Every once in a while I sit back and consider my writing career. It’s hasn’t been illustrious, but it’s been fun. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words, both fiction and non-fiction, and I have more ideas than I know what to do with. Nowadays, I focus solely on fiction. I love being able to imagine all sorts of weird and wonderful scenarios and put them on the page. But there’s one thing I keep asking myself: What is my job as a writer?
First and foremost, I think my job is to entertain. That’s true of all forms of art – movies, television, music, books, painting, sculpture, photography. The point is to entertain your audience, to distract them from reality for just a bit. I know many people who come home from work at the end of the day, fix something to eat, then plop down in front of the television for a few hours and get lost in a story. Some of them get lost in books, or looking at art galleries online, or put on headphones and get carried away by music.
This type of entertainment is akin to therapy. So, in effect, entertaining people is providing them with therapy. Maybe it’s stress relief or a distraction from the bad things in their lives. It’s like providing a mental health service. At least, I like to think so.
But that’s not my only job as a writer. I also think I’m charged with helping my readers to think differently, to see things from another angle. I’m not necessarily saying that it has to be ethical or moralistic, although I do try to slip that into my stories on occasion. In some cases it might be helping them to see the other side of an argument, or maybe seeing things from someone else’s perspective. I feel that most people, myself included, can get so wrapped up in their lives that they end up in a bubble, seeing only themselves and focusing only on their own wants and needs. Sometimes it’s healthy to pop the bubble and see through another person’s eyes.
I know that writing from another perspective has made me question my own opinions and suppositions. For example, I’ve written stories from a female perspective. It’s not intentional. I mean, I write based on what’s called for by the story. If the story needs a female protagonist, then that’s the voice I try to capture. But writing this way, seeing through a woman’s eyes, has made me see some of my own gender’s shortcomings. It helps that I have women in my life that I can use as resources. They read my drafts and let me know if I’m getting the essence right or if I’m way off base. I think it’s an educational experience and I hope my readers feel the same way.
Another example is my short story, “Sunwalker”. The protagonist is a Native American. Now I unfortunately don’t have any Native American people in my life at the moment, but I’ve known a few over the years and I’ve read a fair amount of their history here in the U.S., so I tried to convey what I felt would be the experience of the last Native American in the world. The thing is, it was a tough story to write because I had to imagine myself in this man’s situation. He’s the last Native American in the world, his people have all died off. Now he’s receiving special treatment from the government, something his people never got to experience, and he doesn’t like it. He’s dealing with guilt, depression, and a need for something more.
Even though I’m well aware of the terrible things Native Americans have gone through over the past few centuries, writing this story made it more personal for me and it ended up being a difficult story to write on an emotional level. The feedback I’ve received on the story has been mostly positive. My readers were entertained. But honestly, I hope the story was more than that, that it helped them to see the world from the eyes of my protagonist, what he and his people had to deal with, what they had to overcome.
When it comes down to it, my job description can have sub-entries of “entertainer” and “influencer”. I’d be happy with that.