by BJ Hollars
A few weeks back I was asked to join a panel of writers at GeekCon, a wonderfully successful event held on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus. The event featured all kinds of creatives: sculptures, comic book artists, Lego builders, game players, role players, among others. In preparing for the panel, I tried brainstorming a list of reasons why people should be writers. About ten minutes into my brainstorm, mostly all I’d come up with were reasons why maybe we shouldn’t. My list reads as follows:
Reasons Not to Be A Writer:
1. Most of us will never find our books at Barnes & Noble (translation: fame is rare).
2. Most of us will never make a living doing it (translation: riches are rare).
3. Most of us will never receive the recognition we think we deserve (translation: even the people who love us will likely give us little more than a skim and a “like” on social media).
4. Most of us will feel personally unrewarded for our efforts (translation: it’ll never feel good enough).
5. Most of us can barely even fess up to being called writers.
(This last one might be related to my own personal neurosis. When people ask me if I’m a “writer” I generally say “I write”—opting for the verb, instead.)
As I chewed on the eraser of my pencil, trying to figure out what bit of optimism I might bring to the panel, I was at last reminded of the main reason why I write. Because for me, writing is the most direct and democratic mechanism to connect with the human heart. For the price of a pencil and a notebook you can bypass geography and social circles and tax brackets and potentially make a difference in another person’s life. Through your work, you might be able to offer the precise words that someone else desperately needs to hear.
On a few rare occasions in my life, I’ve been the recipient of such kindnesses. Once, while at a conference, a stranger ran up to me with a literary magazine I’d published in, and she asked me to autograph it. “I read this essay probably once a week,” she said—blowing my mind. And then, in an effort to blow it further, added: “I’m a farmer, and I like to read it on the tractor.”
I lifted a skeptical eyebrow. Not only had this person enjoyed the words I’d written enough to read them more than once, but she’d enjoyed them so much that she read them while farming! Not in a million years could I have predicted that my humble piece might have touched a stranger so deeply. But in this instance, it had.
And that, of course, is true for all of us. We all possess words and stories that have the power to connect with the human heart. And while it’s easy to get bogged down with all the reasons why we ought not to write, focus instead on the one reason why you should. We do it to connect. We do it because it feels good to be heard. And sometimes, in doing so, we remember that sometimes our words matter to others, too.