Guest Post by Alegra Clarke
After winning the Writer’s Digest 76th Annual Writing Competition in 2007, I began a journey with my writing that I like to describe as a cross between Dorothy Gale on the yellow brick road and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Opportunities were presented to me that prior to the competition I could not have imagined. They challenged me to actively pursue my writing goals with a blind bravery. Along the way, my bravery has at times traded itself in for the wide-eyed ‘uh-oh’ of a deer caught in the headlights of a car. The more roads I cross, the more I understand that being a writer requires being exposed to this onslaught of traffic. We risk being bruised, honked at, told to ‘get out of the way,’ but the other choice — remaining on the wrong side of the adventure that is ours — is more painful.
Writers are faced with a climate of competitiveness. With a struggling world economy, a population increasingly inundated with soundbyte communication, celebrity culture, and an audience whose attention span is more suited for television drama than hours spent with a book, the odds against getting published can feel overwhelming. Maria Schneider, of EditorUnleashed.com, recently wrote a great article about not allowing the doomsday declarations of the publishing industry to depress us. She suggested that we turn the tide by engaging in acts of “paying it forward” by promoting and supporting other writers.
I have long believed in the importance of this. When I look back over the successes in my life, most have come through a combination of my own efforts met by the generosity of others. Inspired by Maria, I began to think about how to harness the challenges of being a writer. For me, this begins with my attitude. I started asking myself some big questions and, as often happens, answers began appearing everywhere. Up late one night watching The Daily Show, Bruce Springsteen talked about how in unstable times, people flock to the storytellers. It made me reflect on what I love in a good book or short story. In losing myself in the stories of others, I escape the narrow-sightedness of my own struggles. I rediscover something in the pages of a story that allows me to return to my daily existence with more strength, more connection to the beauty of it. Writing gives me a way of translating both the joy and pain of existence, teaching me that they are not mutually exclusive. The harder times get, the more we need our stories.
Competition between writers seems unnecessary because our role is not to become the one voice drowning out the others; our role is to be our own unique voice. I have wondered at the possibility that there are no new stories, only an infinite way of translating them. If this is true, it means that just like the world is rediscovered by each new generation, stories must be told over and over again, and we as writers should be supporting one another in this. If being a writer means being both transformed and a source of translation for others, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the odds, I am inspired by the challenge of being a storyteller during these times. I will gladly brave crossing the highways with their steady stream of honks and threats for the adventure of connecting with other minds.
Eros-Alegra Clarke is currently writing her first novel under the mentorship of her agent, Joel Gotler. In the meantime, she has been slowly building publications including an upcoming story “Naming Shadows” in the literary journal Bitter Oleander. A wife, mother of two (with a third on the way), graduate student and guest lecturer at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, Alegra contributes to Maria Schneider’s website resource for writers: http://editorunleashed.com and can be found blogging about life, writing, and everything in between at: