night before bed. I’ve heard that is one of the best things you can do with your child for development. Characters are great but parents also need to be their “protagonist”. Children imitate what they see in stories and those who are close to them. So when I woke up this morning I was pleased to see a book in my son’s hand. He was sitting peacefully on the couch skimming the pages of the book we read the night before. My other son took two books to daycare with him. One of them being 20,000 leagues in the sea. I forgot the exact title. He’s only 7.

    Me personally, I don’t live for stories. I enjoy them and recognize their place, but they’re not everything. The most motivated person is God himself, and ultimately we are in His Story. Believe it or not, conflict does come from a hidden antagonist, the devil. Don’t be deceived. Unlike us, He does not have flaws, his only wound was on the cross. But that he suffered to accomplish his goal motivated by his desire. He now lives in us to be the protagonist, so to speak, overcoming the effects of the lie. The deception embedded deep in humanity’s core. His story is Christ and the church. The only story that truly matters. Everything else will vanish. For his story is the only one that will remain.

    • Amen — and how wonderful that He has made us part of Himself, and brought us into his story.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I love that you make time to read your kids. I see so much value in that, on so many levels. It’s such a nurturing place, a place of shared experiences. Also like what you say about parents being the protagonist in their children’s childhood.

      • I don’t remember anyone reading to me much as a child. There isn’t a distinct memory of it anyway. I’ve talked to so many writers, including you, who had very memorable reading experiences growing up.

        All your stories matter. You’ve touched lives in ways you’ll probably never know.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          I have that one vivid memory of my dad reading Scottish Chiefs to me, but that was about it. My parents were big readers, and that is something I wish had been a bigger, more intentional part of my formative years.

  9. I am so glad you wrote this. This message is more important than ever. The world tells us to pay attention to the workings of power, as if the latest political developments were the most important things happening. But those things matter only because they affect real people — our little lives are so much bigger than we even know, and stories put us in touch with that. We were made for eternity, and the more confusing things get in the world, the more power struggles dominate our newsfeeds, the more we need to be reminded of what is really significant.

    • This is so true. There’s a kind of numbing affect in the media. The political craze, gossip, global catastrophe, death. In our stories we have the ability to remind people what really matters.

      • So true! We start to believe the lie that what appears to be “bigger” is more important. All the while, God uses the small, everyday, apparently weak things.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The more I study story theory and structure, the more I see it reflected in the world itself, in history. Story is something so much bigger than we are–so much bigger than even the little tales we weave. It *is* part of the eternal. Even though our own little lives come and go like a breath of wind, and even though it’s sometimes arguable whether we truly accomplish anything for good, a participation in that overarching Story is something so much bigger and better than I think we’re even able to comprehend.

  10. As always, wonderfully stated. You capture the writer’s despair–and resolve. Yes, we must continue to write, to tell our stories, to tell healing stories. How could we not?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It really isn’t a choice, is it? We may grow weary, confused, and even conflicted. But we keep telling stories. It’s a daily claiming of hope.

  11. Somewhat into my 50s, I sit down in front of the computer one evening and start looking back. My fingers dance on the keys forming words on the screen — yes, I am a writer, and in some manner I have always been a writer and story-teller since I mastered the craft of handling letters at the age of 5. I started reading science fiction when I was 8 years old (Jules Verne and Robert Heinlein in Swedish translations) and one year later I penned my first SF story as a school essay. When I was 14 I tried writing a novel, a pastiche à la The Prisoner of Zenda; it was failure and never got completed, but somewhere in my home lies a bundle of school notebooks (the classic ones with dark blue covers) with this tale of adventure and war in the 1890s.

    And this road goes ever on, to paraphrase Tolkien. I am not the first wordsmith in the family, I have been told. My father’s father, who passed away long before I was born, made an art of writing clever and complex rhymed riddles on Christmas gifts (a Swedish tradition), poking fun at the gift and its recipient.

    But unlike anyone else in the clan, I seem to be the first one to make a living out of writing. Well, I am not speaking of my fiction, but most of my professional life I have been writing non-fiction: games, media analyses, technical documents, magazine articles on science subjects (popular science, not research), books and reports on UN peacekeeping, press releases, etc. I am did not consciously seek this career. It just turned out that I had a particular skill and put it to use. I grabbed the assignments within reach and convinced those that pay my salary that I would be doing a good job.

    And I enjoy doing it. The thoughts swirl in my mind and form sentences by themselves. It does not matter whether I use Swedish or English, it just happens. Interestingly, I write (and probably think) in somewhat different ways with the two languages. My English tends to be more to the point, whereas my Swedish is more embellished.

    Well, I remember reading a Steinbeck novel when I was young. Its protagonist was a man of my current age. And he thought he was seeing “the end of the race”. Life had gone from summer to autumn, so to speak. There are days when I feel like that, too. Then time becomes precious and I ponder on how to use the remaining 15-20 years of professional life. There are so many stories I want to tell, but which are the ones that would grab the attention of others. I don’t want to waste those limited months and years. I do not write for the desk drawer — I am a story-teller.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s interesting me that writing runs in families–and yet it makes total sense since I think the vast majority of people are drawn to tell stories, in some form or another, at some point in their lives. It’s deep in the human race, so to speak.

      • I have often thought about the genetic inclination toward writing and storytelling in my own family. My mother had several poems recognized in anthologies prior to her death. My hulking man’s man of a father wrote romantic poems while courting and married to her. My son is a very deep-thinking 30 year old whose words scribed onto the page always make me cry. And here I am; writing God knows what for the next 30 years because I may burst if I do not. Also, as an added benefit, my writing keeps my coworkers sane lest I drown them in a daily story hour.

        Thank you for this article at a time when I needed (and so many others need) some small affirmation of why I must write.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          I think it’s just a natural outpouring of the human soul. It’s just that some of us follow the rabbit hole deeper than others.

