A local high school teacher contacted me recently asking for help with a group of her English students. They had a problem, she said. Could I help? Since she happened to be a longtime friend and I didn’t have much else to do, I said yes. Absolutely.
But it turned out to be more than simply helping out a friend or filling in a lazy summer afternoon. Much more. Because the problem was basic. Simple yet foundational.
They had nothing to write about.
They were your stereotypical teenagers—clumsy and loud, with a strange combination of fear and arrogance. They one thing that set them apart from their peers was a love for writing, whether that love was expressed or bubbling just beneath the surface.
But of course a love for writing isn’t enough, is it? You have to do something with that love. You need material. And they had none. Zero. Nada.
Or so they thought.
I can’t say I managed to convince all of them otherwise in the three or so hours I was there. But I think I convinced some. And I most assuredly convinced a few. Considering the fact it’s darn near impossible to get a teenager to change his or her mind about anything, I’d call that a victory.
But then I started considering the fact that thinking there isn’t anything interesting about one’s life isn’t just for teenagers. Not just for writers, either. We all fool ourselves into thinking there isn’t anything that separates us from everyone else. So I thought I’d give the same little pep talk to you today that I gave those students a couple weeks ago. Just in case.
It’s amazing how the rules to good writing are also the rules to good living. The two go hand in hand, I think. Good writing means cutting out all the excess, whittling down what you want to say until all that’s left is what you need to say. Same with living. Whittle it down. Find the basics. Keep it simple. Makes for not just a better story, but a better life, too.
I wasn’t visiting that class to talk about the basics of a good story, though. I was there to talk about the basics of getting ideas. Not surprisingly, that just so happened to be my own Rule Number One to good writing. And good living.
Rule Number One:
You are extraordinary.
Don’t let anyone fool you by saying otherwise. Some will try, of course. Some will try very hard. They’ll say you’re good or nice or polite or even special, but not extraordinary. And maybe you’ll even tell yourself that. Don’t. That’s a lie, and maybe the biggest lie of all. Fall for it, and nothing will really happen. Don’t fall for it, and everything will.
It’s not just you that’s extraordinary, either. Your life is, too. What you’re feeling, what you’re doing, and what you’re thinking. Your dreams and your fears, your hopes and worries. Extraordinary, and in a very special way. On the one hand, those things are unique to you, and how you approach each of them is determined by everything from you DNA to your experiences and beliefs.
But on the other hand, those dreams and fears and hopes and worries are for the most part shared by every other person who’s ever walked in this world. There is an invisible line that runs through the heart of every person, connecting you not only to your family and friends, but to your neighbor down the road and strangers you’ll never meet. As different as we may seem to be on the outside, we’re all the same on the inside.
You are common in that sense, yes. But only in the way Da Vinci and Einstein and Twain were common. They were extraordinary in what they did with their commonness. You can be the same.
Think of this world as a house with many rooms. Some are big and wide and hold many people. Others are small and cramped and hold just a few. But all of those rooms are dark inside.
When you’re born, God gives you a light and places you in one of those rooms. It might be a big one with many people. Maybe it’s just a smaller one with a few.
But my point is this—it doesn’t matter what kind of room you’re in. Doesn’t matter who’s there and who isn’t.
All that matters is that you do what you’re meant to do.
All that matters is that you shine your light.