I’m a writer. In the fantasy world I’m currently building, I made scholarship a religion. I was frustrated by the lack of meaning I often found in my studies and disheartened to see how many of my peers found studying stressful. I love learning and wanted to create a society where everyone shared this love. Yet my world failed to provide me with the comfort and reassurance I needed to find meaning and continue writing.
That reassurance, instead, came from another religion—one that I discovered among the pages of Brandon Sanderson’s first Mistborn trilogy.
[This post contains spoilers for the Mistborn Era 1 trilogy.]
Have you ever struggled with that voice inside your head that tells you what you’re writing/drawing/creating doesn’t matter? It doesn’t compare to the masterpieces in your field. You have nothing new to say. So why waste all that paper/ink/effort?
Sazed, Keeper of Terris, would disagree with such qualms. Creation of any sort—writing, dancing, cooking—isn’t always about utility, novelty, or mastery. To Keepers, everything we create is worth recording, so that others, in the present or the future, may know what it was like to be us. Keepers store not only books on engineering and medicine but also people’s letters and journals, their hopes and dreams.
Keepers don’t gatekeep. They don’t make judgments on whether something is worth preserving or not. This is best exemplified when we see Sazed recording descriptions of a place no one would want to remember—the Conventical of Seran, where he and Marsh find the remnants of a skaa slaughter. Marsh doesn’t understand why Sazed would take notes on the Inquisitors. But to Sazed, all information needs to be preserved:
“It isn’t a matter of worthiness, Marsh,” Sazed said, holding up his lamp to study a square pillar. “Knowledge of all religions is valuable. I must make certain these things persist.” (The Well of Ascension, Chapter 12)
Many people seem to think that we’re dealing with too much information today—too much noise, and overwhelming flood of content that never stops. I, too, was convinced I was adding unnecessary clutter to the world. Do we really need another personal blog by a teenager, another short story about magic, or another essay on blue skies and the turn of seasons?
The answer will always be yes. We can never have enough new perspectives, enough art, enough stories. Sazed and the Keepers were always searching; they knew that they didn’t know everything. And they didn’t just preserve what had already happened in the past, but also what was going on around them—after the defeat of the Lord Ruler, Sazed tells Vin that he must record her role in his downfall, explaining that “I must pass these things on—history, events, and truth.” In a way, the Keeper’s work will never be done, because as long as there are people living, there will be stories to preserve.
Even if they are stories by a person most would despise, like the logbook supposedly written by the Lord Ruler. Sazed exhibits uncharacteristic enthusiasm about the text, noting that despite the journal’s apparent uselessness to the crew, it was “a Keeper’s dream” because it contained information about the Terris culture that was until then unknown to the Keepers.
It reminds me of a Vlogbrothers video by John Green (who you may know as an author, as well as a YouTube creator and podcaster). Along with advice on being “wary of advice coming from strangers,” and calling flossing your teeth “an act of faith,” John encourages his brother Hank—and his larger audience, by extension—to “write your memoirs”. And it doesn’t have to include any actual writing—make YouTube videos, John suggests, or record an extremely long voice note to yourself.
The soul of his advice is to write about your existence because “literally everyone is worthy of note” (emphasis his). Green describes how “the only meaningful record I have of my great-grandfather’s existence is a seventeen-page memoir he wrote in the 1930s.” He points out how he longs to read the memoirs of people who didn’t write any because they didn’t think they needed to.
Even if you aren’t an artist, a writer, or a creator of any kind, you have your own life to record. The world might make judgments about whether or not everyone “should” write, and if they do, what they should and shouldn’t write about, and set a thousand other restrictions on what you can create. Don’t let those ideas bother you, because you cannot please everyone. You could please someone like Sazed, though, because for him every piece of information is valuable. If your life record exists solely as a collection of grocery lists and fee receipts and electricity bills, Sazed would find them noteworthy because they tell the story of you.
Know that you’re not alone in feeling like your work doesn’t matter. Sazed had his moments of doubt too. A lot of people made a point of telling him that his scholarship had no purpose, that he was carrying false hopes and dreams by thinking there would be a world without the Lord Ruler someday, a world in which people would need his knowledge. Sazed questioned his purpose at several points, but never let go of his duties as a Keeper. He slowed down, yes, but he never quit. His scholarship and search for information kept him going through even the darkest times.
When his friend and fellow Keeper Tindwyl died, Sazed turned to his repository of religions for comfort. He spent months going through them, considering them objectively even through his grief. The world was ending and nothing made sense to him—a person who held an incomprehensible store of knowledge in his copperminds.
But he kept going, persisting because he had hundreds of religions to consider—surely, he reasoned to himself, one of them would have the answers he sought. That surfeit of religions and beliefs was not unnecessary clutter. It was hope.
When he ran out of religions to study, however, Sazed did give up. He’d reached the end, and hadn’t found a way to accept Tindwyl’s passing. He lost faith.
Until, that is, he learned from TenSoon that the Terris religion was still alive. The existence of another religion, the possibility of answers, gave Sazed purpose again. In the end, what kept him going was the knowledge that there was one more religion he hadn’t studied yet.
Similarly, for someone out there, the thing you want to create might be the very thing they need, even though you might think that the world has enough digital artists/cat photographers/crochet toymakers. I’d be happy, for example, to read another dozen books Ruskin Bond hasn’t written yet, despite his already large body of work. I can always do with more comedy and animated movies, more Indian classical music, more epistolary novels, more books featuring scholars as protagonists, more longform essays on psychology and education. There’s an abundance of all of these already, but I haven’t always found that one book/movie/song that will scratch my specific itch at any given time. And I’m continually finding myself surprised, never realizing that I needed to have a song like A.R Rahman’s “Sol” or these cinematic tea ads in my life, but I did and I am so glad that they exist. The same goes for these explorable explanations. And this blog post on bathing in Antarctica.
My mother’s father has turned to religion and spirituality now that he’s retired, living a completely different life from the one he lived during his days as a bank manager. Everyone goes to him for answers whenever they need some direction. It’s not that he can predict things. But he gives us hope. When I felt like my writing–the only thing that I loved doing above all else, the only thing I felt I could do well—was useless, I called him.
“How will I know if my writing is useful?” I asked him in a timid voice, afraid of the possibility that there was no point to my writing, that I was wasting my time.
“Focus on creating,” he said. “And put it out in the world. What happens to it then isn’t in your control.”
Don’t worry about the outcome, he told me. Just create.
When I read the Mistborn books, I realized that Sazed would say the same.
Which is why I continue to write. Whenever the Demon of Doubt tries to stifle my efforts to create, telling me that the kind of stories I write aren’t useful or that my blog posts aren’t anything special, I tell myself that if Sazed saw me cowering in front of that Demon, surrendering my pen and paper to it, he would hand me back my tools and stand guard while I wrote. He would fight the Demon if it attacked and tell me to keep going so that he may store my work in his copperminds to share it with other Keepers.
In short, Sazed would want you to tell your stories, write your songs, share your recipes, solve your equations, carve your sculptures. It might be the very thing someone grieving or hopeless needs. And it matters.
Ratika Deshpande, Order of Truthwatchers, aspiring Keeper, would love it if you had a look at her own efforts to make good art on her Substack.