By Annalisa Parent www.annalisaparent.com
Writers’ conferences are wonderful opportunities to remember that, as writers, though we write alone, we are not alone.
Last evening I was treated, without hyperbole, to the most beautiful author talk I have ever had the honor to experience. Terry Tempest Williams is one of the most genuine and present people I have ever been in a room with. More to the point: it’s nearly impossible to leave the room without falling in love with her and to be left wanting more. (If there were even an iota of insincerity in her, I would laud her brilliant marketing plan.)
But Williams’ essence, her stage presence, her offering a jacket to a student who remarked on the overpowered air conditioning in the auditorium, were all 100% real, an attribute which lends all the more weight and credibility to her statements on the life of a writer.
Generally, in lecture halls, I like to attempt to play the role of attentive listener. (This frequently means I am day dreaming or mentally listing all the things I could be getting done if I didn’t have to sit still.) Attentiveness was not an issue here, though. It was as if Williams’ ability to be in the moment brought her audience into the same Zen-like state.
Half-way through her musings and stories, I needed a pen and notebook to jot down the treasures she was passing along to us. I knew I would need to come back to these nuggets for further reflection, and I knew that I would need these words of wisdom on a rainy day of writing.
“Work hard,” Williams said. “In the end that’s all it is. Nobody’s going to write for you.”
“Learn to live with paradox,” she said. “Protect your solitude.”
Now, Williams wasn’t up there reading a list. She sprinkled her wisdom amongst well-crafted anecdotes that made me laugh and made tears roll down my cheeks. She is, after all, a gifted story teller.
But as I sat among hundreds of fellow writers, we who agonize in immeasurable time for the one perfect word to don the page– in a place where I’ve witnessed jealousy over another’s success has spawned takedowns and shunning– Williams said “There’s no room for competition.”
No room for competition.
Hmm. Because it seems like there so frequently is. Yet her follow-up says it all.
“Nobody else has your voice.”
We are all unique. There are enough stories and ways to tell it to go around.
If this were not true, would not the human race have run out of stories to tell by now? But no. Like music we never seem to run out of combinations for notes and sounds, and so to it is with the story of our humanity.
And, as Williams pointed out in her final statement on this subject “We do not have to shoulder this burden alone.” We do not have to be alone in our struggle for the words to convey our ideas. We do not have to be alone in our struggle to justify our art as more than a hobby. We do not have to be alone in seeing the world in the painfully detailed and emotionally real way that a writer does. We do not have to be alone in understanding that everything around us functions in paradox.
We write alone, she said (to paraphrase), but in doing so we create community. We draw others into our shared experience, and, thus, create a community of writers.
This article originally appeared on Medium’s Chair & Pen which publishes stories on the writing process and the writing life. To pitch your writing ideas for publication, write to Annalisa Parent, Editor.