It’s not about you.
Have you ever written something with a message for somebody else and then realized that the message was intended for YOU? That’s what happened when I was writing my story. My main character TJ is determined to find the story that will change his life, and he’s willing to do ANYTHING to get it. He risks everything in pursuit, but he fails. Then when he least expects it, he finds the person he wants to interview, but NOTHING goes as planned. As TJ recovers from his misadventure, he receives some advice from the man he’s been stalking. The guy tells him respectfully, “TJ, it’s not about you.”
So often when we write, we try to insert ourselves into the story, but let me echo these words: It’s not about you. When I was freelancing for one of several Christian music magazines several years ago, the editor warned us that we, the writers, were not the focus of the story. We were NOT to include “I” in the story. His advice baffled me at times because whenever I would pick up some of the big name mainstream music magazines I would see writing like this:
During our midafternoon nosh, Justin [Bieber] and I were just sitting there on the patio at Genki in Buckhead, nibbling our Tiger Shrimp and Yokohama Lobster, when we spot Usher, who sees us and proceeds to waltz past Mychael Knight and Rapper T.I. to make his way to our table to join us. He didn’t even bother to ask permission before he reached over to sample both of our appetizers. He just sat down and introduced himself to me.
By the way, I made up all that, so don’t think I’m dissing some other writer. I don’t do that. Yeah, I know adding all those details sets the stage and lets the reader know that Bieber likes seafood fare and hobnobs with the biggest names in the biz, including his record producer, Usher Raymond IV. BUT where does “I” play into all of this? The story has nothing to do with “I.” (And the results are inconclusive on whether Bieber does nor does not like seafood.)
In my story, The EDGE, TJ has no clue what the advice means. If you were to ask TJ what happened to him, this is what he would say:
So the guy calls me back over after I think I’ve killed him, and he says, ‘Man, you got it all wrong. The story’s not about you.’ So I look at him like he’s crazy, and he finally spells it all out for me and says, ‘Dude, you can’t make the writing about you. You gotta make it about the story. You gotta use your gift for others, not yourself.’
See, TJ has a little problem. He lets his writing talent go to his head. He really gets off on the attention he gets as the result of what he’s written. He’s not focused on the story—he’s focused on himself.
Now here’s some advice to you. Sure it feels great to see your byline. It’s nice to get a paycheck in the mail. It’s cool to Google your name and to see your work in the vast Cyberland. BUT….
When we believers take on guardianship of the Truth, we must not take our responsibilities lightly. Words hold great power. They can be either blessings or curses. When we are “high” on the adrenaline rush that comes from a big story, we can be dangerous. We can allow our actions to hurt others, to defame others, to discourage others. Sometimes we need to take a step back and make sure we are doing the right thing before we make the decision to go public. Once we step over the edge, we can’t go back.
Consider this scenario. Someday you may be assigned to deliver Truth to people who depend on the message for life or death, possible eternal life or death. The message may not be popular. The message may anger the masses. The message could result in your physical death. What will you do? If you are motivated to write because of the positive attention you will receive, you may decline your greatest assignment of all. Remember the advice TJ receives: The story is not about you.
I didn’t realize until after I finished writing the story, that the advice TJ received was advice meant for me. God has given me a gift. For some really weird reason, He has allowed me to write decently with relative ease. I received a scholarship as a senior in high school on an essay I scribbled in Spanish class. I won a party for the English department at my school by scribbling a song parody. I even got honorable mention in a song lyric contest sponsored by a Christian band, something I sent in on a whim.
God has been so good to me. I want to take the story—stories—He gives me, and I want to use them to serve others. Yes, it feels good to receive those pats on the back. But if anything good does come of my venture in writing for teens, I don’t want the good feelings to go to my head. I want to serve others.
Every time I read a comment posted by one of my newspaper staff members or former newspaper staff members, every time I get a text message from one of the kids in the youth praise band at my church (that I so awkwardly try to help), I am reminded of my purpose. It’s not about me. It’s about those crazy, quirky kids, the teens I serve.
I do what I do because of love. What about you?