Writing from a messy room: on the authority to write

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A cartoon in The New Yorker a couple issues back can easily strike fear into anyone who writes anything for anyone else to read. The cartoon shows a guy at a typewriter in the middle of a chaotic room, and a woman at the room's doorway, on the phone, asks "Did you send your editor the final pages of 'Organizing Your Life'?" If you don't have it all figured out in your own life, where’s the authority to share what you've written? That fear certainly rose up when I wrote Just Think; after all, who was I – no PhD at the end of my name – to share my thoughts on using one's mind well in daily life? With this new book coming out in April, here it is again: who am I to write a book about work with a capital "W"? Still no PhD at the end of my name. Sneak a peek into my office on a routine workday and it may be evident to you that I don't have everything figured out. But I'm okay with that.

Writers who write from the position of expert, those who make promises of new and improved lives for their readers, do have a high burden of proof to meet. Evidence must support claims. Writers who write from the position of being shoulder-to-shoulder with readers have a different kind of burden of proof to meet, but perhaps just as high: that they've thought deeply about their subject and written honestly and with eyes open.

I believe in not having all the answers before starting to write. I believe in writing along the way and in the direction of answering a question, maybe lots of questions, even if they can't be fully answered. I believe in being a student of one's work and a fellow traveler to whoever reads it. I hope that gives you readers of this blog encouragement or permission, if you had any doubt and need that, to write about whatever topic is calling to you, whether or not you have a PhD – or MDiv or BA – at the end of your name.


[Photo: Le Penseur (The Thinker) by Rodin; taken at Musée Rodin in Paris.]