When the World is On Fire

I am fortunate enough to know many smart, talented writers. In fact, I belong to a writing group made up of 6 other women and I deeply admire every one of them. We’re all different kinds of writers: we write on different topics, have different styles and voices, and all have different goals. One thing we all have in common, however, is self-doubt.

This past weekend some of us went to the mountains on a writing retreat, meant to help us all carve out time to work on the projects we’ve shoved aside. While I ultimately didn’t get ALL the writing done, it was still a really great experience for me.

A few weekends before, I headed for the wild, to my husband’s family cabin (one of my favorite places on the planet), also with the intent to write. I’ve struggled this summer to do the kinds (and amount) of writing I’d intended. This blog has been neglected the past month. I’ve started and abandoned several posts. I’ve felt bad about other pieces of writing. I’ve felt guilt for not writing. I’ve wondered, again and again, why I write, what the purpose of it is, what I’m trying to say, and, most intensely, what right I have to say anything at all.

Mostly I just wrote about how I couldn’t write, and felt bad about not being able to write, and made a list of the reasons why I should write. Ego, I realized, is one of the primary reasons I’ve struggled. The other reason, the trickier one, manifested itself to me in the form of a metaphor whenever I looked up.

The world was on fire.

More specifically, the forest was on fire not too far from the idyllic log cabin nestled in the hills. The smoke plume rose above the nearby mountains and swept into the valley at times. At night, the sky burned with reds and golds and grays, trumpeting its power and destruction.


That fire still rages, much larger and far scarier than it was three weeks ago. The small town has seen the evacuation level raised and lowered, and back in the city, the foothills are smothered by haze and the air reeks of fire.

Anyway, the metaphor was so apt, but I’ve still struggled to get past it. See, I realized that, to me, the world does seem to be on fire. Racism, police brutality, politics – so many things going on the world, huge things, things that seem far more important than my seemingly trivial woes.

The writing retreat last weekend helped me feel better about writing. We talked about why we write, about doubting and feeling boring, about writing when there is so much bad shit in the world. One of my smart friends mentioned the need to make a common experience unique, to offer new perspective, by being honest about it. How naked vulnerability and truth work to connect us all.

Of course, all these new insights haven’t completely jarred me out of my writer’s block (and guilt). But I’m starting to see – or, at least, trying to make myself see – why my writing matters. While I’d love to change hearts and minds by commenting on the ills of the world, I have to do more than educate myself and preach in order to truly make a difference. I’m committed to social justice and doing all I can, but I’ve yet to do much in the way of action. So what good is preaching right now when A) I don’t really know what to say, and B) I need to practice before I preach?

In the meantime, I’m trying to convince myself that writing what I want (and need) to write, even if it’s seemingly trivial, is okay, maybe even necessary. A few days ago, I was stunned, again, when I received another email accepting something I wrote for publication. My work being published in the next few months – all of it – was written during a tumultuous time in my life. All of it came gushing out of me, unabashed, with no ultimate destination in mind. I shaped it all, much later, in preparation to send the pieces out. And during that time, I wrote volumes. Much of it will never live anywhere but all of it meant something. I want that ability to write without ego again. I want to stop feeling like I have to stop existing when the world’s on fire. I know silence isn’t the answer, but I’m still working out the rest of the question.

I’m still feeling very small and ineffectual. I’m still struggling to define my writing and my purpose. And, the world is still burning, and probably isn’t going to stop anytime soon, so I pledge to do what I can, and write what I can.

I stumbled upon this interview with Kristin Dombek and found this quote to be a great reminder:

Remember that this is a reason people write their stories, and post selfies, and so on: because we ask them to, we need them to, in order to know the world better.
Writers in the Wild: photo via @tashamwise

Writers in the Wild: photo via @tashamwise