  12. Thank you K, for the well thought post. Story might prove to be a catalyst for hope.

  13. Where’s the like button?
    Well I liked it on FB, and shared it.

    Keep writing KM.
    It is important. It Does make a difference.

  14. Tom Youngjohn says:

    We need stories.

  15. I needed to read this post today. I can relate to feeling like writing “escapist” fiction is not enough to make an impact. But the truth is that stories convey truths that are worth telling. Thank you for that reminder!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I don’t want to totally knock escapism. I think there’s a time and a place and a benefit to it sometimes. But I don’t want that to be *all* (or even *most*) of what my stories are.

      • Definitely agree with that. I used quotes around “escapist” because I picture an old woman looking down at fantasy and science fiction as “escapist” even when it is of good quality. So when I read your post, it was encouraging to know that writing fiction isn’t as useless as the old woman of my imagination thinks.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          I think it’s kinda one of those “too much of a good things” things. Escapism is great in its proper place; it’s only when we indulge in it to the detriment of our mental and spiritual health–or the exclusion of “meatier” things–that it’s a problem.

  16. Steven Duncan says:

    Actually I’d be more willing to bet that you really weren’t nervous, as much as you are anxious

  17. Lily Spinner says:

    This was a beautiful post and really struck deep. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the matter.

  18. Sharon J says:

    You made me fall in love with writing! I’ve thought for a long time that I would like to be a writer. Now I’m sure I want to be one.

    Thank you for this post. Yes, with regard to stories having meaning. My husband only sees books and movies as entertainment. I am glad to find a fellow story-lover who sees so much more.

    Love your books (I have your Outlining and workbook and just ordered Structuring and the workbook) and your blog.

  19. Ruchama says:

    The Dahli Lama asked a group of prominent Jews how the Jewish religion and culture and the Jews as a people had survived during 2000 years of exile from Israel. The answer was basically, by telling the story. Most notably the Telling happens on Passover, but the whole yearly cycle of readings and rituals are a continuing retelling of the story of a People and and a Religion. Some scientists also believe that story telling allows evolution of humans to proceed more rapidly, since knowledge and values are passed directly from one generation to the next, not genetically evolved. Finally, I’ve discovered over the years that if you want to understand history and a culture from the past, the best way is to read fiction written during the historical period. Much more reliable than history, which deals primarily with kings and wars. Even historical fiction tells you a great deal about the period in which it is written. For example, Gone With the Wind’s romanticized view of the Civil War South, tells you a great deal about how the south saw itself and its history in the 1930’s when Margaret Mitchell was writing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Totally agree about the value of historical fiction of the period. It is, of course, subjective as well, but seeing the first-hand opinions of people is invaluable.

  20. Charissa says:

    As I’ve listened to your series on character arcs over the past week or so, I’ve been really struck by how much story is about truth vs. lie. A bit of lightbulb for me! That whole realisation just clicks so organically (to mix my metaphors) into how I see so many of the issues in life and in the wider world. Writing is a powerful thing. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes! Honestly, the whole exploration of character arcs, over the last few years, has been life-changing for me on levels so much deeper than just writing because, of course, it is deeply reflective of real life.

  21. LaDonna K Ockinga says:

    Written with a loving search for truth. I was moved and inspired. Thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I tend to think Truth is the greatest of our human quests–and writers are perhaps more equipped for the journey than some. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  22. In the movie “Genius” about the famous editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) who edited Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel”, he says the storytellers around the campfire, surrounded by animal sounds in the dark, helped people not be so afraid.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I like that quote. 🙂 Haven’t seen the movie though. I’ll have to check it out.

    • Ruchama says:

      Perkins also was Scott Fitzgerald’s editor; I recall a passage, I’m pretty sure from Fitzgerald about pioneer mother’s falsely singing or saying to their children that was no wolf outside the door (No pun intended 😉 I think we crave order in the world and stories create that, poetic justice, criminal justice and romantic happy endings so much neater than the tangled reality in which we live.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        One of my favorite story theory books The Moral Premise talks about how stories often “deal with fundamental cultural conflicts that can never be ultimately solved but yet offer a solution, if only temporary and idealistic.” It’s a piece of hope, a promise of hope.

  23. Joe Long says:

    I didn’t read much fiction before I became an adult, and even afterwards. I was always fascinated by science and numbers, and believe I that by the time I was 12 I had read about every book on cosmology in our library. Even today my friends joke about me being “a numbers guy.” Writing was never easy, but in recent years I’ve needed to publish some technical articles and occasionally speak in public. Even Twitter and message boards require the ability to organize and effectively communicate my thoughts.

    My teen years were very emotionally painful. I had some good times, but there was a lot of frustration. Many (many!) years later I can look back on how I’ve grown and succeeded and along the way accumulated decades of wisdom (even if I still make mistakes.)

    This WIP is premised on my teen years, where I struggled with being a fairly normal guy in college who still never had a real girlfriend and was (what felt like) relentlessly criticized by his father. There were many days I struggled to not breakdown and cry from the pain – but I survived, found Christ, and have had a good life.

    In the story, temptation comes. Will he recognize it, act on it? It’s the opportunity he’s been waiting for, but because of circumstances others disapprove. There are good times but also dark consequences. Just like life – a step forward and another backward. It’s not my story. I started at the same point but took another path. I’ve used many anecdotes from throughout my life and shared most of my current attitudes about life and relationships.

    It has been released in serial form as I work my way through the chapters, and I have received feedback from several readers who have thanked me for providing hope – as they too have been in similar circumstances and needed to hear that things can work out. That means more than anything to me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I have a book on my shelf right now–haven’t read it yet–called Speak What We Feel (Not What We Ought to Say). It’s supposed to be about the importance of being honest, in our fiction, about our own struggles, temptations, and dark places. It’s the only way to share the human experience, and the only way for any of us–writer or reader–to work through the dark places to find light.

