Why Bother?

David W. Berner, The Writer Shed
The Writer Shed
Published in
5 min readJun 9, 2024

The act of art and writing in troubled times

Photo by Francesco Ungaro

I have not done any serious writing in some time.

Haven’t written a song. I’ve played around with a poem or two, but they are only desperate fragments of what I want them to be. I’ve written here at at the Medium site The Writer Shed and at The Abundance. But although I’m dedicated to those regular posts, I see them more as “check-ins” with readers. I have a couple of manuscripts I’m shopping, a book out this summer, a poetry collection out in 2025. But writing, the daily serious work of it, is mostly silent. Still, I sit here at the desk in the writing shed and try to spark a moment. I don’t believe in writer’s block. Waiting for the muse is foolhardy. Writing, or the creation of any art is a disciplined craft. I’ve always believed that you go to work, and you do your work, and some days are good, and some days are bad, but you go to work. Always.

Lately, I have found the world hard to navigate. There are a lot of reasons for that. I’m sure you can make your own list. Still, I wasn’t certain what specifically had been troubling me, until I read and watched a video Patti Smith posted recently on her Substack site about her own troubled mind. How the world is unjust, full of hypocrisy, and how disheartened she was about it all. I was right there with her. That, too, has been what I’ve been feeling. Disheartened. And when that emotion takes over part or all of your being, one wonders as a writer or an artist of any kind at any level, if anything you do matters.

What’s the point?

In Patti’s video, she read a passage from her powerful memoir Just Kids about a time in 1968 when she remembered feeling this same way. A tumultuous year to say the least — Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy, riots in the streets. When she was young, she said, she believed that we would continue moving “toward the good.” That we would learn from terrible things and keep progressing. It no longer seems that this is how it works. Smith said that during the late 60s, she gained strength from Picasso’s famous painting, Guernica, one of the most revered anti-war paintings in history. Picasso created it for those who died in the Nazi bombings in Northern Spain. In the most troubled times, Picasso went to work.

I look around my writing shed. The books surrounding me have inspired and lifted me somehow for a long time. I could name so many. Several of them are works written during difficult times in our world or simply difficult times for the creator, the writer.

On the window shelf is Sam Shepard’s Spy of the First Person. The book was Shepard’s last. He wrote it as ALS was ravaging his body. Although the book is not considered memoir, the narrator is clearly Shepard, writing about, as the book description says, his “memories and preoccupations,” that “often echo those of our current moment — stories of immigration and community, inclusion and exclusion, suspicion and trust.” Much like today. Much like the current world.

The man was dying, and he did his work.

Recently while researching art created in troubled times, I was reminded of one of the most famous photographs in history. A work of photojournalism that has long been associated with heartbreak and loss in the era of the Great Depression in America. Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange is a haunting photo taken during one of this country’s most difficult times. Thirty-two-year-old migrant farmworker Florence Owens Thompson and three of her children are huddled together in a tent at a pea-pickers’ camp in California in 1937. Her expression is the definition of disheartened. Lange’s work shines a light on a time, a moment, a singular despair. The photo does what all art should do in some way, both work as activism and illumination. All art has a level of that balance. Migrant Mother, like Picasso’s Guernica came to be as the world was going mad.

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange

Certainly, I’m not comparing my “art” to Picasso or Lange or Sam Shepard, or to any of the great authors whose books surround me, but I can do what they have always done: I can go to work. Go when it’s hard. Go when it seems worthless. Go when it doesn’t appear to matter. Go to work because I must. Even when it seems I am “talking to myself” as Smith says. Even when it seems the work is created in a vacuum.

Do I create to stroke my own ego? What’s the end game? Is it worth it? Does it matter?

I’ve determined that the answer to any of these questions is not for me to decide. It’s for the reader to determine. That is the job of the many or the few who read what I write. My job, despite my malaise or regret or my troubled heart, is to go to work.

And so, disheartened with the world or not, I tap the keys and don the pen and string the words together, ones fueled by something akin to God, emerging from some deep, dark crevice of the mind, seeking light. Where it leads is uncertain. Why it matters is undetermined. And my state of mind is unimportant.

All that matters is that it’s time to go to work.

David W. Berner is the author of several award-winning books of fiction and memoir. His memoir, Daylight Saving Time: The Power of Growing Older is now available for pre-order.

This post was first published at THE ABUNDANCE at Substack.

David W. Berner is the author of several award-winning books of fiction and memoir. His memoir, Daylight Saving Time: The Power of Growing Older is now available for pre-order.



David W. Berner, The Writer Shed
The Writer Shed

Award-winning writer of memoir and fiction. Creator of Medium publication: THE WRITER SHED and author of THE ABUNDANCE on Substack..