Why It's Okay to Say What's Been Said Before

Several years ago I created a short inspirational video called The Writing Spirit. It’s a sort of montage of quotes from writers I’ve interviewed like Sir Ken Robinson, Richard Bach, Gary Zukav and others about the spiritual nature of writing and the creative process. I loved making this video. I loved choosing the clips, I loved editing them, and I loved writing every note of the music that accompanied the video. I was all tingly with excitement the day I uploaded it to YouTube. I didn’t have many followers at that time, but Ken Robinson did, and when he tweeted about it, the video went a little viral. How exciting! Then, the first comment appeared. “I call bullshit,” wrote the commenter. “This has all been said before.”

All other comments on this video would be positive, but I did not know that would be the case when I read this first opinion. For a moment, I felt the sting familiar to all artists whose work has not been appreciated. He’s wrong, I thought in my defense. This video is not bullshit. It’s lovely. He’s just too gloomy to see it, and so he’s wrong and I’m right.

Except this didn’t leave me feeling any better. Until, that is, I thought: No, he’s right. It has all been said before. But that’s okay. Everything valuable humans have to share with one another has been said before, and yet we keep saying it again and again and again. We keep telling each other to trust ourselves, and listen to our intuition, and treat others the way we would be treated, and that we’re strong enough, and that we shouldn’t fear death, and that love is the organizing principle of the universe.

We can’t say it often enough, because we all want to hear it, because we all keep forgetting it. And the reason writers keep telling the same stories over and over again of good overcoming evil, and the guy getting the girl, and justice prevailing is that the story sounds little different when a writer tells it in his or her unique voice. A writer brings just enough difference to a familiar story that a reader is able to see the story’s familiar truth anew – and that’s all we want. We just want to be reminded of what we have always known.

It’s a good job, if you ask me. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I don’t have to redefine the narrative, or discover a new tense for verbs. Maybe I will, but I needn’t worry about it. If I’m as honest as I can be, which is always the most effortless path for whatever I’m creating, then I’ll have made something original. I can’t not, because whether I like it or not, I’m original, and so are you.

And so was that fellow who didn’t like my video, though he may not yet believe that. So many of us don’t. It sometimes feels safer to think you’re just like everyone else. Which you are, in that you want to love and be loved, and you prefer it when people are kind to you, and you would rather succeed than fail. We are all, in this way, inseparable members of the Tribe of Humans. But the tribe would like to hear from you.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion.

"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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