October 1, 2022

Why to Write Like There’s No Tomorrow

Write Like There’s No Tomorrow

Recently, Mychal Denzel Smith was a guest on my podcast, Write-minded. I asked him, “How do you think about consequence when you set out to write your thoughts and opinions about what you see out there in the world?”

I loved his answer, which was to turn the question back on me: Consequence in what direction and for whom?

He went on to ponder the question of consequence. If my question was about him, the writer, then what are the personal consequences we’re weighing?  Are you concerned that what you’re writing will be too controversial, for instance, or will upset someone else or upend the status quo? He asserts he’s not concerned in that way. He’s not concerned for himself. He’s concerned about the world outside of him. If one of the consequences of writing, he said, is to get other people to think differently, and to seek change, then he’s not so concerned about personal fallout or consequence. He’s asking more of himself and more of the world.

For me, this was profound. I’ve just—and finally—begun to think about writing a memoir after all these years of contemplating the probability that I would, one day. But what holds me back is consequence. What holds me back is the question of whether I will be able to write what I want and need to say, boldly, bravely, while there are still people in the world I might impact in ways that concern me.

Mychal said that he was free from this, in part because he’s always felt he wasn’t long for this world. Though he didn’t say this in the interview, having read his book I imagine this is because of the way Black men are killed with so little discretion in this country. Mychal’s memoir opens Trevon Martin’s murder, and Mychal turns over in his mind, and through his words, how easily that Black boy could have been him, could have been any Black boy in this country, just walking home, wearing a hoodie, just his presence being so threatening as to provoke a stranger to murder him. Mychal said in the interview: “I’ve got one shot.”

If you have seen “Hamilton,” perhaps, like me, the song “My Shot” made you think about your writing:

I am not throwin’ away my shot
I am not throwin’ away my shot
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwin’ away my shot

Mychal puts an urgency on opening up the space for critical dialogue. On opening up a space for change. Urgency, to me, isn’t about getting it out fast. It doesn’t mean you have to be writing a memoir about race or politics or identity, either. Urgency in this case has to do with your shot. With not throwin’ away your shot because of fear, because of whatever imagined consequence might be holding you back. We can write like there’s no tomorrow. We can write like we’re not long for this world. I think one of the reasons the pandemic stoked to much creativity was because folks stared mortality in the face. The uncertainty of that situation collided head on with space and time given the shutdowns. Many of you wrote during that time. Many of you saw your shot and reached for it. Now that the world has picked up its familiar fast pace again, it’s on us to find that fire from within. To be brave and bold and to believe and to know that your words need to be out in the world. Don’t throw away your shot.


The Courage to Write Fearlessly features Mychal Denzel Smith teaching on October 11 about Overcoming the Fear of Making Bold Assertions. This class will tackle the big questions of consequence—which has to do with the consequence of not writing and the consequence of writing, as well as these questions of consequence for whom—for you, personally, or the consequence of what’s lost when you play it safe, or play small. We hope you join us for THE COURAGE TO WRITE FEARLESSLY, starting on September 20, 2022.

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