Here’s my fear when it comes to writing, straight out: that I have nothing new to say. That I have nothing to add to the conversation. That the small moments, the small epiphanies I share here on this blog are mundane and trite, as fresh and as appetizing as milk a month past its date.
I’m afraid of adding my voice to the multitude of voices out there and finding I sound just like everyone else. I’m afraid of being irrelevant. Of revealing my own childishness, my own immaturity, my own vacuous ways of thinking.
These fears are especially present after a break, when I am first trying to claw my way back into some sort of writing habit. I stare at a blank screen or a blank page, and a small voice inside of me asks why I think I have anything to say, who I think I am, what I think I’m doing.
And, more often than not, I give in. I stare off into space, trying to call some profound thought from the ether. I pen a few hesitant words, sigh, erase. I open Facebook or I open a real book, telling myself I’ll just browse for inspiration for a moment, though I know even as I begin that this is a lie. Before I know it, nap time is over and Katie calls from her crib and my writing time is gone.
I give in, and my fear keeps me from creating anything at all.
Katie has discovered a love of coloring. Or drawing. Or scribbling. Whatever you call it, she can spend half an hour or more – an eternity, for a toddler – at the table, crayons in hand, leaving her mark in coloring books or on paper or on old bills, anything she can find. I have to keep a close eye on her; she’s prone to find some important document haphazardly left within her reach and designate it the perfect canvas for holding her art. She’ll brandish it in the air with excitement, declare, “co-war!” and march down the hall with purpose if I don’t intercept her.
She loves to color; I love to watch her. Though her fine motor control is undeveloped, though she’s as content with a mechanical pencil or a black pen as she is with the bright colors of Crayola, she approaches her art with intention, with determination. She’ll stop, mid-stroke, and pull back a bit, inspecting her creation, before scrunching down, shoulders hunched, to add a scribble. She makes sounds as she works, and I’m sure she’s imitating me: hmms and huhs and uh-ohs, mutterings to accent the marks she leaves on the page.
She loses herself in her creating. It asborbs her completely, and once she’s finished, once her coloring is done, she doesn’t look back. Her art is complete. There’s nothing to add, nothing to say. It doesn’t matter if there have been one million pieces like it, it doesn’t matter if it is identical to everything else out there. It’s finished, and she doesn’t care what happens to it; it’s the act of creation itself that matters, and nothing else.
Jesus told us to become like little children, and I’m wondering if this isn’t a part of what He meant: to be willing to trust Him with the outcomes. To do our work well, to the best of our ability, and then to let go of it, to release it into the world to do what it will. To lose ourselves in the act of creation. To make art for its own sake.
The practical engineer in me rebels at such a thought, for of course outcomes matter. Of course we should consider how our words, how our art, how our work affects those around us. Of course we should strive to say and do things that matter. But I’m beginning to think I take practicality and the desire for results too far, especially when it comes to my more creative pursuits, especially when I let logic keep me from doing anything at all.
The unfortunate truth is that my fears are valid: I don’t have anything new to say. I have nothing revelatory or brilliant, nothing that hasn’t been said before. I have no fresh stories to tell. Even as I write it, this post feels obvious, hackneyed, clichéd. I mean, really. The mother of a toddler finding inspiration in the doodles of her child? What’s unique about that? There are probably a million posts already available exploring this exact idea, this exact train of thought.
But none of those million posts were written by me, and none of them were told in my voice, with these words. More importantly, this post – these words – are my offering, my art, my creation.
It doesn’t matter if everyone else is doing it. It doesn’t matter if it’s identical to everything else out there. It doesn’t matter if that concerto’s already been played, if that scene’s already been painted, if that aria’s already been sung. It doesn’t matter if that photograph’s already been taken or those words have already been written. It doesn’t matter if that code has been designed, if that disease has been treated, if that lesson has been taught.
If these talents, these gifts, are given to me – and to you – so that we might use them to make something, to glorify God, then nothing of what came before or what will come after makes any difference at all. It is the act of creation itself that matters.