That’s the question revered nature essayist Kathleen Dean Moore asked at last night’s Oregon Coast Willamette Writers meeting. It’s a good question. Moore’s talk was as much a work of art as her essays. This author of numerous wonderful books told us she’s struggling to figure out whether her job at this point is “to savor the world or to save it.” If one’s writing is all pretty pictures, what good does that do in a troubled world, but if it moves too much into advocacy, then it becomes hard to read. So what’s a writer to do?
Maybe our work is to bear witness, Moore suggested.
This struck home for me. I have just released a new e-book called Childless by Marriage. Of course I want you to all buy it, but this post is more about bearing witness. The book started as journalism and morphed into memoir. Here’s the teaser from the sales material:
“First you marry a man who does not want children. He cheats and you divorce him. Then you marry the love of your life and find out he does not want to have children with you either. Although you always wanted to be a mother, you decide he is worth the sacrifice, expecting to have a long, happy life together. But that’s not what happens. This is the story of a how a woman becomes childless by marriage and how it affects every aspect of her life.”
Okay, catchy, a little glib, but wait a minute. That’s my life. The book tells about my sex life, my fears, my failures, my selfishness, my stupidity. I’m exposed on the page and screen for strangers to see. Why do that?
To bear witness. I want people to see what it’s like for the women who never have children. I don’t believe most people understand how different my life is from that of women who are mothers and grandmothers. I am hoping they will begin to understand, to be more compassionate, to make wiser life choices.
Do I want to become rich and famous, too? That would be nice, but I think our role as writers, no matter what genre we write in, is to take notes so that what we observe and experience can be saved and shared with others who do not have the gift of words.
What do you think about this?
In the next couple weeks, I’ll post about the process of turning this manuscript into an e-book and later into a print book. It’s time consuming and a little nerve-wracking but not difficult. You can do it, too.
>Sorry I’m late in posting; I’ve had company all week. Each morning, we had a competition for the newspaper. My brother grabbed the sports section, saw no news about his California teams, and settled in with the crossword puzzle.
I looked for the Living section to read the comics, the TV news, the show-biz gossip and the weather. Yes, a true-blue newsie should go right for the hard news, but I don’t. I ease into that, working backwards. I do read the business section because I feel a direct connection to my life. I glance through Metro, which is all Portland news and of little interest to me. I skim through the national and international news because I feel like I should, but it’s too depressing to dwell on. In my local paper, I read the obits first to see if anyone I know died and to learn whether I’ll be asked to play music for any upcoming funerals at my church.
There’s a lesson here. People read what they care about, what affects them and what can improve their lives. I recently thought about all the notes I’m taking on our experience with my husband’s Alzheimer’s and realized most readers don’t want to read our tale of woe; they want to know how they can avoid getting this disease and what to do if they get an AD diagnosis.
If we want to publish, we need to move outside ourselves and consider what the readers are looking for.