I stare at my hands. Uncomfortable silence is not improved by the comfort of solidarity–none of us has an answer.
“This is an important question,” my professor urges.
The first answer is too loud against the heavy quiet: “I feel called to include ethnic diversity in my writing.”
Like the first drop of spring rain, one brave answer starts a flood. Hands shoot up. Everyone feels called to write something: encouragement to the weary or a voice for the marginalised, clean humour or food for thought.
I don’t feel called. Neither do they, the cynic inside me snickers. We’re writers–fiction is what we do. But not in this. About writing we must be absolutely honest: writing is the solid thing in our grey worlds of shifting realities.
“Because I like it.” My fallback answer for people who made that face (you know the one: eyebrows cocked and mouth pursed as they think, “You want to do self-assigned homework for a living?”) and asked me why I wanted to write. It seems inadequate now. Other people write because they feel called. I write because if I don’t turn fiction from smoke and shadows to solid print, it clouds my thinking and colours reality. I write because if I don’t narrate someone else’s life on paper, I catch myself narrating my own life aloud. I write because my mind, like a neglected attic, is unnavigable, cluttered with boxes of stories and trunks of ideas and unravelling characters shoved like so many unwanted sweaters into paper bags.
Because loving to read at an early age shouldn’t mean learning to skim around adult content, learning to see the signs of it and flip the page because you’ve already finished your library’s collection of clean books. Because opening magical worlds is just as important as planting deep thoughts and asking hard questions–because people need escape as much as they need engagement.
So I inch my hand up, and I lay my humble ambitions among the lofty callings of my classmates:
“I want to write good novels–not about God or anything, just engaging stories that follow my values and entertain people.”
That has to be enough. I tried for two years to feel called to a more glorious message, and still, deep inside me, with every spark of my imagination, I just want to write good fiction.
In the held breath behind my words, my professor nods. But the tension in my gut stays. No matter the approval in her eyes–somehow this answer is still not enough for me.
I put the important, unanswerable question out of my mind and turn my energy to passing my classes. I pay my dues: I write devotionals, radio scripts, news pieces. With my leftover energy, I pour my imagination into fiction.
And then another question rises, a dark tollbooth on the road of life, and I must pay an answer to continue my journey: “What unites your writing?
My writing is diverse. Lush fantasies bump up against factual articles. Blog posts settle among drifted short stories. How can I unite them? Again, I sit in humble silence, listening to others’ answers, mortified that, again, I have no calling. I review my writings: misplaced faerie-tale heroes questing for “happily ever after;” secret agents fighting to reconcile past and present as they hunt killers; memoirs of my childhood struggle for identity; Bible verses explained with children’s activities and fun-facts. And a light in my mind illuminates a single thread, glimmering like spiderweb at sunrise.
And again, slowly, I raise my hand.
“I want to emphasise the worth of individuals.”
That’s it. One single, tiny idea. A seed of a reason to write. It isn’t grand. It doesn’t seem high or holy. But it’s genuine.
So what about you? What is your reason–the real, true seed of a reason deep inside you, the one that seems insignificant and small, the genuine desire that feels too humble to share? Because I promise you, whatever it is, it is not insignificant. You are not insignificant.