Does Writing from the Heart Really Matter?
As I prepare for my next “Writing from the Heart…in the Heart of France” workshop/retreat, and think about some of the thoughts the participants who are coming to work with me here have expressed, it occurs to me that one of the most important underlying questions when it comes to approaching our writing is: Does it really matter? (For many, a perhaps more direct, more honest way of stating this question is: Does anyone really care what I have to say?)
Two of our greatest writers have had excellent things to say on this subject. “That is part of the beauty of all literature,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald. “You discover that your longing are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” James Baldwin expressed a similar thought this way: “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
“I believe that if one of us cares enough to write something, someone else will care enough to read it,” says Julia Cameron in The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. “We are all in this together, I believe, and our writing and reading one another is a powerful comfort to us all.”
Then there are the closing words in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, one of the texts we use in my workshop. “So why does our writing matter, again?” Lamott’s students ask her. And her answer is:
“Because of the spirit…Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our bouyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
Can it be said any better? I really don’t think so. So I’ll just leave you with that thought.
Janet Hulstrand is a freelance writer, editor and teacher based in the Washington D.C. area. Each summer she teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” for the education abroad program at Queens College of the City University of New York. She also teaches literature classes at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C., and Writing from the Heart workshop/retreats in Essoyes, a beautiful little village in the Champagne region.