Pardon me while I preach to myself…

The old teacher in the book of Ecclesiastes wrote:

Photograph of typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted
Photo by Markus Winkler on

What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
    “See, this is new”?
It has already been,
    in the ages before us. (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, NRSV)

Writers know this, or at least, we need to be reminded of this from time to time. Although the circumstances in which we live continue to change with the passage of time and the progress of technology, we human beings still face essentially the same kinds of pleasures and pains, passions and problems, hopes and disappointments that our ancestors knew. We who can’t keep ourselves from putting words and sentences and paragraphs together in hope that our work will one day be read and appreciated know that our stories are not truly original—“There is nothing new under the sun.”

Were it not for one important thing, one could imagine most writers simply giving up.

The thing is—and writers know this—the billions of people in the world may have billions of stories to read, but until we write ours, not one of them has read it. Understanding this may not make the task of actually writing our story down any less daunting or intimidating, nor does it remove the pressure to learn the craft of writing well. But just as each one of us has unique physical and personality traits—the product of our parents’ DNA—each of us is shaped by unique sets and sequences of experiences, by the things we have seen and read and done, by the things that have been done to us and for us and around us, and our eyes are the only eyes that have seen things exactly as we have seen them. The task of the writer is at least partly to bring that unique personal history and experience to the work, and to tell our own version of the story, whatever it may be, with all of the skill and craftsmanship we can muster. 

The fact that we each have a unique voice and story does not necessarily ensure that we will be “successful” writers in any of the various ways such things are typically measured, but for those of us who cannot not write, does it really matter?


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