You Helped Me

I just listened to a wonderful speech by Paul Gilding about how our current economic model—all obsessed with growth—is doomed. It’s a powerful and energising speech and you should all listen to it.

Gilding also talks a little bit about happiness, about how owning more stuff does not actually make us happy. Or not for very long:

We know that for example, what does make us happy is love, relationships, community and doing something meaningful with your life.

Doing something meaningful with your life. The part of my job that makes me happiest is the impact some of my books have on some of my readers. Every time I get a letter from a reader saying, you helped me I am moved. It makes what I do worthwhile.

I have heard dozens, if not hundreds, of other writers say the exact same thing. It’s what Maureen Johnson said about The Bermudez Triangle that no matter what the banners say the letters from readers talking about how Bermudez had helped them outweighed the banners a million, gazillion, quantaribillion to one.

We may worry about our careers: sales, reviews, prizes, blah blah blah. Why aren’t we bestsellers? And if we are bestsellers—will our next book be a bestseller? But those things are worries. If they do make us happy it rarely lasts long.

Every time a readers tells us that our book helped them deal with their problems, helped them realise that they’re not alone, helped get them through a really awful time in their life, every single time that happens it gives meaning to our work.

You helped me is a tremendously powerful statement. I have heard it more in the four years since my first novel was published than I’d heard it in my entire life prior to being published. It gives me great joy. It helps me get through when the writing is crap. It helps me.

When I was a teenager books were a very powerful force in my life. They helped me. It’s a long time since I was a teen but books are still helping me.


  1. Caroline on #

    This is so true. I’ve done a lot of work with youth since I was young myself. There are so many times when I get stressed and I feel like all the work I’m doing isn’t worth it all. But then when some one comes up to me and says those words: You Helped Me, all of the stress, pain, and wondering if any of this is helping anyone at all, all of it is washed away in that one second it took them to say You Helped Me.

    Books are also SO important to me. Whenever I read a book where the hero/heroine overcomes a huge obstacle I want to become more like them, and I realize that I truly want to succeed and I have bigger dreams than I thought. Thank you writers for your hard work.

  2. Hoolie on #

    One of the best things David Sedaris ever wrote wasn’t in one of his own books, but in a short story collection he edited called CHILDREN PLAYING BEFORE A STATUE OF HERCULES. Somewhere in his introduction he said, “…because I believed then, as I believe now, that stories can save you.” I don’t remember the rest of that sentence off the top of my head, but it’s never mattered to me. I’m stopped cold every time I think of it, not least because of the scope of his language: stories can help, of course. But they can, quite literally, save your life. And that’s rather miraculous.

  3. Kirsten on #

    “…owning more stuff does not actually make us happy. Or not for very long.”

    Unless they’re, yanno, ***books***

    Heh. Paging irony, there’s a call for you on this blog…

  4. Victoria Dixon on #

    Not only did you help me during our conversation in the Kansas City libary, but you continue to wow me. I was revitalized after Magic or Madness and so look forward to reading the rest of the series. I wanted to ask if you knew this month’s main story for National Geographic was on Angkor Wat? I saw the issue’s cover picture and thought of you!

  5. Justine on #

    I knew comments on this thread would make me teary. And they have.

    Well except for Kirsten.

    Kirsten: Books aren’t THINGS. Neither are Vivienne Westwood ballgowns. Honestly.

  6. Carrie on #

    Fantastic post — thanks. I think it’s easy as a writer to get bogged down in the negative and you’re pointing out the very best that can happen to an author. I got an email yesterday from someone who said she wasn’t a reader and that changed when she read my book. I’m still astounded — that someone out there could find the joy in reading that I’ve had my entire life and that I could somehow be involved is mindblowing. I’m so thankful to you for reminding me that these are the things to focus on and not the negatives!

  7. Marie Devers on #

    I don’t have the trackback feature on my blog, but I wanted you to know that you helped me, so I passed your inspiration onto others over at my place.

    Thanks for the pep talk,


  8. Kirsten on #

    Okay—I was being silly: I’m sorry. Now I’ll be serious. Books are indeed things, just as are textiles: the things through which art, like a story or a ball gown may be communicated to other human beings. It’s the art that’s tranformative, but how do artists share it beyond their own firesides without the **things**?

    In the days of scribes and woodcuts, could a Romanian political prisoner have kept the light of hope and resistance alive in her fellow prisoners’ lives by recounting Heyer’s Friday’s Child over the 12 years she was jailed? (p. 155 The Private World of Georgette Heyer) Or teen readers around the world find Reason Cansino’s life speak to theirs? Could a small-town librarian like me be able to step away from her desk to pull down a reference from an extensive collection?

    The entire industrial revolution, the J.C. Penny-izing and Walmart-ization that makes stuff easy to buy and sell and own in the Western world is driven by people wanting to have the things they love. Including books!

    Oh the irony!

  9. Justine on #

    Kirsten: Well put. I totally agree with you. Doing something meaningful is very frequently tied up with stuff. Especially, for you and me and others, with books.

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