Writing In the Aftermath of Tragedy

You never know who your words might touch.

When awful things happen in the world, we’re encouraged — often pressured — to take action. To DO something, both to help those in need and to take steps to prevent similar tragedies from occurring again.

Action is important. We can’t just sit around tweeting about how things need to change, then go on with our lives as if that’s going to be enough to actually make a difference.

Yet, as writers, we actually have access to a potentially influential toolkit many others can’t unlock.

We have the power of our words.

Words alone, of course, are not enough to trigger a shift in the way things are. But they’re often enough to trigger curiosity, and changes in thought — maybe even considerations about altering opinions and/or behaviors.

That’s right — your words can help convince someone, multiple someones, to spread the word. To act.

In the wake of Las Vegas earlier this week, I approached my editor about covering the topic of blood donation — something not enough outlets were talking about at the time.

I figured it might convince whoever the piece might reach to give blood, if they were able, because that’s what was needed. That was a very important way people not even local to the incident could help.

Part of me felt guilty for turning something terrible into a story idea. I considered not even bothering, because I didn’t — still don’t — like even the possibility that I’m using someone else’s pain for some kind of gain, even indirectly.

But one thing we have to remember, when writing in the aftermath of terrible things, is that our words can still help people. No matter what we’re writing about, it’s often another way to help.

Don’t shy away from your ideas because you don’t think they’ll reach anyone, or because you’re convinced it’s been talked about enough already. You don’t have to be the one to break the news. You can add to the conversation. Join in the call to act. You might be the fifteenth post someone reads about the same topic, but yours could finally push them over the edge, and convince them to do something.

That’s the thing about online publishing. You just never know who you might reach — and who might take away more from your words than they initially expected to.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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