If you are in the business as I am of writing more or less inspirational essays everyday, it is easy to fall into what I think of as recycled language but which also gets called clichés. For instance, all I ever really say, day after day, is: Be not afraid, and follow your heart. And that would be enough, frankly, if every reader hadn’t heard this advice before. Its familiarity doesn’t make it less true, but it does make it less effective. Yet how exactly do you say something originally? There’s the thesaurus approach. Instead of follow your heart, you might advise your reader to gamble on your gut, or surf your impulse. Neither of those are all that bad – in fact I’m already fond of surf your impulse – but I have written this way enough to know how unsatisfying this paint-by-numbers game is. Nothing new is actually found while writing this way; we have only taken an old doll and put a different coat on it.
For me, originality begins by forgetting completely about language. Instead of trying to find new words to put in place of follow your heart, I allow myself to feel, without any thought of words, what it means on that day to follow my heart. Then I begin to write as accurately as I can what that feeling sounds and looks and maybe even smells and tastes like. If I am true to that experience, what I write will be original only because this day and that feeling have never met before and I was there to record it.
But none of this will work unless I trust that there will be something new for me to see and feel within myself where my heart-following self resides. By necessity what waits for me must be unknown, which means I must allow it to be unknown, which means I must place myself once again in the role of student-of-life. How I wish sometimes that I knew it all, had seen it all, had lived it all so that I would never again have to open some door into darkness. To have such a wish granted is to find myself entombed in a world that has already served its purpose, and to immediately begin looking for any door at all to set me free.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.