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  • Leah E. Welker

My Writer's Manifesto

A brown stone bench and walls with an interplay of rays of light and angled shadows.

My senior year at Brigham Young University, I took a creative writing class (Eng218R). Our final project was to submit a portfolio with our selections of the best of each art form we'd practiced during the course of the class, all tied together with a new essay reflecting on our purpose as a writer or our writer aesthetic. Here is mine. Some themes will be familiar by now, but this piece came to my mind as the next natural progression of my Journey posts. Consider it my writer's manifesto.


Every writer (or every good one, at least) writes for a reason. A strong, compelling reason that is more important than simply money, fame, or entertainment. The quality of the drive shows in the quality of the writing; that is why sensational, get-rich-quick writing (when it is even successful) is so hollow. It reflects the shallowness of its own purpose.

My purpose—or my quest, whatever you may call it—is a common one among writers: to explore the balance between good and evil. However, my goal seems to be increasingly unique in a darkening and embittering world: to uplift one single, embattled soul and give the hope needed to carry on.

I remind myself of this often. Not everything I do in life has to have a grand, ennobling purpose, but I certainly believe that my life’s work has to, otherwise I would find such an expenditure of time and devotion indefensible. I must be about the work of doing good, of helping people, of lifting one heavy heart or one hanging head.

The world is a dark place; I’ll be the last person to deny it. But unfortunately, for years my writing tended to handle true darkness inexpertly or even avoid completely. In my eagerness to share some light with those in the darkness I was often bumbling, a bit awkward, and even came across as naïve or even Pollyanna-like.

I am terrified of darkness. I read it over and over and over again in high school, as if my English and history teachers were trying to drown us in it, to make us despair for any light, any goodness to be found left in humanity. I often was unable to cope with the flood of evil and came away scarred, scared, or depressed.

My junior year of college I wrote a nearly twenty-page reflective essay on how far a good person must go into darkness in order to learn from it. I had no answer, but at least I came to understand a bit better why the darkness terrifies me so. I seem to have a sensitivity that perhaps all of those English teachers didn’t realize: that I lie awake at night reliving each horrible scene, unable to escape for days afterward. If darkness is a beating, then it appears that I am one who is easily bruised. If such writing as [Elie Wiesel's] Night was intended to give unfeeling and contented adults a slap in the face, then it’s effect was greatly miscalculated for me and I wound up with a concussion.

Someone standing in darkness and twirling a sparkler in a blurred, almost magical circle of light.

But I also came to understand something else about myself: darkness has its purpose. It really does teach us, if only that we would not be able to tell what light was without it. And I discovered that I really am able to handle both reading and writing about evil—if there is a purpose. If there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If the reason for the darkness in the piece isn’t just to rave about the depravity of mankind and despair in the loss of all light and happiness. If the purpose of showing darkness is to further illuminate the brilliance and warmth of the light . . . then, then I can make it through.

Consequently, it was with that growth and maturity as both a human being and a writer that I was eventually able to challenge myself to add in a little more darkness into my pieces. To not give sweet fairytale, happily-ever-after endings. Such endings had already seemed hollow to me before, but I had thus far been even more inept at anything else. But as the dark and light struggled within me, I found better, more honest ways to communicate that battle through my writing without sacrificing the ideals I hold dear.

I still believe in happy endings. I still believe in goodness, in heroism, in the divine nature of the soul. I still believe in the Light. I refuse to believe in anything else. I find nothing else worth believing in. I cannot believe in anything else, otherwise I will lose the struggle to keep my head above the waterline and the darkness will finally drown me entirely. But at the same time I now understand better what role darkness has in life and in my writing. Life really is dark at times, and to deny that in writing is to deny reality. My writing is better now for acknowledging that.

However, putting in sad or tense endings simply to be sad or tense is as pointless and hollow as putting in happy ones just to be happy. The darkness must have a purpose. It must clearly teach us something. It must ennoble the soul. It must give just one spark of hope. It must point us to the light.

I will be satisfied if I accomplish nothing else in my entire writing career than giving one single human being enough hope to go on.

A young woman or girl in the darkness, holding two sparklers, lighting one with the other.


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