Bad Thinking: “Wait Until You Have Something to Say”

There’s a rotten thought running around lecture halls, councils and writing groups these days. That idea goes like this: “You’ve nothing to say when you’re young. Wait until you’ve lived a little, then you’ll have something to say.” People tell themselves this while staring into the mirror or preach this to others all the time.

I talked to a old man the other day who owns thousands of books. He reads over a hundred every year. I asked him, “When are you going to write?”

He said, “Everything’s already been said.”

I know this guy, and he says things in unique, charming, joyful ways. No, I think something else is at work. It’s not so much that everything’s been said, but that he feels he has nothing to say. This, a man who will retire in a few short years.

Call me crazy, but I’m the guy who thinks he can learn everything there is to know about anything from anyone if he only listens and reflects. A mother in one of the classes I teach asked for prayer recently that her daughter’s cleft palate would loosen. “She’s got all sorts of things to say, to communicate, she just can’t form the words yet.”

Often in books on writing or rhetoric, they don’t end with, “…and wait until you have something to say.” Rather they end with, “find your voice.” Stephen King sat on the Dark Tower from nineteen on. Martin Luther King Jr. knew his mission for years before he stood up at the Lincoln Memorial and said the same thing he’d been saying all that time: I have a dream. I could go on, but the point is these people discover themselves, but work at finding their voice.

A friend of mine was in prison and we were writing letters back and forth. He started talking about his inmates’s usage of profanity:

Never have I been grateful for my high school and college education until now. These guys get in here and throw five of the worst swear words and racial slurs in-between phrases not because they prefer it but because they have no way of expressing their angst and anger. Education, if nothing else, taught me how to express what I’m feeling so that I don’t have to rely on words like that.

I’ve heard of people talk about profanity as if it’s “the language of the poor.” In this context, I suppose it could be considered such. No, I don’t buy into the idea that I need to wait to say something or wait to write until I have something to say. I’m a living creature born into this world–by definition I have a perspective to offer everyone.

It’s my job to share my perspective and find my voice by using it.

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