A Case for Small Storytellers
Statistically speaking, there are aspiring writers out there who will become very successful with high sales and many awards.
The more part of us will land on the ridiculously wide spectrum that runs from “writing only for ourselves” to “publishing with some success but we’re no J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, or Nora Roberts”.
I do not believe that’s a bad thing. It’s wonderful.
Having a smaller reach has nothing to do with a writer’s talent, ability, or skill. Sometimes it’s just luck, a head start in business, or some other stars coming together to launch a particular story (and its writer) into the stratosphere, making all their years of diligent learning and hard work look like a hero’s journey.
If these big names were the only voices allowed to share their work, we’d be short some downright amazing and influential voices.
All this to the point, I’d like to make a case for the small storyteller. Define “small” however you want, but I mean it to be that artist who is trying their hardest to give the best they can to as many as they can, but who find their reach limited by forces they can’t control. Yet, they touch those they CAN reach with all the energy and passion of their soul.
I know some talented writers whose work will stay within their close family, others who are content generating only 3-4 full books in their lifetime as long as they’re as good as they can make them, and a few more who have expanded their circle and hope for better luck, knowing it might never come.
At a writing conference a couple of years back, I attended a class on improving prose with elements of poetry. The instructor, Regina Sirois, said something that’s stuck with me.
She opened her discussion saying something to the effect of she would prefer to be a gem of talent rather than a blockbuster success. She phrased it a bit more like, “I’d rather write the kind of book someone reads and wonders how could I have missed this? rather than writing a blockbuster.”
I contacted her to see if she stood by this philosophy, since she has at least three more books out than she did at the time of her talk.
I was touched by what she had to say:
“I do stand next to my comments that I prefer works of significance to works of huge monetary success. I feel it more with passing time. But that is a direct result of why I write.
If someone is writing to support their family and have a notable career, their priorities will be different. And I have to state emphatically that sometimes works of significance are monetary successes. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
I began writing the same way an amateur carpenter might build a table. I had no expectation that my table design would be bought by Ikea and mass produced and distributed around the world. I was learning and honing a craft, meticulously working in private to stretch my abilities and try to create something beautiful and durable. And of course, when you are done you want to share your accomplishment and see if others find it pleasing. I find as much joy sharing with a small and fervent circle of supporters as I do with strangers.
Popularity, as most adults know, does not equal quality. Beauty is eternal and stands alone, regardless of how many people witness it.
When I start to get discouraged about the results or popularity of my work, I remember the carpenter in his workshop. No one would say he wasted his time building a masterpiece when only eight people could sit at it and admire it at a time. He wasn’t building for numbers, but for beauty and for learning and for the sheer challenge of stretching himself to the utmost of his abilities. And sometimes the world finds those masterpieces and millions of people get to enjoy them. Sometimes they are enjoyed by thousands or hundreds or less.
I like to imagine standing before God and having him tell me “I loved how you said…” That would be an audience of one and mean more than the masses and mobs.” – Regina Sirois
Time, I am happy to know, carries all kinds of things our way. Opportunities, people, instruction, recognition, change, challenges. It’s amazing what time will do for someone’s work, as long as they continue working.
We need all the voices. Yours will touch someone. Your talents will grow, your skills will expand, and opportunities to share will come. They may not connect you to globe-trotting moguls in the entertainment industry, but they will connect you to people who will love your work and ask you to keep it up.
Don’t shy from what you’re capable of now if you’re not where you hope to be.