A story about how I became free of this question
It’s also a story of how one of the most powerful things anyone ever said to me came out of my mouth.
It was a piece of advice I gave a friend, except I’m the one who’s never forgotten it, and it happened about a decade ago. We’d known each other for a while, through another mutual friend, but we’d never really talked by ourselves. But then I was travelling by bus down south and she showed up at the park, going my way. And when you’re on a ten hour road trip with someone who turns out to be fun to talk to — well, you talk.
And did we talk.
We talked about everything. And as in most such conversations, writing came up.
Like me, she too wrote. Not as often as I already did then, but every now and then, she would put something down. Like me too (and probably every person who’s ever tried to make any kind of art), she struggled with self-doubt. But she also struggled with something I knew too well, something like, but a little more than self-doubt.
“I don’t feel like there’s anything left for me to say. Like, hasn’t it all been said already, and said better?”
You know the feeling too, don’t you? Like you’re in an ocean, only you’re not even a drop in it, you’re the microscopic plankton, and not even the sea creature that eats you up will be aware of your existence.
Try making anything when you feel that way.
But then, even though I’d often struggled with feeling the same way — or maybe precisely because I had — I felt compelled to say something to counter it. I guess I already knew, even then, that the feeling was death to any creating.
What I said to her was something I didn’t know I knew until I said it. You know what I mean? If I hadn’t said it, I wouldn’t have known I knew it. And although I didn’t realise it then, this fact was itself a proof of the truth of what I said to my friend — and, really, to myself.
And what I said was this:
Maybe whatever you will say with your art has already been said. But it’s never been said the way you would say it.
And maybe someone out there needs to hear it said just that way, and if you don’t say it, they never will.
And that, to this day, is why I write.
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