  24. I love this. In my college entrance essay many years ago *cough* I wrote that I do not have golden gloves or a silver tongue: I’ve got a platinum pen.

    I’ve always thought that the best way to expose ideas, good or evil, is via stories. I was drawn to science fiction / fantasy because they let us explore ideas in ways that more straightforward fiction doesn’t.

    Your truth vs. lie concept hit on one reason I tend to avoid dystopian fiction: because the dystopian regimes in those stories are rarely built around believable lies. They do not have sweet deceptions at their core that would rally good people to fall for them. They therefore do not require any virtue or insight on the part of the protagonist to fight against them; they’re cotton candy to the reader.

    Stories can be weapons (a theme explored in Terry Pratchett’s books), but also they can be tools to educate our better natures. Or just plain educate. In my trilogy, I have a playwright who needed to warn people against a mysterious group of traitors. I considered the matter, and thought that if the news were to report actual vampires and werewolves showing up, we’d suddenly see people raiding lumber yards and antique shops for silver. Why? Because stories told us that you need sharp wood and silver bullets to deal with such creatures.

    How many times do we hear of certain news in politics, tech, medicine or science and immediately someone will reference “1984” or “Frankenstein” or the “Island of Dr. Moreau”? We have a mental framework for confronting ethical issues because stories gave us a frame of reference for all the ways an idea could go wrong. On the flip side, how many of the people working for Blue Origin, Space X, Virigin Galactic, or NASA first saw “Star Trek” or read Heinlein, etc?

    So, the playwright in my story used the power of storytelling to accomplish her goal. The key thing, and one key reason I love this site, is that to deliver a message, the story must be good.

    Sure, some people won’t get much out of any given story other than the story being good or bad or “meh.” But there’s a scene in the Book of Exodus where certain artisans are summoned to build the tabernacle. They’re chosen for the fineness of their craftsmanship, the beauty of their work directed to crafting items for the house of God. It’s important to me to be the equivalent of those artisans as a storyteller, where I wrought works in ink and pixels the quality of what they wrought in gold, silver, or bronze. That is why I come here 🙂

    Thank you for this post, and thank you for all the other posts you have done and have yet to do.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Spot on about dystopian “regimes.” That was a hang-up I had with The Hunger Games. How on God’s green earth did the Capitol ever conceive of killing off people’s children as a good plan for keeping them in line? /facepalm

      • Joe Long says:

        Generally, I think dystopian stories present some entrenched situation where nearly all of the people seek only to survive, going along to get along. They believe that in the face of overwhelming odds one person can never be strong enough to make a difference. Finally someone says, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

        I’m working on an idea for a political thriller that would be set in a bleak near future, as Jamie said, trying to make it as believable a scenario as possible. I’m also a modern history/world events buff, so it’s easy for me to recall real life situations such as ones I might imagine. Unfortunately, events on the ground may be moving faster than my imagination. As quickly as I think of some scenario, I red about it in the news.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          I agree with your interpretation of dystopian stories. It just that the backstory doesn’t always seem logical to me. :p

          • Joe Long says:

            Yes, the author still has to execute, and perhaps that’s a harder genre to do well.

  25. Lovely and persuasive piece, K.M. (Though I was already persuaded.) I’m now editing the draft of a collaborative novel the pushes the protagonist to the edge of a cliff, but he crawls back, and I worried a bit that it might seem a little corny, despite its developed arc. But reading your post again affirms the core value of storytelling. Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Cliffs are big symbolic motif in a lot of my writing too, as a matter of fact. 🙂

  26. Katie–you’re quoting Narnia, you’ve got a clip from one of my favorite movies, and you’re forcing me to think deeper and deeper (as always). Never stop doing what you do.

  27. Thank you for sharing from your soul the thoughts and passion that describe so many of us writers. Indeed, writing grabs hold of us and just doesn’t let go.

    I’m mesmerized by the nature of how an idea transforms into a powerful book or article that shouts to the world, “Hey! Look at this! Read it, learn from it, cry over it, laugh with it, love it!”

    I share your passion, my friend.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I totally agree! Inspiration fascinates me. How we go from a little spark to a full-on firestorm is incredible.

  28. Ruchama says:

    Thanks for the mention of Moral Premise; Although I already own way too many books on how and why to write, Moral Premise seems to be particularly appropriate for the project I’ve committed to finish. I’m debating between ebook and used paperback.

  29. Steve Mathisen says:

    I can totally relate to your experience coming out of movies or finishing books. I wanted to continue to live in whatever universe I had just visited. I never wanted it to end. I remember when I was little (when television was still relatively young) many of my heroes lived in that land inside our television. I wanted to emulate them. My heroes included Superman, Zorro, and The Lone Ranger. Being a bit of a loner, I would pretend to be them in my play time. I lived in a neighborhood that had a 5 and 10 cent store. I could purchase, with my allowance, masks that resembled The Lone Ranger’s mask and I used one of the gates of our backyard fence for my horse (it was wide enough to sit on the had slats that I could use for stirrups).
    I would also haunt the local library when I was old enough and carried home stacks of books to read.
    Stories have always been a powerful medium for me. I am glad to know I was not the only one they had this effect on.

  30. Andrewiswriting says:

    Hi!

    Wow, what a heavy post. Ok, a few points.

    Firstly, let’s address that pervasive feeling things are getting worse and the world is going to heck (I love the way Americans say that) in a handcart:
    https://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence?language=en
    https://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_shows_the_best_stats_you_ve_ever_seen?language=en

    I think what’s really happening is that the increasing volume of media not only lets us see more of the less-badness that is happening, but serves the propaganda machine of the ‘be afraid!’ lobby – and always for their ends, not ours.

    And let me head off any talk of terrorism by pointing out I’m old enough to remember the IRA, baby. Those guys were blowing things up left, right and centre on a daily basis. Maybe it didn’t get the play in The States that the current handful of nutbags are, but believe me, they were far worse and did much more. And the Middle East in the seventies? Forgeddaboudit.

