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What The West Wing Taught Me About Writing

I sit here writing words onto the internet and the only face I see is my own reflected in the screen.

Sometimes this is a scary hobby.

Sometimes I meet people in real life who have read my words and then I feel a little bit naked, because I write stuff onto the internet that I wouldn’t just blurt out face-to-face in real life.¬†

This is a good thing.

If I think about everyone who might be reading these words I’d probably delete most of them before I ever hit publish. Except for when I’m being intentionally provocative, I really don’t want to offend you. I want you to like me. I want everyone to like me.¬†

This is not a good thing.

When I start to think about whether or not you’ll like me, I stop telling the truth. Then I’m tempted to write bland, boring stuff. Chicken Soup for the Chicken Soul. Lowest common denominator. Make sure that my conservative Facebook friends and my progressive Twitter friends will all like me. Worthless words.

I think this is a common temptation for all of us, especially for anyone who says anything or makes words or music or art. It’s what I was thinking about last night when I was watching The West Wing with my wife. About that instinct to stay safe, to please everyone, to quiet your voice just a little bit:

What are you waiting for? Everything you do says “For god’s sakes, Leo, I don’t want to be a one-term President.”¬†Everyone’s waiting for you… I don’t know how much longer.

What are you waiting for, Micah? Everything you do says “I want to be a likable blogger.” I want to be provocative, but also popular. I want to be honest about my faith, but also accepted by everyone. I want to be radical, but also safe. What are you waiting for?

But if you have words burning inside you, people are waiting. If you have something to say, there’s somebody who needs to hear it. They’re waiting for us to be brave. I don’t know how much longer they’ll wait, so let’s write like nobody’s watching, shall we? Let’s join President Bartlet. Let’s stand up and say:

I don’t want to feel like this any more. I don’t want to go to sleep like this. I want to speak. This is more important than reelection. I want to speak now.

I don’t want to feel like this anymore. I don’t want to go to sleep with words burning in my chest because I’m too afraid to speak them. This is more important.

I want to speak now. I want to speak now. I want to speak now.

Will you join me?

published August 12, 2013

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