We Are the Only Ones Stopping Ourselves from Truly Living as Writers


As a writer in this brave new world of 2016 I have a lot of worries. I worry about what people will think about my book (particularly if certain family members or friends will read it and then think I’m a total weirdo). I worry about cover design (Is it eye-catching enough? Does it pull in the readers I want?). I worry about getting bad reviews. And I worry about the next book I’m writing.

These worries feel very big and real to me. Sometimes they even keep me up at night.

But then I’ll read a book by a writer who changes everything for me.

I just finished reading My Crazy Century by Ivan Klíma, a Czech writer who lived through three years in Terezín, a holding camp for Jews before they were transported to concentration camps during WWII, and then the next few decades under the Soviet-controlled Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. Klíma is a writer and an artist, and also a sensitive, intelligent person who strives to realize integrity and compassion in his everyday actions. As such, he was banned from publishing anything in his own country for most of his adult life.

Klíma worked as an editor, wrote novels in which he explored complex human motivations and ideals, and gathered with other writers of the time to keep their collective creative spirit alive. He was interrogated many times, his house was searched, he was followed by the secret police, his children were harassed, his telephone was disconnected, his mail was confiscated, and he was forbidden to distribute his writing and strongly encouraged to stop writing altogether.

I thought about Klíma’s situation. I thought about my situation.

What was I so worried about again?

I can write and publish anything I want to at any time.

I can distribute my writing to most of the population of the planet by pushing one button.

I can write, edit, and print physical copies of my work faster than any generation of writers has ever been able to do in the entire history of the world.

When you think about the terror and the risk that writers have lived through in times past in order to keep writing, to smuggle it out from behind hostile borders, and to meet with each other as creative colleagues, it really puts things in perspective.

It’s not only our freedom with writing that we take for granted. Reading is also a privilege that we too often forget has come to others only at a steep price. After reading about Klíma’s experience I took a good long look at my bookshelves. Books on Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity. Books about experiences in prison or living as a transgender person. Plato, Kafka, and Virginia Woolf. My bookshelves make up a rainbow of multi-hued human experience. And never, not for one instant, have I ever considered that someone might show up at my apartment door in the middle of the night and take me away for owning and reading these books.

Too often we writers worry about what everyone else is going to think, when it really doesn’t matter. People might hate the book we wrote—that doesn’t mean they can ban us from publishing. People might detest the things we have to say—that doesn’t mean they can terrorize us until we stop saying them. The only person stopping us lives inside our own head, and it’s that person we’re battling. It’s that person we could choose to make peace with and stop the fight.

There’s a lot of violence, hostility, and just plain fighting going on in the world right now. It’s easy to fall into the outrage and anger to be found everywhere online and some places in real life. But as writers, it’s our duty to serve our higher calling to the world first. That means we need to conserve our precious creative energy for our writing projects. We need to devote our time and attention to the stories we tell that bring light, love, and compassionate information to this planet.

So, if you find yourself getting caught up in self doubt, worries, online outrage, or depression about the future, remember the past and the writers who had to struggle so much harder than you do now just to write anything at all. Remember that you can push one button and send your book out into the world.

One button. It’s like magic. It’s also probably something the writers of the past only dreamed about, and doubted that anyone would ever see.

But pushing that button—grabbing the magic—that’s all up to you.

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also want to read:

Thoughts on the Soviet Union, Self-Publishing, and Creative Stagnation

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