I hate to read. I hate to have a good book in my hands that is clear and focused. I hate to read the words that seem so obvious that there is no point in arguing with them.
I hate it, because I am forever and always finding books and reading them and thinking to myself—“I could have written that.” Sure, there are turns of phrase that I would have twisted just a bit differently. There are inevitably different stories and illustrations that another author will put forth because that was their experience. But often I find myself reading and thinking that it sounds or seems familiar.
All of this reminds me of how I feel so unoriginal. Even as I write this I’m struck with the notion that most everything I’ve ever written has probably appeared somewhere else before now. Others have written about the same things, and many, if not most, of them much better than I have. Do I have anything unique to say? Am I only parroting what I’ve heard through the years? Am I just a poor excuse of a writer who would like to think better of himself? Nothing new to see here, folks, move along!
But I also guess that I’m not the only one who feels this way. Surely others who take up the writing task have had similar thoughts. My mind takes me back to words that someone has already said: “All words are tiring; no one is able to speak. The eye isn’t satisfied with seeing, neither is the ear filled up by hearing. Whatever has happened—that’s what will happen again; whatever has occurred—that’s what will occur again. There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:8-9, CEB).
My point exactly—those words were written thousands of years ago and they still ring true today. I read those words and wonder if the person who wrote them had already heard them a thousand times from an elder. Had they also been published and sent forth for the world to see, if it still could? Were they read aloud in a gathering to be heard, if the ears could contain them? Little wonder we eventually hear the same writer talk about ‘Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.’
As much as I hate to read, I know I have to. A writer reads to see how others have approached this task. A writer reads because in the ever-flowing exchange of words there will be some that seem to stick with us more clearly. Some words do get into our ears and land in our minds where they get remembered and reviewed and repeated. Reading is an essential step in the writing process.
I wonder how many others have written something with this same thought: “I’m not really all that special. Others have said it already. Why would anyone want to read my work?” Common questions I’m guessing.
So I wonder if I’m just completely unoriginal! What I’m doing when I sit here with my coffee and keyboard is just rehashing the words of actual substance that have been handed down to me. There are no wondrous revelations that have come to me in the night. I am not possessed of incredible insights the likes of a Einstein or Darwin. I do not sense the poetry of Burns or Frost in my fingers. I do not attain the level of Aquinas or Anselm. I am more like one of the inhabitants of Plato’s Cave rather than the one who has broken free to see the true light of day. I sit staring at the screen putting forth words that have been used over and over and over again.
Again, vanity, vanity! Everyone who is reading this has already had this thought. I’m guessing that all writers struggle with finding their voice, their unique style, their own substance, their particular perspective. My suspicion is that everyone who picks up a pen and a piece of paper has begun to form letters and thought that their use of them was not worthy of much attention. The thought that I am completely unoriginal strikes me now as simply a common thought for all. How unoriginal is that!
The words I write this morning may never see the light of day. Indeed, I’m writing before the sun has come up, so there may well be some actual truth to that. These words are more me honing my craft and letting the chips fall to the floor. They may well be swept up and tossed away to decompose and hopefully make for more fertile creative ground in the days to come.
So here is my little pile of verbs and vanity. I offer up another dish of words and waste. I create (if that’s the right word) a concoction of symbols that may be more silliness and foolishness than wisdom. An unoriginal mangling of the English language coming from a confused and caffienated brain before the light is fully present.
Indeed, nothing new under the sun.