Monday, January 30, 2017

Rule #1: It's Not About You

I started writing fiction in the summer of 2007. Somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of this blog's history, I'm sure you can find a story of how and why. It involved the birth of my second son and publication of the 7th Harry Potter novel.

When I started, I knew I would be famous. There may or may not have been fantasies involving fame/fortune and rock 'n' roll style groupies. I might have made up that last part. Or maybe not.

I wrote a book in the summer and fall of '07. For an hour or two each evening, I sat at a computer in my basement and hammered words onto digital paper. I told a long and meandering tale about a boy, a girl, and a small town. Reality bent in funny ways in my small, not-so-imaginary town (it was a near carbon-copy of my real birthplace). Ghosts hijacked the bodies of football players and the main character may have been dead the entire time. Or not. Sometimes reality is slippery and hard to pin down.

I edited the book, crafted a trillion revisions of a query letter, and proceeded to be rejected by all the literary agents.

All. Of. Them.

Short stories called to me. I landed my first paying publication early in 2008. I wrote for an hour or two each night for the next few years. The stories remained strange, for the most part. I developed this blog and met some wonderful travelers on the road. I became a better teacher. Through writing for publication, I gained insight into the importance of the written word.

All these "I"s... sounds pretty self-centered. Where's Rule #1?

At some point in the midst of my heyday as a short story author, I stumbled across a blog post titled "The Egoless Writer" by a science fiction author named Mike Brendan. I'm not sure if Mr. Brendan still writes or what has happened to him in the intervening years, but it's a useful list for writers of anything. So useful, in fact, I shared it with my students. We incorporated "The Egoless Writer" as a mantra for making our writing better.

No rule on that list has been more meaningful than #1:

It's not about you. 

In writing, it's not. "It" is about the audience. "It" is about the writer and audience working together to make story happen. Once you "get out of the way," the stories have lives of their own. Rule #1 made me a better teacher, but it didn't stop there.

I *hope* it's made me a better person--more thoughtful, present, and empathetic to those around me. Maybe Rule #1 was already in *here*. Maybe my brain just needed a snappy phrase, "It's not about you," on which to latch.

I became a school counselor a year or two after learning Rule #1. It has served me well, allowing me to really listen to students with whom I may disagree or find the common ground with angry parents. Once we learn to put our ego in its proper place, then and only then can we be fully present with others. Empathy comes easier. Resilience even comes easier because you realize the universe isn't being vindictive when you have a bad day. It's not about you at all. Or me.

But I'm pretty sure "it" is about us.

Next time, Rule #1 meets another man's moccasins. Stay tuned, faithful travelers.

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