I spent the last eight days hiking, biking, and climbing glaciers throughout the Canadian Rockies, and there’s nothing like alpine solitude to get me thinking about writing and how it relates to the meaning of life. There’s something about cruising around untouched tundra and ice that’s been around for hundreds of years that makes me feel so small and insignificant. But at the same time, I feel like I must have a purpose on the planet if I’m still here, right? Growing up, I wanted to be an actress, a psychologist, and a teacher.
So, why writing? I wondered. Of all the things I could be in this world (or have been), what is it about putting words on paper that satisfies me so much? Three things. First, I’m a storyteller. An entertainer. I love to make people laugh, cry, and think. Second, writing fiction allows me to examine and explain why I believe people behave the way they do, which relates to my fascination with psychology. Third, even though I’m not overtly “teaching” in my books, I really am. We all want our readers to take away a message, idea, or feeling they hadn’t experienced before picking up our books. That’s pretty much what teachers do.
While wandering through the wild, I received news that a dear friend had died while I was away. This type of news, of course, always makes me question my own existence, mortality, and what it’s all about. So, as I sat on the edge of a clear blue, glacier-fed lake while a family of elk surrounded me (literally...I mean, they wouldn’t let me leave!), I thought, there’s got to be more to it than that. Writing is tons of fun and intellectually stimulating, and it allows me to study people and teach things and entertain, which are all the things I love to do. But there’s definitely more to it. Then it hit me.
We all want to leave something behind. A mark. A legacy. Some people have children. Some people create a charity. As a writer, I want to leave behind books that people will read for years (hopefully) after I’m long gone. The idea that a book can leave a shockingly profound mark on the world was confirmed for me on Saturday after seeing hundreds of people (no joke) hiking mountains, riding buses, and catching planes, who were all clutching the same thick, rectangular item and pressing it to their noses. The Harry Potter books have changed the world for the better and will undoubtedly be worshiped for decades to come. Man, I would give a lot to be J.K. Rowling right now. Talk about leaving a mark on the world. Jeez!