Writer, Everything's on Loan

This advice might save your life.

2 min read

grayscale photography of building
grayscale photography of building

Stephen King gave a commencement speech at the University of Maine in 2005. I’m still haunted by what he said and the application to life and writing:

“And here’s a secret I learned six summers ago, lying in a ditch beside the road, covered in my own blood and thinking I was going to die: you go out broke. Everything’s on loan, anyway. You’re not an owner, you’re only a steward. So pass some of it on. You may not have much now, but you’re going to have a lot. And when you do, remember the ones that don’t have anything. A dime out of every dollar.”

You go out broke. Everything’s on loan. You’re not an owner, you’re only a steward.

I came to grips with these realities in 2009. During a routine five month ultrasound they told my wife and me our second daughter would die. Samantha would die in the womb or shortly thereafter.

She lived four days.

We often find the awakening of what’s essential and important and what we’re willing to give our lives to… in a ditch. All of our ditches look different. But pain can be a good teacher.

Sadly, many see pain and suffering as an enemy to avoid at all costs. They drown out the teacher of pain with drugs, food, or unhealthy relationships.

But after walking the road of death and loss, with my daughter, pain has become more an ally, a friend of sorts, and less an enemy to be warded off with barbwire.

The Teacher of pain has put a perspective on my writing life too. Writing is a great gift from the heavens. Books and literature have changed my life. Anyone who’s lucky enough to write and impact others with their words is a great privilege and honor. Something not taken lightly.

But writing, books, and art; are temporal. Most of the stuff we make will not be remembered shortly after our departure from earth.

King is right:

You go out broke. Everything’s on loan. You’re not an owner, you’re only a steward.

So what will we do with our one precious life?

We can be stingy and hoard our energy, gifts, time, and money. Or we can give it away.

We can remember there are no U-Haul’s behind hearses.

Sometimes it takes a ditch to see with eyes wide open how our writing fits into the grand scheme of life.

If writers, creators, and artists knew that everything is on loan, our work is temporary, and not the whole thing, it would lessen the fear, pressure, and resistance we all face.

The harsh critic is an opportunity to learn not crawl in a hole and die. When books sales and views are down on our work, we’ll be okay. Why?

Because we’re merely stewards of life; not owners.

When the doctor says it’s cancer… we remember life is precious and not a given. We now will live with all our might as we have another day of life to live.

I’m not sure when death will knock on my door, or yours. But it’s coming for all. When we decide that everything is on loan and everything is a gift and everything is mere stewardship… it changes how we work. It changes how we think and live and relate to others.

Pass on your art. Pass on your money to someone that might need it. Pass on your gifts as someone might need to learn from you.

You don’t own it, anyway.