    Secondly, writing CLEARLY is important, because it allowed JK Rowling first to become a billionaire, and then – far more importantly – to become less that half a billionaire again, because of all the money she could turn to worthy charitable causes for children and people all over the world. That’s pretty awesome, I reckon.
    And you know, if my stuff is ever successful, I’ve got a list…

    So hopefully that’s the point proven, but I’m going to blather on because a) it’s in my nature; and b) I think I have more to say.

    Writing gives us the opportunity to say things that matter to us, and to dress them in allegorical fables that entertain as they argue a point. And the story form allows us a huge degree of subtlety in making that argument. Examples that the reader feels as though they are real. The ability to draw real life experience and the hopes and dreams and lives of real people into a fantasy. If we do it well enough.

    Consider the subtexts in the Harry Potter series around racism and oppression and good and evil, and how they might have helped form values and principles in the kids who read them. I know one young woman in particular who was so motivated by those values that she recently walked from Melbourne to Canberra to argue at Parliament House for refugees. That’s pretty enormous. (for the non-Australians in the audience, that’s walking 663km/412miles).

    Now, obviously she’s an outlier, but who can say what subtle changes those sorts of attitudes may have wrought in others, who will have a broader (if not so spectacular) influence on the next generation?

    Maybe I’m a Pollyanna but I do believe.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Great thoughts here! Encouraging thoughts.

      “Writing gives us the opportunity to say things that matter to us, and to dress them in allegorical fables that entertain as they argue a point. And the story form allows us a huge degree of subtlety in making that argument.”

      And that is why I love fantasy. So much wonder and subtlety all dressed up in a gorgeous magic trick.

  31. I want you to know that this post means alot to me; especially at this juncture, when I am starting to slide slowly down the rabbit hole of self-doubt. Thank you so much for articulating what’s deep in our hearts – both as writers and readers.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’m very glad to hear that, Andrea. Sometimes the most encouraging thing in the midst of difficulties is simply knowing we’re not alone.

  32. Isn’t that the greatest accomplishment of antagonists (antagonistic forces) not only to be underestimated, but dismissed entirely?

    • If I perpetuate a lie because I think it’s truth, who do I ultimately help? Wood, hay and stubble each have certain temporary uses and benefits, but lack the qualities, the enduring value that are found in what has been refined.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        Can’t argue that. But at the end of the day each person can only be responsible for what they truly believe at any given moment. We should all be working toward refinement, and I think it’s valuable to share where we’re at along the way.

        • Indeed, and that’s grace.

          Yet, it was playing up to the emperors’ sense of refinement and sophistication that had him seeing fabric/clothing where there was none.

  33. I so enjoy all your posts, K.M. They are inspiring and instructive and creatively expressed. Yes! Our writing DOES matter. It reflects our inner being, our moral values, and, hopefully, our desire to inspire and encourage others for the good. Keep up the good work!

  34. Ruchama says:

    There is a traditional Jewish saying, slightly updated: “One who saves one person saves a universe.” I think back on some books I’ve read and how profound the effect on me has been, so for me, that author’s work is totally justified.

    I’m reading a wonderful novel, The Mirror Thief. At one point an author muses that there is an exchange of pleasure between the writer who takes pleasure in creating and the reader who takes pleasure in reading, but the exchange is at a distance, solitary pleasures both. I found that peculiarly comforting.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think that was used in Schindler’s List, wasn’t it? It’s a powerful quote.

  35. Ingrid B. says:

    “Write your stories. They do matter. They are enough.”
    Thank you for this, Katie!
    A profound post, my favorite yet because it touches my soul in so many ways. I might be wrong but I think I can say that you wrote it clearly from the heart.

    I beg forgiveness for the length of my post in advance.
    There was never a time in my life that I didn’t have a book or three in my hands. If not for reading voraciously, I would never have survived an exceptionally abusive, isolated childhood. And I’m not kidding, but that’s another story…

    No matter if I ever do or don’t become an established author, I have to believe that there will always be souls out there in need of mental sanctuary or a hero among the pages of a book. Someone with no other way to discover what hope is, compassion, endurance of spirit, faith in something. No other way of finding inspiration in the face of all adversity to keep hanging on, knowing goodness, integrity, other virtues to be true because they read about it.

    Yeah, yeah…I hear the noises about not believing everything you read. But tell that to someone with nothing else to draw strength from yet enough smarts to have a half decent grasp on what’s realistic, what’s not, and a Public Library card in their hand. The ones that derive their own courage from J.R.R. Tolkien or dream of some place beyond the slums because they read Ray Bradbury.

    That persistence of wonder some of us experience when leaving the movies, read that last page and close the book…this is what matters though. Even if the rest of this world denies the significance of writing, books, movies, spinning yarns… as you said in this excellent post, keep fighting the good fight. Somebody has to. I’d like to think I am.

    I sometimes think of how many people take up their pens because of a writer such as yourself, Katie…a generous heart that inspires, encourages, empowers wannabes like me to take up this challenge. Good on ya, never stop.
    I rarely ‘speak my mind’ to this length but felt this was important enough to do exactly that. Rant over.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Honestly, you just made me cry. What you say about your childhood is such a powerful example of exactly what I’m trying to say. Sometimes certain novels are like letters of encouragement that were written just for us in our own special circumstances.

      • Ingrid B. says:

        Oh my… Thank you? I never meant for anyone to cry! I appreciate your candor more than you could ever know. I was one hair away from not posting it…I don’t often bare my soul and am never comfortable laying it out for the world to see.

        I’m trying to get used to that ENTER button, seems so concrete…like the hot button to Armageddon and zombies. No turning back.

        I suppose if I intend to write something worthwhile, I have to get used to sitting down at my keyboard and bleeding, good or rotten… to paraphrase some guy out there that did a little writing now and then. 😉
        I can only hope to have a smattering of the talent he and others had (and have) in the very tips of their incredible pinkies.

