Writing is Never For Others and Why I’m Unashamedly Selfish
Stephen King commented in a Rolling Stone magazine interview about writing Misery:
“Misery is a book about cocaine. Annie Wilkes is cocaine. She was my number-one fan.”
Writing is not about the audience, genre, or art. It’s about you. The quote above is case and point.
Stephen King is famous for writing best-selling novels hopped up on cigarettes, coffee, pills, beer, and cocaine. Not remembering much of it. If only we could be so lucky (without the drug part).
What I hear King saying is the writing craft is never about the writing. It’s about guts and souls and pains. Who we are, where we’ve been, what we feel, and how we believe the world should be. And how we see inconsistencies in all of it.
The main character in my Antique Assassin novel series lost his wife and child to a car accident. My writing of this character is about me. I lost a child after four days to a birth defect.
I didn’t consciously know Dexter O’Kane was about me. It was an idea that came to mind. But at the moment, I didn’t realize I was dealing with my pain.
My way of healing and coping is to write through these characters the way I wished things had turned out. See Dexter as a spinoff of my life with an opportunity for a happy ending. The art of story telling is finding empathy and the ability to deal with our sorrow. It’s why we love novels, movies, and stories. We relate to them on a deeper level. More than meets the eye.
Writing books is not about genre and outlines and impact. It’s about dealing with the pain hovering in our hearts and souls.
When people ask: where do you get your ideas for books? I say:
Look in the corners of your heart. Keep your eyes open. What have you gone through? What is bothersome in the world? How do you understand the world? Where do you need help? How will it all be made right? Write that.
This also is true of non fiction. When you set out to solve a problem or give advice on something where you have expertise. It’s not about the people you are serving. It’s about you.
I wrote a book about meditating on the Bible. Why? Because I saw a disconnect between my heart and the God I worshipped. I felt dry and needed the sweet rivers of grace. My book has helped a ton of people. It’s helped me more. What you read in those pages are ideals. Practices I struggle with daily.
In our honest moments we know everything we write about aren’t perfectly applied in our own lives. The guy who writes about marriage and beats his wife. It happens more than we’d like to admit.
Maybe you solved a problem in leadership. Built an app to cure cancer. But in reality, our books are built on idealism. We know most people won’t heed our advice. We know most people will ignore help and fall on their faces. But we write with the hope of a better world. Where maybe, just maybe, things can look better for our company, relationships, and neighborhood. Maybe one person will apply our solutions to the problems we are trying to solve with our art.
The writing is never really about others. It’s centered square in your mind and gut. Another reason writing is difficult and motivation often wanes. We are not writing stories about ferries and solving problems in finance. We’re writing about pain, struggles, fear, and addiction. We’re writing about a world we hope one day will exist.
King said Misery is a book about cocaine. If you look hard enough at your latest book. Maybe tear back a layer or two under the characters, plot, and solutions to problems.
I think you’ll find yourself on every page. Your story might be about your number-one fan. Whatever addiction or pain that might be. It’s okay to be selfish.
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