“Marketing Sex and Violence to America’s Children,” the book’s subhead advertises in lurid red letters.
I sip my coffee.
“Media Violence and Children,” another screams.
Should’ve added cinnamon; this coffee needs cinnamon. I set my mug beside a row of black and red hardback spines. I barely skim the titles. Bang Bang. The Violent Heart. They all run along the same vein. Violence. Children. Media. Saving America’s youth. My attention is captured, not by the creative typefaces or frightening titles, but by the yellowing tags below. 303.6 D31m. 303.6 C – I stop, reread the label, and move the book back to its proper place.
This is my job: reading the Dewey Decimal and author numbers to make sure every book in its proper place. Those rows and rows of books with eye-catching colours and dramatic titles leave only one thought in my mind – not, We must save America’s children! – but instead, Why on earth are there so many books on one subject? Some titles are virtually identical. A fair number of the volumes probably contain the same concepts – maybe even the same phrasing. Redundancy. I hate it.
And that sentiment triggers fear: what if my writing is redundant?
Working in a library shows me firsthand that every subject has been covered from multiple angles–maybe even every angle. What can I write that hasn’t been written before? Come to think of it, why should any of us write if there is no material? Like a rampaging monster, unexpected fear of redundancy calls all my career hopes into question. In response to this new terror, here are my weapons: four reasons to write anyway.
1. The view from the desk:
In The Dead Poets Society, the phenomenal professor John Keating says, “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.” Your view on any given subject is different than everyone else’s stand on a different desk, so to speak. And when you write, you give other people a chance to stand, just for a moment, on your desk.
2. Ooh! Shiny…:
I’m the queen of easily distracted. I cut off half of my sentences with, “Ooh look at that!” or “Sorry- your necklace is backwards.” Society as a whole is like that, too. We like new, shiny things. Your pastor probably repeats some of the same things that C.S. Lewis said – and C.S. Lewis repeated some of the things that Augustine said, and Augustine repeated… But they say them in slightly different ways, and we like that. If you can say something old in a new way, it doesn’t matter how many people have said it before you – we will cut off in mid-sentence and say, “Ooh! Shiny…”
3. Mumble mumble:
There was an old lady in my church who could not understand me. I imagine everything I said sounded like, “Mumble word mumble mumble.” But she understood my brother – the pitch of his voice just worked for her, for some reason. He repeated everything I said, and when he said it, she got it. Everyone has writers they understand and writers whose words come out “mumble mumble.” You have the opportunity to be the voice people can understand. For someone out there, the pitch of your voice works, and if you repeat the thoughts people have been repeating since the dawn of time, there’s someone who’s heard “mumble mumble” from other writers and who will hear intelligent words from you, because your voice works for them.
4. Nothing new under the sun…except you:
The preacher said it in Ecclesiastes, and humanity’s been saying it ever since: there is nothing new. Everything’s been done before. Except – oh guess what… you! You are unique. Nobody has ever been you before (unless you’re in one of those crazy sci-fi existential-type movies, which for the present we’ll discount). Nobody has lived your life. You have something to say, and what you have to say is unique. Your perspective is unique. Your application is unique. Your story is unique. And people want to read unique, so write it!
And there you have it. I’m still white-knuckled at the thought of writing. The redundancy monster still towers over me. But I’m armed. And the next time you see me standing on a desk while flipping through a thesaurus, you’ll know why. More importantly, the next time you consider putting that pen down, try standing on a desk yourself.