“What I do is not trivial” by Susie Finkbeiner
A few weeks ago I heard a story about Neil Gaiman’s aunt.
Basically, his aunt snuck into a ghetto of Poland during World War II. While most would have preferred to sneak out, she went in. Why? To teach the little girls who were forced to live there. She’d also read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind at night so she could tell the story to the girls during the day.
By the way, owning a book was illegal. Breaking this law could result in execution.
But, for Neil Gaiman’s Aunt Helen, story was worth the risk. Story was important enough to die for.
“Helen’s story – this story – made me realise that what I do is not trivial. If you make up stuff for a living, which is basically what I do, you can feel kind of trivial sometimes but this made me realise that fiction is not just escapism, it can actually be escape, and it’s worth dying for.” -Neil Gaiman (www.unhcr.org)
I have to admit, that sometimes I feel like my writing life is silly. That I’m sitting at my laptop with little stories swirling around in my head just for the purpose of entertaining my readers. I get caught up in details such as if a pet in the story needs to be a dog or pigeon (yeah, that really happened). There are days when I struggle to write because I fear my narrative is mundane.
If I’m to be honest, there are those times when the work seems trivial.
But then I remember reading The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I think back to the first time I read Until We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis and The Pearl by John Steinbeck. I ponder the work of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.
The bookshelves of my life have housed the words, the ideas, the stories of fellow scribblers who fretted over sentences and themes and plot points. Just like I do.
Just the way we do.
I’m in awe of how those stories changed me. They transformed and grew me. How they healed me. The work of other writers acted as teacher, counselor, doctor, friend. In more than one instance, they were an extension of God’s Hand, His arms, His embrace.
There isn’t a trivial thing about that. Not one.
I imagine Margaret Mitchell never imagined her novel would reach Poland, let alone girls under a deadly regime. Harper Lee never thought of how Scout would become a friend to me in a time of intense loneliness and heartache. They just wrote their stories and released them into the world, letting them work in the way they would.
Then I sit down to write, knowing that my writing has a purpose. It has an impact, a meaning, a use. I may never know who my stories touch. That’s all right.
What I do know is this; what I do is not trivial.
What we do matters.
Your story is important.
Susie Finkbeiner is the bestselling author of A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl and A Trail of Crumbs: A Novel of the Great Depression. Her other novels are My Mother’s Chamomile and Paint Chips. Susie is a wife, mother, and book addict. She serves on the Breathe planning committee.