It’s a simple enough question, really. It’s also the simple questions that philosophers like to muse about ’till the end of time.
“What do I have to say?”
I ask this question to the artists, the authors, the bloggers, the playwrights, poets, actors, musicians, and anyone else hoping to make a piece of art that will stand alone in the great arena of time. Because that’s what it really comes down to, that simple question: “What do I have to say?”
Will you lecture your audience on global warming? Will you tell them which classic muscle car is your favorite? Will you write a catchy tune? Will you direct a Twilight knock-off? We’ve come to a day and age where self-publishing and blogging have allowed us all a small voice to reach our audience. When the time comes, what will you say to them?
You can say anything you want. That’s a lot of responsibility.
“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”
–Carl Sagan, in the 11th episode of his 1980’s Cosmos series, titled “The Persistence of Memory”
I love that quote. It both sums up and paints a vast picture of the power of writing. What will you do with that power and with that responsibility? What will you do with that intimacy?
What do you have to say?
I believe that simple question can be read two very different ways:
1) What do I have, in my great inventory of ideas and memories, to convey?
2) (More importantly) Of all those many things I could say… what do I need to say?
The first question is easy (really easy for some people–you know who I’m talking about). The second question is one that most people will never answer. It’s not that they don’t have passions or something that they feel strongly about. Maybe it’s just that the question is so daunting it’s like wrestling with the abyss or battling a hurricane.
Teasing apart those two questions is a personal journey for each and every writer and artist. Even if you work in a another medium, the question still stands. No one can answer it for you.
I would argue that part of the distinction between the two questions is one of work. For writers, I think that you need to spend a great deal of time writing about all those things in question 1. Only after that can you begin to sort through all of it to find those gems that you are absolutely driven to share.
Whether you find an answer to that question of “what do I have to say” or you don’t; writing (and the rest of the arts) is a beautiful, soul enriching endeavor. It forces you to confront your weaknesses and fears, to harness your strengths, your passions, your dreams, and test your mettle in a way that few others outside the arts will ever know.
Cheers to all of you, whether you’re just stopping by or whether you’re in it for the long haul.