What Difference Do I Make?

On the struggle with the existential meaning of writing

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. Maya Angelou quote Do I Make A differenceOne of the toughest parts about being a writer/artist is doing the work.

The nitty-gritty everyday work.

The reason isn’t writer’s block or lack of time. There’s always time — everyday — for me to sit down and write.

The reason — for me, and I am sure many artists and writers — is existential. What difference does it make if I write that poem today? What difference does it make if I sketch in my sketchbook?

If a tree falls in the forest,
And I write a poem about it
(And I don’t post it on Instagram
And get a bunch of comments and ??s)
Did the tree fall at all?

“Taking time to write” (insert “paint“, “sing,” “be creative” here) can feel selfish. It can feel “extra”. Done as a parent in this modern world, it feels like the sort of thing one must haul out now and then from the trunk, like a spare tire.

The Meaning of Writing

Even at the age of (soon to be) 50, with all these years of writing behind me, I still struggle with the existential meaning of writing.

What difference does it make? Why am I doing it? Should I write for myself, or for the audience? If I write for myself, and there’s no audience other than me, was there a purpose to the writing?

Curiously, I know the answer to all of these questions. I have been battling the inner voice since the first day I picked up the pen.

I know that writing for myself is a healing process — regardless of whether anyone else reads it. I know that worrying about the audience too much can stifle the writing of a sincere “shitty first draft.” I know I have time and opportunity during drafting anything I write to make it even better and more meaningful to whomever it is I want to read it,

And yet…

I think it is worth acknowledging right here, today, that I still battle with the demon of insecurity when it comes to creating. I still ask myself: what difference do I make? Does my voice matter?

I know my voice matters, because every voice matters. Because there is never-ending proof that a single voice can make a difference in the world.

Anne Frank

“I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

Rosa Parks

“I didn’t feel very good about being told to stand up and not have a seat. I felt I had a right to stay where I was. That was why I told the driver I was not going to stand. I believed that he would arrest me. I did it because I wanted this particular driver to know that we were being treated unfairly as individuals and as a people.” 

Emmeline Pankhurst

“Once they are aroused, once they are determined, nothing on earth and nothing in heaven will make women give way; it is impossible.” 

Angela Davis

“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”

Simone de Beauvoir

“I am too intelligent, too demanding, and too resourceful for anyone to be able to take charge of me entirely. No one knows me or loves me completely. I have only myself.” 

Now and then, I have to remember that ordinary people everyday create beauty and make change. Every person has what it takes in them to make a difference– and that includes me.

But more to the point, I have to remind myself — what difference does it make? If I want to write, if I have something to say, what difference does it make if someone — or no one — wants to hear it?

The creative practice is a practice for the self– and for no one else.

It may be my choice to use writing to convince others of something. It might be that I use writing to tell a story. It might be that I use writing to change the world.

Or, it might be that I use writing to listen to myself, to dust out corners, to collect and organize — and beautify — some idea that has been slumped on the shelf of my mind.

When I write, I redecorate my inner world. If I decide to share it on FB or IG, bully for you.