Katie's Voice

Write to Change the World

—This is an adaptation of a speech given at Florida Gulf Coast University, at the behest of their Creative Writing Club and Sigma Tau Delta society.

books-1281581_1920 I feel at home in places of learning. I can feel the energy of so many minds at work, figuring things out, piecing together information, engaging with complexity, and creating art. It’s electric in that old sense, by which I mean it’s magic, really. Because in these places, what we do is valued: we are writers, we are critics, we wrestle with words and nuance, and that matters.

To know that what we do matters is to know that we matter.

Unfortunately, outside of these places, it is easy to forget that we matter, that writing matters. We know this already: family and friends who ask, “What are you going to do with an English major?” “How much does a teacher make?” and “Why read the book when there’s a movie of it?” Articles that list the highest-paid or most easily-secured jobs and they’re all medical or math. Politicians who want to cut funding for the humanities, claiming that what the world really needs is more scientists and data analysts.

We have all been faced with these reactions from the world outside, reactions ranging from indifference to willful misunderstanding to outright hostility. Is it any wonder that certain quotes make the rounds on social media again and again, every few months, and that we cling to them like rafts in a stormy ocean? One of my favorites is by Kurt Vonnegut: “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

And how many of our hearts were captured when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—an actual politician!—said “we need poetry to change the world”?

I write to change the world

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We know—everyone reading this knows—that writing and reading is important. We know it is part of us, that we are people who understand the world through words. But still, we may sometimes need others to remind us that it’s not only ok, it’s important that we spend our time writing and reading. It’s important on the level of the self—as Anne Lamott says, “Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?” And it’s important on the level of the world, because we are changing other people with our words. We change their minds, we change their understanding. That’s what change is: ideas, transmitted in ways that influence people.

So yeah, I’m here to add one more voice to the often too-small chorus cheering all of us on. But I have some practical suggestions, too. Some ways I’ve tried–or seen other people try–to keep going.

  1. Band together. Find other writers and artists who inspire, impress, and support you, and connect with them. Read each other’s work and provide helpful feedback. Encourage each other to submit work to magazines, to apply for graduate school or fellowships or jobs. Meet regularly, either in person or virtually. Engage in collaborative projects. One of the most fulfilling and sustaining projects I’ve been part of is The Gloria Sirens, because we do these things for each other.
  2. Don’t be afraid/too shy/too proud to ask. Ask your teachers for feedback and advice. Ask editors to consider your work. Put yourself out there—send out work, try for that award, and keep trying—because the successful writers are the ones who keep trying. A great deal of success in any field is luck, and that goes triple for the arts. But you can’t get lucky if you don’t keep trying, keep writing, keep putting yourself out there. Take the risk. Rejection sucks, so much I could write hundreds of words on that issue (and have). But keep trying anyway. At the very least, keep writing, so when you’re strong enough to put your vulnerable self out there in the world again, you have something to present.
  3. Recognize that the systems you are facing may very well be unfair. They may be broken. Our society is in a time of crisis—as the current political situation shows—and that crisis is reflected in publishing and higher education as well. Don’t accept that the problem is with you. When you see unfairness, don’t give up: work towards change. Speak up about the need for change. Remain hopeful that you can effect change. Your intelligence and your talent do mean something.
  4. Know your strengths. If you’re a young person, you are smart in ways people like me barely understand. You’re masters of social media, of the internet, of methods of communication that simply didn’t exist when I was your age. You have access to computer programs that combine image and sound and words easily. You see and experience the world differently from us old people. You’ve already come up with your own ways to combat the increasingly virtual life—including coming back to vinyl records, which are a slowed-down approach to music. I, for one, am excited about what you are going to do, how you are going to redefine culture. I don’t know that I’ll always understand it, but I’m looking forward to seeing what you do.
  5. Whatever your age, remember that you are part of the revolution. Your words will change the world. And I want to know how, so please tell me in the comments below: how do you intend to change the world?

36 replies »

  1. yes writers do matter….the world is moved on ideas if it be for the good either the bad. Political leaders are moved by writers and what they have read and examined and how they use what they read is determined by the actions that they take when it comes of creating laws….voting on laws and etc.
    Personally, there is nothing greater that affects society other than writers….of course this is with the exception of the “MOST HIGH” but anything else is determined by what someone has written.
    Let’s take the “Bible” and all other religious books and debate them….yes thousands of years after books and words were scribbled and found life to the world, humanity is still debating what is true and what is not true. Our lives is guided by what someone else has written.
    Yes, it is value when one gets paid for writing, it is just like one getting paid for anything else…..however, the pay is not the real prize…the true prize is those who will benefit from what you have created.
    I would only say this to those who have something to write about….do not let silence become who you are…..for if it is put before the people, they will determine the value……..therefore I say write and continue to write.
    Yes in closing it is this truth that I will leave with, if there is peace and salvation that is to come, those who write the script will have found the cure. Bill Goodin

    • I just started a blog, lisayhowardpsychmd.wordpress.com I want to change the world by starting a conversation about our priorities and about what could change or shift in the world if we chose to make our collective mental and emotional health our first priority. I’d love to hear your thoughts!!

