Writing in Tragedy

It’s week three of NaNoWriMo—past halfway—and if you had asked me a week ago what I’d be doing, I’d have said, “Panicking over my word count, of course!” Instead I’ve spent a hours over the past few days scrolling through news releases about Paris, French-flag-coloured profiles on Facebook, #Paris on Twitter.

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Today, in the face of unimaginable fear, I find myself staring at a blank page and wondering how I can think about fiction when the nonfiction is devastating.

A little over a week ago, I wrote,

“…writers are the gatekeepers. Writers, poets, artists—we are the dreamers with our fingers on the pulse of the world. We are the criers, the voices of the voiceless, the whispers of encouragement, the warnings in the night.”

How I can think of writing when the world is suffering—and yet how can I not write when the world is suffering? How can words ever do any good if I can only write about trivialities? Am I not turning my back on those who suffer if I can’t turn my writing to their circumstances? We never write only for ourselves. The great strength of writing is that, despite being an intensely personal medium, it is inherently intended for an audience.

Joe Bunting wrote,

“You want to help free people from depression, addiction, shame, self-focus, and hate. . . . You want to inspire someone to see life as it really is, a gift and a joy, something to be grateful for. You write to change the world.”

We write for the people who need to be encouraged or educated, or for those who need to know they matter. We write for the people who feel abandoned, for the ones who feel lost, for the ones who feel every bit as confused as we do—not to say that we have the answers, but to say that we, too, wonder how such atrocities can become commonplace. We, too, wonder how we can fit into a world full of such pain.

In the midst of tragedy, I fond myself in silent shock, frozen, paralysed by horror. But the humanity—that’s what moved me to tears. On Friday, as I scrolled through twitter hashtags, my throat choked up only after I saw the #PorteOuverte hashtag. It’s always the humanity that moves me, in the end, not the horror. The people who, in the midst of suffering, reach out to offer what they can, the ones who comfort others through their own tears, the ones who give from their own loss and console through their own grief.

And I realise that after tragedy, I, too, can offer my humanity. From the emptiness of my own confusion and the hollowness of my own wondering, I, too, have something to give, even if all I can write is a sentence or two, the weak whisper of a promise:

We see you; we hear you. Your pain does not go unnoticed.

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About Elizabeth Syson

While consuming tea and coffee at an alarming rate, I read and write everything I can and pursue my unnatural love of copyediting. My hobbies include learning new instruments and languages, riding horseback, sketching very badly indeed, and periodically recommitting to doing yoga regularly. View all posts by Elizabeth Syson

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