My question to several writers I admire: “I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer. My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them. What’s a girl to do? In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create? Do you have the same thoughts? If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing and troubling times?”
I have received thoughtful and inspirational answers. I’m happy to share them with you here over the summer. I’m posting them in a random order, as I received their responses. If you have your own thoughts about these questions, I hope you’ll comment.
Karen Blumenthal writes:
The ugliness just kept coming: Attacks on Mexicans, Muslims, women, and the press. The constant drumbeat made my writing for kids seem insignificant. I felt an urgent need do to something more relevant, to put whatever skills I had to offer toward something with more direct impact.
I looked at jobs sites. The local ACLU needed a development person, and I had a little experience fundraising for nonprofits. But surely there were more qualified people.
Lawyers were needed to represent refugees and immigrants who just wanted a chance at a better life and suddenly, a career I rejected decades ago seemed worth considering. I looked up the public law schools nearby. I was qualified, but a degree would cost more than $100,000—and three years was just too long to wait.
As a life-long journalist, I had never protested or marched. But terrified of losing my health insurance, I called and wrote my representatives in Washington for the first time. It may have been important, but honestly, it wasn’t all that satisfying.
My little “a-ha” came on a trip with my husband. He writes about airlines and travel for a major newspaper, and he can get pretty cranked up when he sees airline or airport employees ignore their own rules.
I always have the same response for him: “Don’t get mad. Write about it!”
He usually does, and it usually makes a difference.
Of course, that was really my own best advice. I chose journalism over law school or Wall Street because I believe in the power of words to make a difference. I have long said that my book-writing mission is to share stories that give teens context for a complicated world. The most obvious and meaningful thing to do was to channel my worries and frustration into my writing.
So my new project is about a women’s issue I care deeply about. I recently agreed to do a biography of an important woman. And I am trying to write a potential picture book that speaks to a current hot-button issue.
The best option for any of us is to use our individual gifts and passions to deliver our most effective response. If you sing, sing. If you draw, draw. And if you write, write. The accumulation of our unique voices will make a difference.
Karen Blumenthal is the author of seven nonfiction books for kids, including Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different; Hillary Rodham Clinton: A Woman Living History, and Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine and the Lawless Years of Prohibition. Before that, she was a reporter, editor and Dallas Bureau Chief at the Wall Street Journal for more than twenty years. Visit her website