A misplaced note

If it was a lost set of keys, I would have asked the receptionist if anyone had dropped off a set. If it was a missing person, I would have filed a report with the police. This is different.

I came across some interesting writing advice a month or two ago and wrote it down on an index card. Of course, I put the card with a stack of other papers on my desk and forgot about it completely. I came across the advice again this week, mixed in with some old junk mail, and can’t remember where I got it.

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A needle in a haystack

I’m not sure if I picked up the writing advice from one of the many blogs I subscribe and read religiously. It sounds like something one of my blogger friends would write. These are all smart writers and wise folks — any one of them could have offered the advice. There are other possibilities. I could have easily picked it from recent searches on Earnest Hemingway, Mark Twain, or even Stephen King. My Google search, though, came up with nothing.

Let me be honest: I’m really embarrassed about not being able to find the owner. I pride myself on my research and would hate to overlook the owner. While I’ve come up empty in my search, I can’t stop thinking about the principles behind the words. It’s pointed and spot on: “Great writing isn’t about you. It’s about what your writing can do for somebody else.”

A deeper meaning

I love the advice, because, like the best of writing advice, it’s applicable to writing and life as well. Oh, yes, the best writing is clear and concise. The best writers flourish by placing all the attention on the words. The more you can see of the writer and their words, the more flashy the prose, the worse it is, but it can be oh so challenging to pull off.

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William Faulkner and many other literary giants have talked often about “killing off your darlings.” Stephen King has perhaps said it best in his book, Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

The advice is good guidance too on a life well-spent, helping and being there for others. It really is quite the paradox, we try to build a life that’s all about us, but in the end, we’re often happiest when we’re helping others. It’s always about others.

So yes, yes, great writing and great living are never about the writer. They’re both about what you can do for somebody else!

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever seen or heard? How has it helped you?

“Great writing isn’t about you. It’s about what
your writing can do for somebody else.”

24 thoughts on “A misplaced note

Add yours

    1. Awww, thanks Victoria. I do love the thought behind the advice, I find that I care most about my writing when I’m the most authentic and vulnerable. It’s hard to get there, but I feel like it touches the reader more. Your blogs about your mother have gotten me thinking a lot about my relationship with my father. He loved us, but he wasn’t always the easiest to live with. I have some territory that I haven’t dug into yet, but I find I’m censoring myself. I’m doing that partly because I want to be respectful of my mother, but I’m sure at some point, I’ll dig more into those areas. Thanks again.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I understand that – completely. My mom passed away almost eight years ago and there aren’t many left that might be offended by ‘true tales’ about her…which makes it feel, almost, safe enough to share. I love that you’re thinking about the digging in, but at least from my experience, it seems like the right time will reveal itself…but when you do, I’m sure it will be very impactful – for you and your readers. 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  1. I like your quote, Brian. It is a difficult skill for a writer to separate themselves from their writing. The best advice I was given was by an editor who said that no piece of writing is ever wasted. From that point I started keeping writing journals. When I hit blocks, I always go back to them and manage to find something.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. How frustrating for you not to be able to find this piece of information, Brian. I also like to give credit to the writer, artist, etc. It’s only right. When I write, it comes straight from my heart, so, on thinking more, my writing is all about me, me, me. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing; I do always write in the hope that it will reach and help someone else to know they’re not alone with their thoughts.

    One of my favourite quotes about writing and being creative is pretty long. I feel this applies to the written word and art of any sort … “Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty, they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.”
    ― Hugh MacLeod, Ignore Everybody.

    I’m also familiar with the similar phrase that my tutor quotes: ‘ Murder your darlings’. It means precisely the same thing, naturally. I find murdering my darlings extremely hard, but I recognise this is something I should brush up on in order to write the book I’ve had my heart on writing for the last few months.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “The writer’s job is not to look through the window someone else built, but to step outside, to question the framework, or to dismantle the house and free what’s inside, all in service of making visible what was locked out of the view”. ~ Rebecca Solnit. Call Them By Their Names

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brian, whoever made that statement is a wise person, and it’s true about so much in life. Writers are some of the most generous people I’ve met. I belong to the Writers Alliance of Gainesville (Florida), and many of the members spend a lot of their time helping others improve their writing and get published. An outsider might think we’d be in competition, but we rejoice in one another’s successes. If I ever find the author of that quote, I’ll let you know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so right about writers being generous! Some of the most generous people I know. Love the exchange of ideas and even the sarcasm and jokes between writers. Some of the best things about the process. I’m sure I’ll eventually figure out where I got the quote. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

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