The Most Important Thing We Can Do With Our Words

A Helping Hand by Gustav Vigeland

Yesterday, someone sent me a note that compared me to Cheryl Strayed, which alone would have made my day. But then she said that something I wrote reminded me of Strayed’s words in tiny beautiful things, a book I adored at first reading and have come to hold as a guide for how I want to write and love in this world.  I teared up. I forwarded the note to Philip. I took a deep breath.

I had written something that mattered to someone, and I needed to dwell in that space for a moment.

Sometimes, I’m so busy with whatever – hitting my word count, building my platform, finishing my to do list – that I forget that people are on the other end of my words. More even, I forget that what I say effects those people – for good or for ill, whether I remember or not. I need to do better.


Far too much, writers – myself definitely included – focus on what writing gives to us whether it be money or fame or confidence.  None of those things are bad, of course.  But in our individualistic, self-centered culture, it’s really easy to think that those personal rewards are the primary reason for which we write.

We’d do better to think of income or a little self-assurance as bonuses for the writing life and instead put the benefit of our readers as our primary focus.

Now hear me. I’m not saying writers shouldn’t be paid for our work or that self-awareness is not priceless. These are important things, too, but maybe just not the most important.

The most important thing we can do with our words it to give someone hope or companionship, the light of understanding and an awareness that someone else gets it, gets us. 

Life is a lonely experience for all of us at moments, for some of us most of the time.  If as writers we can help someone feel a bit less isolated, if we can help someone, as C.S. Lewis’ character says in Shadowlands, “read to know we’re not alone,” that is worth more than any paycheck, any ego boost, any bestseller’s ranking.

So was I honored to be compared to Cheryl Strayed? Absolutely.  But what warmed me more and carried me through the day were these words, “You helped me immensely.”

What do you think the most important value of writing is?  Feel free to disagree with me, offer other suggestions, share your own stories.

I wrote my new book Writing Day In and Day Out with the goal of providing some practical suggestions and some camaraderie on this challenging journey of a writer’s life.  I truly pray it will be helpful to you.  You can get a copy at iTunes, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Amazon. Thank you all so much.