Wow, what a week.
As I sat down to compose this post, it was hard to know where to begin, how to find my way into writing the true-life story I’ve lived this past week. Last Monday, at 6 AM, I was on a plane from Baltimore to Boston. Within hours, I’d met a stranger who became a fast friend who was willing to pick me up at Logan airport at 7:30 AM, had shared breakfast and lunch with more new friends I’d just met, and was passing my phone around a table so these wonderful people could put their phone numbers into my contacts so we could stay in touch during our week together. No, I had not joined a commune or entered some weird alternate reality where strangers are your new best friends. Well…maybe I had. I had entered the Writers Unboxed Un-Conference.
With my own personal favorite mentors like Lisa Cron and Donald Maass, and authors/teachers such as Cathy Yardley, Kathryn Craft, and Barbara O’Neal (just to name a few) presenting deep-dive, hands-on workshops, this was already on track to be a writing-changing experience. I thought the writing workshops would be the thing that rocked my world last week. Oh, innocent, optimistic, naïve Nancy of November 7, how I miss you.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you as a card-carrying member of Pantsuit Nation, I wanted our country to make history in a very different way last Tuesday. When the exact opposite of my hopes happened, it triggered stages of grief – shock, anger, depression – on an endless loop. The majority (but not all!) of the conference attendees had a similar reaction. Perhaps it was because we’d self-selected to be part of a group of people whom we intuitively sensed were ‘on the same side’. Perhaps it was because writers are empaths by nature; putting ourselves in the shoes of ‘the other’ is fundamental to our writing process, and there are many ‘others’ who have legitimate fears given the outcome of this election. This shared grief created a strange, bubble-wrapped enclave where we could rant, cry, and – eventually – begin to heal.
“Community is a flashlight on a dark road. It keeps us pointed ahead.” – participant, WU Un-Conference 2016
Wednesday morning, after a night of very little sleep, many of us were exhausted and world-weary. Our first speaker of the morning, Donald Maass, was not about to let us wallow in our despondency. He shared a truly lovely personal story about messages he’d exchanged that morning with his wife. I won’t discuss that here as it is not my story to share, nor would I do it justice. But I will share something uplifting he told us many times throughout the remainder of the conference:
“Things that feel impossible now are possible…Things will change…What we write in this room creates conditions for that change, the conditions that will change hearts and minds.” – Donald Maass, presenter, WU Un-Conference 2016
We have chosen writing. Or perhaps, more accurately, writing has chosen us. Readers look to story, and therefore to us, to help them make sense of the world around them. The more the world shifts and changes beneath our feet, the more important stories that bind us together become. It is our job, our burden to bear. It might now be more difficult than ever to keep calm and write on, but the world needs our stories.
“If books are a job, why would you do anything else?” – Barbara O’Neal, presenter, WU Un-Conference 2016
Lisa Cron was the second speaker I heard on Wednesday, and she shared her own grief over the election results and echoed Don’s call to be part of the solution to problems we see around us. When I had a moment to speak with Lisa privately, I thanked her for sharing her own very feminist perspective in such an honest and respectful way. Her response distilled the lesson I’d been learning and internalizing all week long. She said she doesn’t think we as artists can be true to ourselves unless we are “full-throated” about our opinions on the issues that affect us most deeply. Thus, my big take-away from a week too amazing to adequately express with words: for better or for worse, we are writers. Writing is our superpower. Through our writing, we must be true to ourselves and our ideals. We must elevate discourse, affect policy, and start a revolution of ideas and solutions.
“Story is about how what happens affects someone in pursuit of a deceptively difficult goal, and how the person changes inherently as a result.” – Lisa Cron, presenter, WU Un-Conference 2016
We are all living a true story. How we inherently change as a result will determine our destinies as individuals, as a nation, and as a world. Be the voice of the change you want to see in the world. Now, more than ever, be loud. Be strong. And write on.