Making A Difference
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Article Title: Making A Difference
Article Author: Jenna Glatzer
Article Copyright: 2004
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Making A Difference
Copyright � 2004 Jenna Glatzer
Author of "Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer"
I watched Awakenings for the millionth time the other night.
Great movie, but it wound up depressing me for more than the
obvious reasons. At the end of it all, I was left with the
sinking feeling that I wasn�t doing anything important with my
In the movie, Dr. Sayer finds a drug that helps catatonic
patients regain their awareness of life. Although the drug�s
effects aren�t permanent, he gives them their lives back for
a few months. He gave hope to families, friends, and everyone
who suffers from mental illnesses.
And what have I done lately?
I�m just a writer. I write articles for magazines. I�ve never
saved anyone�s life or performed any miracles.
What troubled me most is that, in the film, Dr. Sayer didn�t
want to work with patients. He was a researcher, and that�s
all he wanted to be. But he was needed elsewhere, so he did
what he had to do, and that�s where he made all the difference.
It occurred to me that I am smart enough to be a doctor, a
scientist, a researcher, a surgeon... I never wanted to be any
of these things. In fact, the thought of any of them turns my
stomach. But what if I�m robbing the world of the potential
cure for cancer? What if, in my studies, I might have ended
the AIDS epidemic, or wiped out Parkinson�s disease?
If Dr. Sayer hadn�t answered that call-- if he had stayed in his
lab and continued doing what he �wanted� to do, that miraculous
summer would never have happened. Maybe I was being selfish by
writing. Maybe I was supposed to be doing something that would
make a difference in the world. Improving conditions in South
Africa. Finding water on the moon. Disarming nuclear weapons.
And then I had a thought that finally let me sleep: I would
never have known about Dr. Sayer if it weren�t for Steven
And Steven would never have known about Dr. Sayer if it weren�t
for Oliver Sacks, who wrote the book. And Oliver probably
wouldn�t have known about him if a journalist hadn�t reported
All of those people made a difference in my life. They brought
the message to my living room. They told me what Dr. Sayer was
doing. They taught me an important lesson about hope and
determination and never giving up on people. They inspired me,
and undoubtedly, countless others.
If no one reported important medical findings, doctors would be
in the dark. Thanks to journalists, an isolated scientist in
Wyoming who�s been working on isolating a breast cancer gene can
learn that a team in New Jersey has just found the exact link he
needs to connect the pieces in his puzzle. A dying man can find
out about an experimental drug study that might save his life.
And, speaking of medical findings, someone had to write all
those textbooks that were the basis of doctors� learning.
Someone had to translate confusing research into language that
medical students could study, interpret, and improve upon.
Someone like me, or you.
Writing may be a more humble form of making a difference, but
it is possibly the most important piece of the puzzle.
You know the saying �if you don�t learn from history, you�re
bound to repeat it�? Well, how is anyone supposed to learn
from history if someone doesn�t write about it? All of these
traditions that have been passed down from generation to
generation... all of the lessons we�ve learned... word-of-mouth
would never have sufficed. No, today, we search for records
of the earliest writers. When someone uncovers an ancient
manuscript, it�s a huge triumph, because it helps us unlock the
secrets of the universe and of our history as human beings.
Even diaries (Anne Frank!)... writers don�t have to believe
they�re writing for publication to make a difference in this
world. Every time we take pen to paper and note what our world
is like today, we have the potential to change the world. We
can further understanding, bring insight, teach, inspire,
entertain, comfort, and delight. As we�re writing, none of us
have any idea of what impact our work may have. Our words may
be read in schools two hundred years from now, or they may be
read tomorrow by a single woman in another country who just
happened to need those words at that moment. Or they may only
be read by our friends and family-- and that�s valuable, too.
Maybe our siblings or our old best friend will smile today at
a poem we wrote. Maybe that smile was the only bright spot in
that person�s day.
It�s already happened to me. I�ve gotten letter after letter
from people who�ve told me that something I wrote changed their
lives. A woman fighting a battle for her disabled son learned
that she was not alone because of a piece I wrote; she is using
my writing to help her explain her case to government officials.
Another woman wrote to tell me my advice helped her to sell her
Even less-obvious forms of writing make a difference. Press
releases I�ve written have helped to launch people�s careers.
That, in turn, has helped someone support his family.
And I�m not even dead yet. Lordy, everyone knows that good
writers are never fully appreciated until after they die. At
this rate, I expect there to be a national holiday in my name
What we are doing has value. Every one of us. Writing is a
noble profession. Long after we�re gone, our words can live
on and carry the message of our lives. What�s your message?
Be it fiction or nonfiction, books or poems or technical reports
or reviews or plays or screenplays or greeting cards, you have
the potential to improve lives. How many times have you picked
up a greeting card that helped you express your love to a person
with whom you can�t always easily communicate? Or seen a movie
that took you away to a great fantasy land that helped you
escape the troubles in your life? As a child, how many times
did your mother re-read that same old well-worn book for you,
animating the voices and teaching you about the value of your
What we put �out there� in the world should be the best
representation we can give. Tell the stories that matter.
Don�t guard them. Don�t hide away your own true stories for
fear of privacy intrusion. Your own story may be the most
important gift you can give the world, because it shares the
wealth of knowledge, insight, and beauty that you�ve earned
through your time on this planet. Lend your talents where they
are needed. Give a voice to those who can�t express themselves.
Give clarity to those whose lessons should reach an audience.
Give your words to children, to teenagers, to adults, to senior
citizens, to the sick and dying, to the healthy, to the leaders,
to the poor, to the rich, to the quiet ones and those who will
shout your message from the rooftops. Keep giving your gift.
You WILL make a difference.
JENNA GLATZER is the author of MAKE A REAL LIVING AS A FREELANCE
WRITER. Visit http://www.jennaglatzer.com and find out how you
can pick up a FREE "Editors' E-mail Cheat Sheet" (a directory of
e-mail addresses for major magazine editors-- $29 value). Jenna
is also the editor-in-chief of the most popular online magazine
for writers: http://www.absolutewrite.com, where you can find a
free directory of agents who are open to new writers.
Posted: Mon Aug 23 05:56:29 EDT 2004
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