The above commencement address holds some great insight about both writing and life. In case you don’t have fifteen minutes to listen to the entire thing, here are some of my favorite bits from his story about a conversation with his professor while struggling to finish an essay assignment:
Maybe I should tighten the thesis. Maybe my outline should have four parts instead of three. Maybe it wasn’t as awful as I thought and I should just power through and finish the job. . . .
“No,” [my professor] told me, “your problem is something else. You don’t know what you think.” And then, he unleashed nine words that changed my life. “Dan,” he said, “sometimes you have to write to figure it out.” . . .
I was stunned.
This went against most of my previous instruction, and much of what I thought this country stood for. “Wait a second, that’s allowed? You didn’t have to know exactly what you wanted to say before you said it? Writing wasn’t only a way to memorialize your thinking? It was a way to figure out what you actually thought?” . . .
“Sometimes you have to write to figure it out.” It’s huge. It’s liberating. It’s a little scary. . . .
Since that spring day, I have carried [my professor’s] words with me. When I am sitting at my computer, trying to do my job, and the cursor just blinks and blinks and blinks, tauning me for my incompetence and incoherance, I many, many times say to myself, “Dan, sometimes you have to write to figure it out.” . . .
This advice wasn’t just savvy guidance for how to write; it might be the wisest advice I know for how to live.
As you know from my blog post, “The Art of Essaying,” I’m big on using writing to learn things, to figure them out, to sort out thinking and discover what you really mean. As my friend Luke shared in the comments to another of my posts, Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators, once said, “Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and fingertips.” Great stuff.
As I was thinking about this recently, I realized that as we focus on something and write out our thoughts, the object of our focus reveals its mysteries. What is it that no one has asked of this subject before? What is an angle from which it has not been previously explored? What truth lies within it that has yet to be uncovered? What is hidden beneath its surface? What treasures is it hiding for me to discover?
I believe, within the quest to answer these questions—to solve these mysteries—lies the keys to everything.
Okay, a bit grandiose, probably, but it is this quest that keeps me writing. What inspires you to write?
The above video is of the 2014 Weinberg College Convocation Address by Daniel Pink | YouTube via Brain Pickings