        Decades later, there still are very few things better to me than to hold a new book in my hands…it’s magic, with all it’s possibilities.
        I can’t quite think of anything better at the moment, though!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Hah. I have that same feeling about the Enter button sometimes. Your finger hovers over it: push, don’t push, push, don’t push. And then your hand gets a twitch and it’s too late. :p

  36. Nicely put. Some time spent following politics has taught me that not all stories are true, or good. But the good ones are, and that is why they matter. I was shaped in important ways by Tolkien, Orson Scott Card (despite what I have learned since of his views), Ursula K. LeGuin, Margaret Weis, and Tracy Hickman, and by authors of other stories more factually true. There is some danger of disillusionment is spending too much time with fiction, but I cannot regret it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hah, good point about “political stories.” And I certainly don’t believe every story is true; but I believe that if it works, there must be something True in it.

  37. Loved this post. What my experience with writing has always been is: in the deep throng of creation, the story stops being my idea alone. It feels like it is coming from somewhere else, somewhere divine. (cheesy, I know, but that’s how I feel)
    And because of that feeling, because of the changes in me, I have stop taking stories for short. In my religion, there is this belief that if you even change one single life for good, you have fulfilled your reason of creation. That feels possible through stories, to change a life. To give that one particular person hope, out there somewhere who might need just my words. And I am willing to write just for the possibility of it. Who knows, that person find me even after I am long dead. But when he/she does, my story will suddenly matter.
    So I don’t even think fiction is not important.
    And as for reading/watching, I totally am a believer of the third point you said.
    You don’t have to necessarily agree with everything you read, but the mere fact that reading helps us know more POVs, peoples with their struggles, their thoughts and way of thinking, that makes reading enough of a reason to do so.
    I have become way better of a person thanks to the stories. (my family will testify if someone doubts it) And writing is just improvising me in my personal journey to goodness.
    So never sell stories short with their monetary advantages. They are just a sprinkle of extra delight for the author’s hard work. 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I definitely don’t think (and I know you know I’m not advocating) that we should believe in or agree with everything we read. Just the opposite. It is in challenging, changing, and reaffirming our own beliefs that we narrow down our own ability to understand Truth.

  38. One of your best posts, Katie. Inspired and inspiring.

  39. Test

  40. Wonderful post. I have asked myself these questions many times as an aspiring novelist. Writing a book seemed like such a minor thing in today’s world. But it may be because of today’s world that it is one of the most important things. Thanks for keeping on the path.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes. I agree with this wholeheartedly. Honestly, I think the little things we do–whether writing or not–*do* turn out to be the most important in the long run.

  41. It wasn’t until I saw your post that I really considered this, but I have come to the conclusion that storytelling is important. But if it is, we certainly can’t stop there.

    Stories give us truths because they are arguments. There are no bad truths, but there are certainly ineffective arguments.

    So how do you make an effective argument in a storytelling medium? I think the answer lies in story theory and general rhetoric, along with critical analysis of other such arguments.

    But then, how do you develop an audience?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes! Absotively agree with this. Even poorly done stories *can* impact someone’s life for good, but how much more effective might it be if it’s actually done well?

      As for building an audience, that’s trickier. It’s a bit disingenuous, but I do believe, to some extent, in the idea of: “Build it and they will come.” By that I mean, write the stories that are your heart, write them well, get them out there–and the readers who enjoy them will stick around.

  42. Elizabeth Richards says:

    When I was in fifth grade in New York City I ran out of material to read (maybe I was home sick) and was forced to read my brother’s 7th grade reader. There I discovered the first few chapters of Rosemay Sutcliffe’s Warrior Scarlet. I made my mother go to the library so I could finish the book. I fell in love, with the Celts, with Rosemary Sutcliffe, with the whole idea of touching history.

    The next year we moved to an army depot in Germany with a Celtic graveyard preserved inside it’s fences. In the small town outside the gates, there was a house decorated with columns from a Roman villa excavated on the site. There I was in the midst of Warrior Scarlet, Eagle of the Ninth, the Lantern Bearers.

    How can I describe leaving in a place where on the surface there is one world and underneath there are hundreds of stories? Surely some language has a word for the enchantment that comes with reading. Or perhaps we should make it up.

    My dream is to write a novel that creates for some one some small part of the enchantment I’ve experienced with reading. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

    BTW: Wired for Story provides some of the scientific basis for our enchantment with story. There are plenty of scientific studies that document the impact reading has on the brain and cognitive skills. I’m fairly certain I saw a study proving that readers (and writers) are smarter and more beautiful after a book than before.

    PS: I’ve always wondered if the Biblical use of the Word, is some how tied to the human love of story.

    PSS: Thanks for raising the topic. It’s easy to forget that what we do is magical.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Definitely going to have to check out this book. Great title! And this literally took my break away: “How can I describe living in a place where on the surface there is one world and underneath there are hundreds of stories?”

  43. Thank you, Katie. Your encouragement is well-timed.

    I’ve read certain authors–Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, Dickens–not just for entertainment, but because I NEEDED their words. I needed truth.

    To quote Donald Maass again, “A breakout novelist believes that what she has to say is not just worth saying, but it must be said. It is a truth that the world needs to hear, an insight without which we would find ourselves diminished.” (Writing the Breakout Novel)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I would personalize that even more and say: “We believe *we* need that Truth, whatever it is.” It’s not a truth we’re necessarily trying to proselytize others with, but it’s one that’s so deep within us–either because we possess it or because we are longing for it–that it wells up out of our deepest being.

  44. Jeffrey Barlow says:

    You really wear your heart on your sleeve. That’s something I’ve always appreciated about you since the day I discovered your YouTube channel, and followed quickly by this site and then your literature.

