Create For No Other Reason Than To Make Your Soul Grow

IN 2006, an English teacher of a New York high school tasked her students to send a letter to their favorite authors.

All but one, the admired 20th-century satirist Kurt Vonnegut, ghosted these students.

Vonnegut couldn’t have imagined that ​his simple reply​ — perhaps the last thing he would write and share, as Vonnegut would pass away just six months later — would blossom and inspire countless souls for years to come.

We never know the impact our smallest gestures will have.

His words convey a human soul near the end of his life, inclined to leave the world better than when he entered it. Vonnegut wrote:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don't make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana. What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow.

This, I realize time and time again, is why you create — in fact, it’s why you do anything at all — not to reach some end goal, but because the act itself will change you.

I’ve been feeling happy lately.

It’s a byproduct of taking some pressure off, but also of working on something which I care deeply about.

I’m editing my travel story on my 2022 summer adventure through Europe.

The project consumes my daily thoughts in the best way possible.

I don’t know how this book will end up, and that’s not the point. I can’t wait to get back to it, and that, regardless if I’m having a good or bad day, gives me a sense of purpose and joy.

I recently watched old-school author and lecturer Robert McKee, ostensibly the world’s leading authority on the art of storytelling, on ​the Rich Roll Podcast​.

He essentially said:

If you want to be a creator, you’re signing up for hard work and failure for at least the next decade.

Ya, sign me up.

I’m committing myself to this path knowing full well it’s an arduous road that may never lead to a best-seller, a TV show, whatever. I think that’s what McKee means when he says failure: monetary success, public acclaim.

It’s up to us to define success.

By putting the ball in play and taking a chance on ourselves, I believe we’re already successful no matter how young we are.

Our perseverance, grit and love will determine how far we go. I write because when I sit down and pen these words, the fire in my soul catches, sways, and illuminates my path forward.

I admit McKee is a hard-nosed authority on writing; some of what he said made me face-palm.

“Life is not a journey!” he admonished as I clutched the bridge of my nose. “It’s a struggle.”

Considering how I write endlessly about the journey of life, this gave me something to think about as I waddled home from conveyor belt sushi last Saturday, my belt feeling rather tight.

I also realize it’s just a single opinion, and as much as I respect the man, what is McKee? The all-knowing oracle of what it means to be alive?

There are no rules in this game of creation.

This notion both buries the road map and allows for wandering through the desert with the beauty of the starry night as a guide.

I’m emboldened by the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, a contemporary writer who offers a more encouraging perspective from her recent book, ​Big Magic​:

It's okay if your work is fun for you. It's also okay if your work is healing for you, or fascinating for you, or redemptive for you, or if it's maybe just a hobby that keeps you from going crazy. It's even okay if your work is totally frivolous. That's allowed. It's all allowed.

What both McKee and Gilbert and of course Vonnegut agree on is that there must be something deeper which calls us to create than merely reaching some end goal; the end goal isn’t the reward.

The reward is what you discover throughout the process. Gilbert writes:

What you produce is not necessarily always sacred, I realized, just because you think it's sacred. What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life. The more lightly you can pass that time, the brighter your existence becomes.

I’m twenty-seven. I self-published my first book, Arrows of Youth, when I was twenty-five.

I say this to impart that I’m still young, still at the onset of this journey (there it is, life is a journey, damnit!) and when writing that book, what was more important than putting out something perfect was putting out something which reflected who I was at that stage.

When we’re young, it’s as if we’re not worthy of creating on the same level as the big dogs. We must earn our stripes; what could we possibly know, anyway? Elizabeth Gilbert again:

Feel free to start sharing your perspective through creativity, even if you're just a kid. If you are young, you see things differently than I do, and I want to know how you see things. We all want to know. When we look at your work (whatever your work may be), we will want to feel your youth - that fresh sense of your recent arrival here. Be generous with us and let us feel it. After all, for many of us it has been so long since we stood where you now stand.

Did I know what I was doing right from the start when self-publishing? Hell no. I figured it out as I went.

Suffice to say I’m not raking in the Benjamins, yet I made something which sits on I think more than a handful of bookshelves around the world, and that’s beyond me.

I’m not setting out to write the great American novel or the story of my generation.

That’s too much damn pressure. I create because the act itself makes me happy, in both big ways and small.

As creators, no, as human beings, we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect.

As a writer if I only put out work I thought was perfect, I’d have no book and not a single story posted online.

I’m fortunate to have come across a book early in my writing career: Brenda Ueland’s classic ​If You Want to Write, in which she says:

There are wonderfully gifted people who write a little piece and then write it over and over again and make it absolutely, flawlessly perfect - a gem. But these people only emit about a pearl a year or every five years. And that is because of the grind, the polishing, the fear that the little literary pearl will not be perfect and unassailable. But this is all a loss of time and a shame since in them there lies a fountain of exuberant life and poetry and literature and imagination that cannot emerge because they are so anxiously busy polishing the gem. And this is the point: if they kept writing new things, freely and generously and with careless truth, then they would know how to fix up the pearl in two seconds, with no work at all.

This doesn’t just apply to writing or even creating. How much does the fear of being imperfect hold us back? We don’t start unless we’re confident in what we’re doing. We don’t speak up if we don’t know what to say.

We live our lives in fear instead of taking a shot and just fucking trying.

Our work isn’t sacred, nor are our egos, our looks, our abilities. All that matters is that we try, and in that trying, we become.

If you want to make something, make it, no matter your age.

If you want to say something, say it.

If you want to be something, be it.

Do it for nobody but you, for no other reason than to make your soul grow.

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