How to Keep Writing When the World is Falling Apart

It's been a tough summer, news-wise.  I'm not going to name everything that's happened, because you're as aware of it as I am–likely over-aware.  I've managed to keep my distance from most news stories.  Not that I'm not empathetic, I am.  But if I got worked up about every horrible news story I saw, I'd be a sniveling mess. Fountain_pencil_writing_238392_l

A couple days ago, though, I realized how much the combined weight of these horror stories had begun to affect me.  I watched this story about members of the Iraqi air force bringing relief supplies to Yazidis, and found myself unable to stop crying as I watched desperate family members throwing their children and elderly onto the helicopter.

I closed the page and sat staring at the computer.  Suddenly, the novel I've been obsessing over didn't seem so important.  The blog post I'd planned on writing didn't resonate much, either.  Because how could I focus on my petty little entertainments when people all over the world are suffering and dying?

That might sound overly dramatic, but I do think its s legitimate question: what is the role of the writer in times of strife?  

I believe one answer to that question is this: it is our job to bear witness.  Sometimes we may not know exactly how to do this, but let me tell you a little story.  In the days after September 11, I walked about in a haze, like everyone in this country.  I couldn't write then, couldn't focus on much of anything. What I did do was pick up my knitting, my favorite craft that I'd been out of touch with forever. Somehow holding yarn and needles was comforting.  The only thing, besides wine, that did the job. 

The knitting was all well and good but my lack of contribution to the world, besides attending a candlelight vigil, rankled me.  My initial training was in journalism, and that part of me still desired to bear witness in some way.  Finally, I picked up my pen and scribbled a few notes about knitting, how it made me feel connected to other women in my lineage, and how it was my response to 911.  A few months later, that essay was published in Interweave Knits, my first national magazine piece.

I had borne witness, and that made me feel like I was doing what I was supposed to do.

But odds are good that neither you nor I are going to be in Iraq to witness the current atrocities agains the Yazidis. Or in Gaza, or the Ukraine, or any number of other places that are full of strife.  So what's a writer to do?


Write because the world needs your story.

Write because you have something to say.

Write because its the only thing you can do.

Write because you think you can't.


Write because you are a chronicler.

Write because writing is what you do.

Write because so many others can't write.

Write because you are a writer.

And it's all you can do.

What do you think? How do you keep writing when the world is falling apart?