    This is a touching post. People consider me to be a man of few words. I’m not very vocal. I’m incredibly introverted. I think a lot. Just as you say you never know what just might strike you, this post struck me. I’ve gone a long time being quiet and shy and I think I may understand now. I just never thought people cared or needed to hear what I have to say. That what I’ve ever had to say just didn’t matter. This is an eye opening passage of thought you’ve provided me with today. Maybe if I speak up, I might provide something to somebody – anybody – like you have for me today.

    To the power of words, my Lady, whether spoken or written or painted in abstract.

    – JMB

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’m so glad you’ve been encouraged by the post! I think the greatest gift any of us can give another is the willingness to be honest, even vulnerable. Not everyone will listen or care. But honesty speaks to honesty.

      • Jeffrey Barlow says:

        You’re absolutely right. It’s something really special and rare, and I think the reason it is so rare is because there is no formula for what will touch an individual person. That’s part of what makes us individual.

        When I first started reading this post of yours, I was really hoping for a happy ending in it, you had me worried there for a second (Actually almost a whole day because I read the first half of it then had to start work then finished when I got home, so I had a long time to think about it.)

        I’m glad that you came to the conclusion that touching people this way is what makes it all good, and worth it.

        You know what’s odd? All my life, there’s been the commonplace ways of being insulted. I never realized until now that the thing that has always upset me the most is being ignored. Like those fairweather types who will talk to you one day, but act like you are nothing more than the wind on another, who walk away as if they didn’t even hear you. Or there’s the people who don’t take what you say to heart and they never learn. And those deer -in -the -headlights types are the most frustrating people on earth.

        All this, and I still haven’t lost faith in humanity because I know there are some like us still out there.

        – JMB

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Honestly, I think more people than not feel that way about being ignored vs. being insulted. In a way, it’s kinda similar to the marketing saw “even bad publicity is better than no publicity.”

          • Jeffrey Barlow says:

            You’d think that, because of how much time I spend alone (by choice. Like I said, extreme introvert), it wouldn’t bother me so much. Maybe it’s the other way around.

  45. Agreed! Writing is important. Thank goodness, since, for most of us, it is more than something we do, but an extension of who we are. And it is more important today, in this messed up world of sound bites and marketing campaigns which are taking the place of true political campaigns, not to mention all the pain in our world.
    Yes, writing is important and I feel blessed and lucky to have that voice. Thank you, for sharing yours!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, it’s very nice to discover that what you’re doing–and will keep on doing anyway–is valuable after all!

  46. JS Hamilton says:

    First, agree with your points and enjoyed your post. Several things to add, the first regarding some of the often overlooked, practical application of stories.

    There are rare exceptions, but in most every case they teach or confirm for us how the world works, how it could work, how it used to work, how it might work in the future. This is incredibly useful and important. You see the character beat upon, treated unfairly, his dearest things taken from him – what do we all know will happen? That’s right – consequences of all kinds: successful revenge, rejuvenation as the character moves on, the list goes on. In this sense, stories are often true.

    “Regular old writing,” communicating complex ideas, the use of subtlety and nuance, symbolism, subtext, referencing, framing an argument, a point, or an opinion – these are near-superpowers in a world moving so fast that people rarely pause to really READ and analyze. This post, that email, even a text message, or a quick note in a chat room that is 3/4 symbols >8^] it is all powerful – for good and for evil.

    In a world where most people don’t understand how to read critically (some struggle with essential reading comprehension), and even fewer can analyze people effectively, writing is truly a worthwhile pursuit. Coupled with an understanding of how people deceive, the indicators of their real, internal selves, and other things they do without realizing it, writing becomes a terrible force that can stir up a mob, or put people at ease. So learning it not only empowers one as an actor on the stage, but armors one against the infinite actors out there, and allows one to warn the rest. My two cents.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I definitely have found it true in my own life that being a reader and a writer has given me much better people and psychological skills. How can you understand another person if you’ve never been inside his head or experienced life from his point of view? Writing and stories are how we share that with each other.

  47. Thank you so much for this post Katie! I really needed to read this. Everything in the world seems topsy turvy right now and confusing and this post helps me know I’m still on solid ground. Stories give me a reason to continue to believe that goodness is still out there and that things can get better. I’m always living in the world of books and thinking about movies that have really touched me. People say why do you take it personally and let if affect you which is frustrating to hear but that’s the only way I have always viewed stories. To be able to connect with them. Writing is so important especially now and reading more so than ever. Thanks again for such a lovely post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I have definitely felt that way–like the ground is shaking under my feet and the world is spinning out of control around me. But stories ground me. They remind me. They center my perspective. We’re not alone!

  48. Jeffrey: I’m an introvert too. Once a week we have Shabbat guests. The rest of the time I’m alone or with my husband who’s easy to be around. It’s very hard to insult me or hurt my feelings about anything, except my ideas. I’ve come to the conclusion that we introverts live so much inside our heads and we may not feel the need for validation of our personalities, looks, or status. However, our ideas are precious to us, our companions, perhaps even our intellectual and emotional children. So attack them and we are wounded and sometimes enraged. I do think this can lead to a reluctance to let them go out into the world unprotected. I was actually a lot more willing to let my actual children face risks, even danger, than I am to make my stories vulnerable by sending the out into the world.

  49. My dear K.M., It’s four o’ clock in the morning on the 29th and I am just reading this enigmatic post. I love that I’m a writer. It didn’t begin that way for me. My ancestors told their stories orally. These stories revealed many truths and taught many morals and lessons using various creatures and animals. In my neighborhood, we played many games that were passed down from generation to generation orally. I now am a member of the Griot Storytellers of Maryland and we still tell the ancient and our modern stories orally. It is truly a lost art. As a young teen,I loved making up ghost stories at bedtime to ‘scare’ my youngest sister and her friends. However, I have found it most rewarding to tell my stories via the written word. I love telling stories orally, but I love writing stories more! Nothing has been lost as long as the audience whether it be someone who is listening or someone who is reading comes away from a story told well. So, I make you an honorary Griot because you weave intricate stories that elevate your readers! Thank you for this incredible truth !

