Something to say

Since making a goal of writing a blog post daily for six months, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the emotional labour that writing entails. Funny that. There’s many things I’ve realised I’m afraid of, but one of them sticks out. I don’t want to just write for writing’s sake.

Writing needs to be about something, otherwise it’s just fluff. We need to have something to say when we write, otherwise we’re just wasting people’s time. The time someone invests in reading your words needs to pay them back somehow. Reading this blog post needs to be more valuable to you than spending the same three minutes doing something else. Or nothing at all (that’s always a valuable alternative too).

How does one go about having something to say, though?

The reason this is a difficult question is that there’s so much in the world that someone could write about. We have so much to write about in fact, that it completely overwhelms us with choice to the point that it feels like we have absolutely nothing to choose from.

Not having something to say is an illusion.

One way around this is to narrow it down. Zoom in. Get specific. Ridiculously specific.

Zoom in

Perhaps the best explanation of how to zoom in I’ve ever come across is from Robert M. Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”—one of my all-time favourite books. There’s a great passage where the main character, Phaedrus, is giving one of his creative writing students an assignment to write about the town of Bozeman, Montana. The student just couldn’t think of anything to say. So he narrowed it down. “Just write about the main street of Bozeman”, he says. Still nothing.

So he revised it again. “You’re not looking”, he insisted. “Narrow it down to the front of one building on the main street of Bozeman. The Opera House. Start with the upper left-hand brick.”

Here’s what happened next:

She came in the next class with a puzzled look and handed him a five-thousand-word essay on the front of the Opera House on the main street of Bozeman, Montana. “I sat in the hamburger stand across the street,” she said, “and started writing about the first brick, and the second brick, and then by the third brick it all started to come and I couldn’t stop.”

When you zoom in to just one brick, you have no choice but to start seeing things with your own eyes, rather than through the eyes of other people. We see for ourselves, and this starts a chain reaction that leads to thinking for yourself. This forces you to have something to say that’s unquestionably yours.

What do you have to say?

We’re all waiting to hear what you have to say. Don’t let yourself fall for the illusion that you have nothing to say. That’s baloney. Zoom in on something and start writing. Or take pictures. Or build an app. Or start a business. Or pick up a paintbrush. Or something. Now!

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