The Vacuum

by Sara Wilson Etienne

When people describe the vast emptiness of outer space, it sounds very familiar to me. In fact, most of us recognize the vacuum. It’s the place where we write every day.

We tell stories that fill up the emptiness. We create protoworlds and set them spinning in the darkness. And we hope against hope that they will have enough gravity to pull in more material. To grow bigger and bigger. To become a planet that we can populate with our audience. Maybe we’ll even find a moon to cast its light on the whole shebang.

But the vacuum is a lonely place. We sit in the blackness with only far-away stars to keep us company or guide us. Occasionally comets shoot by to wow or destroy us. But most of the time, it’s just us.

So how do we survive? More than that… how do we keep ourselves out there, keep ourselves building worlds, when we have no idea if we are doing it right?

Recently I’ve had several heartbreaking conversations with incredibly talented writer friends. I don’t know whether it’s the tough market or just one of those unfair things, but they’ve found themselves out in the darkness and have started to ask themselves “Am I really a writer?”

I mean, how do we know?  In a business where we often receive more rejection than encouragement, how do we keep going? Sometimes we send our stories out into space and hear nothing back. Even with the cheering of our friends and family and critique groups, the silence can be deafening.

Here’s the answer that I came up with, it may not be your answer, but I’m going to share it anyway.

You have to be louder than the silence.

After many rejections, after working on my novel for seven years and not knowing if I was getting anywhere, I decided that I was the only one that was going to declare myself a writer. And I just let my eyes adjust to the darkness.

I know I am a writer because I put pen to paper. Or more like, finger to keyboard. I’m a writer because I love to tell stories, even when I hate it. I’m a writer because my brain is constantly making things up. Sure some of it is neurotic, about how my coffee pot will overheat and my computer will melt and even if I find a back-up copy of my book no one will want to read it anyway. But they are stories nonetheless. I’m a writer because when I avoid my writing it makes me grumpy and when I finally get those words down it is a relief. Some days I even feel weightless.

I write to stay sane.

I write to make myself happy.

I write because in my hearts of hearts, I truly believe I have worlds in me that deserve to exist.

Every writer is standing out there in the darkness trying to build a new world. No agent or contract or award can help you do this. I won’t deny that a little moonlight might help you see things clearer, but the act of writing has to come from you. And you can’t let solar winds or comets or supernovas stop you. And even though it might feel impossible, you write because you want to or you feel compelled to or you love to, not because someone has told you that you can.


Sara Wilson Etienne intended to be a marine biologist but quickly realized that she loved fantasy more than fact.  Now she enjoys combining both to create stories that ask “What if?” Sara writes in sunny California with the help of her husband and two dogs. Her debut YA novel, a supernatural mystery currently titled The Harbinger, comes out in Spring 2012.

Photo by Rita Crayon Huang