  50. Garrett says:

    There’s so many truths here, I feel I almost have a comment for every single one.
    That must mean your post has evoked some thinking!
    Hmm, but above all that thinking, I tried to focus more on the feeling. And I’ll admit, I don’t know what to feel about all of it. Not that I disagree in any manner, but that I don’t know what to say or contribute that would be just as aptly put or deeply stated.
    The only thing I can think up to say is: if all this is true, as a humanity, and that we really do value stories as we do, we can’t underplay the necessity for telling meaningful and heartfelt stories. I don’t want to say it should be a prerequisite for writers, but I will: we should all do our very best in crafting stories that will stick around, even through the passing of time, the passing of what is popular, or what our culture seems to value at the time. Good stories always stick around and remind us, as you have wonderfully stated.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Amen. Something I realized in rereading this post was that perhaps I gave the impression that *all* stories are worthy. I don’t necessarily mean that, although I do believe all stories have the potential to share something true. As writers, we need to take up the challenge to write stories that matter. Not stories that preach, heaven forbid. But stories of honesty and quality. Those are the kind of stories the world needs.

      • Elizabeth Richards says:

        I read a mystery once where an interesting character was introduced only to be killed off a few chapters later. The plot needed the incident but it felt as if the author had committed murder simply to further the story. I was quite indignant. If the author was going to bring the character to life, the author had a responsibility to make their death more meaningful than a convenient plot point.

        It was an odd feeling to have about a “person” who would never have a life outside of words. But I continue to believe that authors who kill characters without fully developing a believable motivation, are callous and shallow.

        As I read the conversation here, perhaps I get a sense of why I felt so indignant.

        I am writing a historical mystery. I certainly don’t expect to change the world with it. And I can’t say that I am compelled to tell the world about the Colorado of 1893. So what does it mean to write a story that matters?

        Even writing a genre murder mystery can reveal something true about the world. It can help someone develop compassion, avoid making a bad decision, see how their life could turn a certain way. But if it’s written on the surface, without character development, using coincidence to get out of a plot jam, then the reader learns nothing true or useful.

        That doesn’t mean the story should preach. But just showing believable characters reacting in believable situations, allows a reader to reflect on their own beliefs and values. And maybe grow.

        How interesting. Does that begin to get at why I love to read a good book so much? And doesn’t that provide a great deal of motivation to keep improving your craft?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Excellent thoughts. This is exactly why consequences are so crucial in storytelling. Without consistent–and sometimes brutal–cause and effect we lose the bite of reality.

          • Ruchama says:

            Actually, I think reality is a lot more random than fictional “consistent cause and effect.” We love order. We long for perceptible, even if brutal, cause and effect. It is precisely this longing that literature, especially mysteries and romances provide. So, if a character appears only to disappear for no apparent reason, we are uncomfortable. We lose the comforting order of fiction.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Interesting. I tend to believe there *is*–and indeed must be–a cause for every effect. It’s just that sometimes we don’t know what it is–a la the butterfly effect.

          • Joe Long says:

            Ruchama:

            I believe the events in a story need to make sense, to be believable, even if they are random.

            I saw the new Star Trek movie yesterday. Overall I enjoyed it, but I knew it had flaws. Reading comments on imdb. the biggest complaints were about “plot holes” – where the characters did one thing when it was more likely they could have done something else. There was often a lack of logical consistency, and that bothers readers and viewers.

            I’m writing my second act while visualizing parts of the third. I know what major events happen but am working out the details. I constantly play devil’s advocate with myself, making sure things make sense. For example, I want the cousin and new girlfriend to met at some point, and for the girlfriend to leave with a bad impression, as in, “Why didn’t she like me?” (She doesn’t know that’s the old girlfriend). So I ask how to bring them together rather randomly. Walking through the mall? But if there’s bad blood at that point, the cousin may just walk away instead of talking. She needs to be with someone. Her mother? She may be upset too. How about her brother and his girlfriend? Better, because the girlfriend does like the MC as a friend and isn’t privy to all the drama that’s occurred – so she is the most logical person to say “Hi!” and drag the others along uncomfortably.

  51. A.P. Lambert says:

    Thanks for writing this, it’s one of your most powerful and timely posts and, much like a good story does, it points to something bigger: the truth behind the truth, if you will. I seem to recall a similar one (in weightiness) you wrote earlier this year which was equally inspiring. I really appreciate it as such posts are not easy to write, but no less important.

    And I agree, stories are immensely important as a culture-changing artform. Even Jesus was a big-time storyteller, often using tales to convey matters of great depth such as forgiveness and mercy. Stories shape us, they unveil reality through the dream. I often think in some ways this life is a dream from which we will one day wake up and, if so, perhaps stories hold more of the real stuff than we give them credit for.

    So thank you again for writing this. I hope you keep writing stories and continue to encourage others to do the same for many, many years hence.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think one of the reasons stories are so powerful is that they are gentle. Even when they slap us in the face, it doesn’t feel like a slap in the face. It feels like an elbow nudge from someone who loves us.

      • Yes! Stories are only about us to the extent we engage with them, which makes them a very gentle and indirect approach to wisdom.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          That’s an excellent way to put it. Art is subjective to a huge degree, which means we all see ourselves in it. We only engage with a story insofar as it has something to say to *us.*

  52. Ruchama says:

    Philosophically, I agree with cause/effect concept. However, our experience in the “real world” involves a lot of randomness. Why does this one survive and that one die in an accident? When suffering comes, the almost inevitable question is “why me?” The book of Job is all about the desire to understand the causes suffering and ends with the insight that we will never be able to make sense of suffering. Still we try. We attribute causes to events that have no logic. This is need for order seems to be innate. Our passion for justice is a product of this need. So are many irrational fears. It’s the randomness, for example of the recent terrorist attacks that makes them so frightening to us. Chance at any moment may make us victims.