      • First and foremost I thank you much for responding and I also thank you for asking for my opinion. If we would chose to make our collective mental and emotional health a priority we would change and rescue many.
        However, I am a strong advocate of this…..do what is right for you because waiting for approval from others are sometimes the things that stop us from doing what is great.
        Is there anything to lose from the challenge that you want to go forward with? Is there much to gain from if you move forward on what you think may help to better the world and rescue some people from destruction? I say pray to the higher powers and seek guidance from your spirit….do what is right…..I will be looking to read some of your articles.thanks

  2. What exactly do you mean when you say “write to change the world”? I enjoy written, I actually would like to publish a kids book but I don’t know how to, do you? If so could u give me some advice or steps?
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    • What I mean is that any piece of creative writing–stories, poems, essays, blog posts–presents ideas. The writer cannot help but put their ideas into the writing. A children’s book, for example, may show a family with a recycling bin in the kitchen, just as part of the scene of the kitchen. That’s the transmission of an idea: recycling is important. In these ways we change the world.

      Most of the Gloria Sirens are able and willing to provide services for a fee–things like helping you to write and edit your book, as well as guiding you through the publication process (self-publishing or querying agents or finding a small press where you can submit your manuscript directly). Depending on what sort of help you want, you might want to work with Lisa Lanser Rose or me (Katie Riegel). Let us know.

      • Ms. Katie what do you do as it relates to helping others to get published? I am just curious and I look forward to your response….thanks much.

      • I ask writers what sort of publishing they hope to do–self-publishing, book-length, individual poems/stories/essays in literary magazines, blogs, etc. If they don’t know, I talk them through the options I’m familiar with. Then I help them shape their writing so it’s doing just what they want it to do (which may include pointing out what’s working best, suggesting revisions, editing for clarity and correctness). And I suggest places they may want to submit their work for consideration, or help them find self-publishing resources (Amazon.com has two excellent ones, of course: CreateSpace for print and Kindle for e-books, but there are others). I can recommend professional web designers if they want that sort of web page, or point them towards WordPress or other services if they want to create their own. 🙂 I hope this helps answer your question!

      • Very fascinated in publishing a kids book but I might be under age for that. Do you know the specific age? I was thinking of writing a 15 paged story about a character named Misses. Pound Cake. Should I make a rough draft with colors and pictures or just the story.

    • first and foremost I say continue to write…..there are many ways to get published…….sometimes we just have create our own like going to staples and putting some of your work together. If you have a little money that you could invest there are thousands of outlets today that will help you to get published…..I only say explore different ways but just starting look for the most inexpensive way to promote your works…….

  3. Don’t matters what you write is in English and I’m a French people and don’t matters my English is very perfectible, your siren touched me, your words put light on my French lonely morning which exactly needed that (I suppose). Nothing matters, your simple words (sometimes so complicated to write or say) changed my little big world as deep as possible, even I already knew what your text means. So I simply but really thank you for that, Katie. And return now, a little bit stronger, to my own French words.

  4. Your writing will help to change the world…..think about those who you have read that have impacted your life and help to change you. Sometimes we will not see the change that we have made in the world but those who are impacted by what you wrote……will testify in your behalf.
    Some of the worlds greatest writers are unknown by name and fame and yet their impact will forever live. I say you determine the challenge for the importance of what you write.

  5. I intend to change the world with art. I love writing, I have always loved it. I want to write short stories, novels, articles, poems and songs. I want to make music and film videos and do all that kind of stuff. I want to join campagnes and programs. I engage myself for Amnesty International and I engage myself for women rights like 24/7. I’m arguing with people at school and on the internet, I want a world without racism, sexism and discrimination. I want the whole, general and all including freedom for every person in this world. I want to save the environment and make people treat our planet and all the plants and animals on it with respect. I want to study psychology at the university and write and create and write and create and use all of the knowledge I have.
    This is what keeps me alive every day – the desire to make things better.
    Thank you for inspiring me with this text!

  6. Reblogged this on Lisa Lanser Rose and commented:

    “Put yourself out there—send out work, try for that award, and keep trying—because the successful writers are the ones who keep trying. A great deal of success in any field is luck, and that goes triple for the arts.”

  7. I really enjoyed your post here Katie. Powerful words, full of wisdom and extremely motivational too. I’ll plough on now with my writing – to change the world. Thank you.

  8. Reblogged this on Calliope Writing and commented:
    Incredible blog post on The Gloria Sirens. My favorite passages:

    “We know—everyone reading this knows—that writing and reading is important. We know it is part of us, that we are people who understand the world through words. But still, we may sometimes need others to remind us that it’s not only ok, it’s important that we spend our time writing and reading. It’s important on the level of the self—as Anne Lamott says, “Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?” And it’s important on the level of the world, because we are changing other people with our words. We change their minds, we change their understanding. That’s what change is: ideas, transmitted in ways that influence people.”

    “Whatever your age, remember that you are part of the revolution. Your words will change the world.”