Question from a Young Writer: Has writing changed your life in any way?
That's the short answer.
Here's a longer one.
Remember the saying, sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?
Yeah, I never bought that statement. Words can hurt.
But they can also help.
And the biggest way writing has changed my life is in providing me a tool to help myself and to help others. Sometimes, that help comes in the form of stories--whether they are stories I use to entertain (books, short stories, etc.) or stories I use to illustrate a point (in essays, articles, letters).
In 2005, I had to evacuate from my home in SW Louisiana when Hurricane Rita struck. During my time away with some family and friends in a shelter in Northern Louisiana, I found myself dealing with a lot of racial, geographical, and at time religious conflicts and suffered a lot of inner turmoil because of them. I knew I had to place that turmoil somewhere else so that I could be OK, and I placed that turmoil in an essay. Writing it was cathartic for me and helped me to alleviate the pain I felt from the experience. Last year, the essay was used as part of a live theatre documentary production, and it touched me when I received e-mails from those who watched the production. Many of them that had similar stories and had never shared them but felt compelled to, felt relieved to, because they saw my story. At the time I wrote the piece, my only purpose was to stop hurting and to show people who I was as I experienced this event. In the end, I helped others to do the same.
My creative writing has definitely changed the way I write academically. Writers who love words, the sounds of them and how their rhythm and effects change depending on how you string them together, always hear words as they write them. They understand the effect of having sentence variety, of how the repetition of a sound, a letter, a sentence length can have on the point trying to be made. These things find themselves in my academic papers, as do stories to develop points. It's also not unusual to find a little Ralph Ellison sprinkled into a paper on race in cyberspace or a little Toni Morrison on a paper in women's inclusion to the rhetorical tradition. My development as a creative writer not only makes me a better storyteller, but it also makes me a better writer overall.
Sometimes that help received from writing has nothing to do with me at all. I'm big on letter writing campaigns. If there is an issue I feel strong about, I will take to words to write a letter and send off. In the past I have written letters for family members and friends who have been wronged by organizations and have needed the attention of someone who could make a difference. When my godson was attacked by bullies several years ago and it didn't seem as if people wanted to do anything about it, I joined my best friend and used my words and writing skills to draft letters to various media outlets in the hope that they might hear our plea for media attention for the issue--we actually got some of them to listen. When my mother had a problem with a utility company, she asked me to draft a letter to them and to the local news station about the issue; the news station ended up calling my mother a few days later about the problem. When a cousin of mine found herself dealing with an issue at her apartment complex, she asked me to draft a letter to the neighbor who was causing the problem and to management. Within a few weeks, the matter was handled to my cousin's benefit. And sometimes, the letters aren't about dealing with a crisis but with helping someone get a job. I've written cover letters and letters of intent to help friends and family members get job interviews, and it always makes me feel good to know that something I love doing--writing--can help those I care about.
There are a lot of people who hold pessimistic views about writing. I've had students in the past ask me why they needed to take a writing class in college. I've heard people bemoan the digital age and how it's making weaker writers out of youth specifically and everyone else generally. I've seen/read stories from new writers who could care less about writing well and just want to make a quick buck. And the list goes on.
And to all of them, I would say that writing well can have a life-changing effect on you. Not just in your ability to write a well-developed story, but also in your ability to articulate your angst, your desire, your pain and your joy--and that of others. When you are able to understand language, the written word, and manipulate it for good there is freedom in that, a freedom for you and a freedom for those you may help in the process of writing.
To you all out there in BRP Land, has writing changed your life in any way?