  53. Elizabeth Richards says:

    Yes, interesting point. Mysteries do provide a sense of order in a world that can be chaotic.

    What’s interesting to me, though, is how reading helps me understand the humanity of us all. Even the terrorist attacks have some sort of logic even if it’s not a belief system that I ascribe to. Reading can help you see another point of view and even if it’s antithetical to my own beliefs, if I understand more what drives people, I can be more understanding, compassionate or even concerned.

    I just finished reading Mary Doria Russell’s Epitaph, the story of the OK corral and Wyatt Earp. She dramatizes all the multitude of events and actions that led up to the 30 seconds of mayhem. As I read it, I thought about what it took to build a civilized society. The balance of freedom and law and how hard it is to get it right without destroying peoples lives. It was like reading a symphony about how humans arrive at violence as an inevitable conclusion. For me it was a riff that echoes in current news.

    Is her story the truth of the OK Corral? I don’t know. She is factually correct for the facts that are known (and agreed upon.) Does it matter to me that it might not be the truth of what happened? No. Because she wrote a Truth. One that for me resonates and demands that I think harder about my world.

    Even Job is a story about a person who grappled with Truth. And aren’t we all better for living through Job’s story?

    Thanks for helping me think through these ideas.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Epitaph sounds good! I got to visit Tombstone last summer, and it was fascinating to hear some of the realities behind the legends.

  54. Ruchama says:

    I’m not sure that Job grapples with Truth. I think he grapples with what seems to be cosmic injustice. He arrives at the unavoidable conclusion that we can not expect to be able to make sense of everything, to believe in justice when the universe does not seem to “play fair.”

    For a long time I’ve thought that there is no voice from Heaven at the end. Just Job ruminating and reaching the conclusion that since he was not there when the earth and all that dwell therein were created, he cannot expect to understand the Cause or causes of his suffering.

    Some Buddhists say that whatever happens could not be other than what it is. On the other hand, some people posit alternate worlds where everything is the opposite of what is in this one. Each time a decision is made, or an event occurs, in some other World the opposite is real. Great subject for an ambitious author.

  55. I absolutely agree that IN STORY events mus make sense, cause and effect be palpable in order for the story to be believable. My points is that we need order in story, not to make it reflect reality. On the contrary, it is the randomness of reality that drives us toward the order of story. We all have been taught that it’s not a defense to a criticism of a story to say “but it’s true, that’s what happened.” Verisimilitude, being “like reality” only satisfies if carefully curated to provide meaning and order we often cannot find in reality. A little girl and her father walking on a beach. A rogue wave takes her under. She and her father both drown as he tries to save her. Just happened to a family from Berkeley where I live vacationing in Hawaii. Seems pretty random to me. If you put that incident in a novel without more, it would not satisfy. And just look at the news. After every terrorist attack even hardened professionals are obsessed by trying to find out what drove the terrorist.

    • In my view, in both fiction and reality, there must be cause and effect. However, in reality, the “causes” are not necessarily related to the people affected, while in fiction the universe is a little more closed.

    • Joe Long says:

      Perhaps in our stories we can write about how the characters deal philosophically with the randomness. It bothers me so much to hear sports commentators search for “why” something happened when it’s was simply randomness. We want a narrative so that we can try to predict the future.

  56. That part where you talk about how the people around you seem to only be getting entertainment and escapism, but you were seeing more than that. That’s me. My husband and I recently watched The Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks and it was fantastic. The values on which Tom Hanks’s character, James B. Donovan, stood despite the mindset of America at the time are inspirational and convicting. I learned about the Cold War and the Berlin Wall sophomore year in high school, but nine-ish years later in the context of espionage and spies and lawyers and *seeing* the wall being built right in the middle of a street (“They built it right in the middle of a town?!” I kept asking over and over again) the Cold War and the heartbreak and sadness and fear of the Berlin Wall came alive for me in my living room. And then to learn that James B. Donovan was a real person and this movie was inspired by real events–that floored me. “Where was this in my history class?” I asked myself.
    And it’s the same for books. If I had never read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini I wouldn’t know what life was like for women in Afghanistan (or the people in genreal) or that country during all their problems with government.
    Fiction, stories, it’s all eye-opening and I learn so much from the characters a writer developed. I love that.
    And I’m learning that when something in a story causes me to think, I don’t have to rush to the next thing to read it or watch it. I can give myself time to process it and soak it in, maybe even read it (which is exactly what I did with A Thousand Splendid Suns) and watch it again. Because that’s how I’m challenged to grow and learn and think. Reading books is one of the best educations I can give myself, and writing books and sharing them is one of the best things we can give to people.
    Thank you for this post, K.M. Thank you for putting into words what must have been difficult to express.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I need to get into the habit of letting stories soak in more. I’m a habitual rusher-to-the-next-thing, and I know I don’t get as much out of things as I might otherwise. Thank *you* for that reminder!

  57. Thanks for an excellent article, K.M.! I realize I am reading this well after many of your earlier readers and commenters, but as it stands, in early 2017, your message in this post resonates more than ever. The world as we know it is going through enormous change. What better time to be a writer, with the power to influence the world in a positive way!

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  1. […] 5 Reasons Writing Is Important to the World (K.M. Weiland) – “Let’s face it, people, the world’s a mess right now. I think the vast majority of us agree on that, to one degree or another, regardless our worldview. And what are we doing about it? What can we do about it?… We’re just folks who put words on paper. We’re just people spinning little tales that make us happy or fulfill our own fantasies: romance and superheroes, dragons and femme fatales. We’re just writers. That doesn’t seem like much right now. It certainly doesn’t seem like enough.” […]

  2. […] thought process was sparked by a pair of posts K.M. Weiland wrote a few weeks ago entitled 5 Reasons Writing is Important to the World (her reasons) and 15 (More) Reasons Writing is Important (reactions from people who read her […]

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