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Changing, One Word at a Time


        When I began to study writing, I entered a short story workshop where we critiqued each other’s work. One of my first teachers prefaced her remarks about my story by saying, “A story should be capable of changing the world or saving a life.” Changing the world? Saving a life? I was shocked. How could a story do that? How could MY story do that? I prepared myself for the worst, but then she added: “And this story is such a story.” I was relieved, flattered, thrilled—but I didn’t believe her. Not then. I do believe her now.

           Simply through the act of making story, I have seen my own world change and the life I’ve saved may have been my own. I cannot vouch for how the words have entered my readers and changed them or their worlds; I can only say how this study of writing, the act of writing and revising, and eventually the teaching of writing have all worked together to change my life. Because of this experience and my way of thinking about it, I talk all the time about the power of our words and the way our words can change us, how we, through the acts of imagining and revising, become the persons capable of writing the stories we are meant to write. Our writers’ journeys lead us to places, experiences, emotions, and to people we’ve never encountered before. This isn’t an easy journey and it’s good to have an understanding teacher with high expectations along with you.

           By the way, I just want to say that stories that change and save don’t have to be all intense and serious; humor, adventure, even silliness can make a difference in an individual young person’s life and, as a result, in the world of that individual; they just have to be true. Of course, by ‘true’ I don’t necessarily mean ‘factual’. No matter what age you write for or what genre you write, your choices change you and your world, and maybe, like me, they might save your life.

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