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.
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.
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.”