What Can I Say That Hasn't Been Said?
As a doctor and ecclesiastical leader, my dad has many fascinating insights about the relationship between body and spirit. On long car rides and late nights in our backyard hot tub, he has shared some of these insights with me. He also happens to be a beautiful writer, and several years ago he told me he would like to write a book one day about his experiences and musings. Recently I brought it up with him again, encouraging him to start writing things down.
“But what can I say that hasn’t been said?” he responded.
A valid question, and one that I’m sure has stopped many a pen from meeting paper, once hopeful to write something profound.
It’s true that most of the items we could list on our “life resume” are on someone else’s too: school, marriage, parenthood, running a marathon, and even becoming a doctor. For most everything we do or accomplish in our lives, we are not the first and will not be the last. Viewed from that lens, each of us is pathetically un-special.
But the task of writing about our experiences reveals so much more than a list of “have-done’s.” In writing we discuss not the WHAT of our lives but the SO WHAT. Why did I do what I did or choose what I chose? How did the experience affect me? How did my life change as a result?
It is not what we experience, but the way we experience it, that makes our stories unique. There are countless factors that contribute to your one-of-a-kind point of view: the way you were raised, the town you grew up in, the education you received and where you received it, your religious beliefs, etc. And then there’s that little thing we like to call “nature”–your innate characteristics that color the lens of all your perceptions. One hundred people could have the same experience and have one hundred different outcomes. Looking at the world through your eyes is what makes your story different than anyone else’s.
It is unfair to judge our stories on their ability to become a best-seller. That should not be the paramount purpose of writing. First and foremost, the goal of writing should be selfish–it is a therapeutic process, helping you reflect on, make sense of, and even find closure to events in your life. Secondly, good stories deserve to be told, not necessarily on a loudspeaker broadcast to the entire world, but in meaningful ways to those close to you. When you share your writing with loved ones, they find joy and meaning in it because they are the characters who have been alongside you. They see your face and hear your voice as they read. They care about what you wrote because they care about YOU.
You may not have done what hasn’t been done, but you can always say what hasn’t been said, and that is an invaluable treasure–a gift that can be given by no one else.