“One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it change a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”
― Barak Obama
Writers have many choices. Shall I write fiction or nonfiction? If fiction, should my story be a romance, mystery, thriller, or shall I reach for literary fiction, whatever that is? Who will star in my story, where will it be set, and when? The choices go on and on, and for most writers are part of the pleasure of writing, unless they become agonizing.
Nonfiction writers can opt to write historical works, memoir, political satire, to name just a few. The possibilities seem endless and also have multiple subsets of choices.
But what happens when times call for writers to write outside their chosen areas of concentration? To address the contemporary events and conditions that surround and even threaten the world we all share? What choices do writers have then? Consider that writers are thought to possess skills using words that bring awareness, prompt contemplation, and may inspire action. Do writers have an obligation to foray into areas outside their typical subjects and dip their pens into ink outside their comfort zone?
Some writers say no, and some readers are actually offended when a writer expresses an opinion or makes a political statement. When NY Times bestselling author, Elizabeth George, author of more than two dozen novels including the beloved Thomas Lynley series, became politically critical in several lengthy posts on Facebook, a number of her readers were outraged and claimed they would no longer read her books. Stephen King doesn’t hold back on Twitter and brings to life in colorful language his political version of The Stand. Don Winslow has created a whole new industry for himself through films criticizing the current administration.
These authors can afford to not worry about losing readers. They’re already on the top of the heap. But what about the midlist or struggling author whose every sale can make a difference in whether her contract is renewed? Should those authors, or the writer who is still hoping to be published, take the risk and use their words to effectuate change, or should they confine their words to their chosen area of work and not offend potential or existing readers?
These are difficult choices and must be answered by the individual writer. It’s not uncommon for writers to be advised to play it safe and stay clear of controversy. Wait until you’ve succeeded, when you can afford to become outspoken.
Others suggest that if all writers were to take the safest route, the stakes could end up being far greater than the loss of readership.
Words can be weapons of courage. During challenging times when freedom is endangered, words are often all we have to make our voices heard.
So I offer heartfelt thanks to all of my writing colleagues who have had the courage to use their words during a time when our nation is experiencing political turmoil and enduring a devastating pandemic and for inspiring me to use my own.