I shared my newest poem with one of the other Ferrets this week. She read it and told me she liked it, that it painted a lovely swirly image for her, but it just didn’t have the one-two punch that some of my other work does.
Now this did not upset me in the least. Firstly because I always trust that the criticism coming from my Ferret sisters is given honestly and with the intention of making me a better writer. Secondly because it was still wonderful feedback. I am confident that my words didn’t fall flat if I successfully painted an image in someone’s head upon reading them. But it did get me thinking…
I know what she meant when she said it didn’t have the same impact as some of my other work, but I think a lot of people, a lot of readers and writers both, have begun to use this as a negative comment. Much of the writing community has fallen under the impression that all of your words must matter. And they should matter… to you. How they affect others, well, that’s on them.
It’s fine to want to change the world through words. It happens all the time. It happens in interviews and speeches and poems and stories and radio broadcasts and novels and plays and comedy routines and even in private conversations. Here’s a hint: to change the world through words, you don’t have to change the whole world at once. When one person is affected by what you write, you have changed the world. It’s so easy as writers, as we are often horribly insecure, to think that we have fallen short of having any impact at all. All it takes is a single reader to have an impact, and a personal impact is still an impact.
Still, you don’t have to set out to change the world. Perhaps you’ve written an excellent commentary on poverty in third-world countries and the government’s involvement (or lack thereof). It’s received critical acclaim. You’ve made people think, gotten the conversation going, inspired someone to start a new charity, have a celebrity activist at your side… you’ve made an impact. You’ve changed the world.
Now you don’t feel up to writing another essay. Instead, you feel more like penning a short story. Something nostalgic about the old oak tree in the back of the lawn of your aunt’s home when you were a child. But you feel the pressure to have an impact again, to change the world, and how are you supposed to change the world when reminiscing about a tree? Look at how Dr. Seuss changed the world when he wrote ‘The Lorax’. Granted he set out to make a certain commentary when writing that story about trees, but what matters is that you write whatever you feel the need to write. Let the world decide how it will change and the words it will choose to do so. Your only responsibility is to write words you can stick by, whatever they may be.
*Image in post from MorgueFile, by user cohdra.