Sunday, October 09, 2011

What Writers Can Learn from the Genius of Steve Jobs

Last week, the world lost a one-of-a-kind visionary. Through Apple and Pixar, Steve Jobs changed the world, improved lives, and touched hearts. My son’s school for developmentally disabled kids uses iPads to help its students communicate. And every member of my family cried during the most touching scene in Toy Story 3. It’s amazing to think that all of that started in Steve’s parents’ garage, with nothing more than one friend who believed in him and a dream. What does that say about the rest of us?

Steve Jobs left behind him a great legacy, not only in the products or the movies he helped create, but in his ability to inspire greatness in others.

When I read quotes in Entrepreneur Magazine, I often see how they can apply to writers. Here are several quotes from Steve Jobs from the November issue of Mac Life, and how I think they might apply to writers:

“I want to put a ding in the universe.”

I think this is a big part of the reason writers write. Life is fleeting. We all want to leave our mark on the world, our ding in the universe.   

“My job is to not be easy on people. My job is to make them better.”

If you make your books all sunshine and unicorns, no one will want to read them. As a fiction writer, your characters are your people. Readers want to see them encounter challenges, and they want to join your characters on a journey to overcome those challenges. Your main character or characters should develop between the beginning and the end of your story. Your job is to make them better in the end.

“I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.”

In his autobiographical book, Rewrites, playwright Neil Simon mentions once being praised for being a great rewriter. He was told, “Writers are a dime a dozen, but rewriters are gold.” Editing is such an important part of writing. Every character, every scene, every word should be there for a reason. And if it doesn’t have a reason to be there, cut it out. This is what some writers mean by “Kill your darlings.” Cut out the things that have more to do with your ego than your story. Be as proud of your editing as your writing. Be as proud of what you don’t do as you are of what you do.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Description should do double duty. It shouldn’t just paint lovely pictures. Pretty descriptions often fall into the category of darlings that should be killed. Description should work. Like everything else, it should be there for a reason. It should ground the story and help bring it to life, or else it should convey something about the characters. There’s a huge difference between saying the glass was delicate and saying she was afraid to pick it up, because she didn’t want to break it.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

There’s a story in you that only you could tell. Tell it. Don’t waste time trying to follow trends or write like someone else. Write like you, and only you. Because if you’re writing like someone else, so are hundreds of others. But no one else can write like you. Be a leader, not a copycat. Be an original. Be an innovator.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.”

You have to believe in your writing, because if you don’t, no one else will. In fact, even if you do believe in it, you’re going to encounter plenty of people who won’t. It’s going to be an uphill battle at times, so you have to believe that what you’re doing is great work. You have to believe that it matters. You have to believe you’re making a ding in the universe.

And I would like to add one more quote, not from the magazine but from the video above:

"The penalty for failure . . . is nonexistent."
It doesn't have to be perfect the first time. You have to allow yourself the freedom to fail. You can edit a bad piece of writing, but you can't edit a blank page. The freedom to fail is also the freedom to innovate, the freedom to create something new and brilliant that only you can create.

Steve, thank you so much for your contributions to this world. You will be sorely missed.


Elana K Arnold said...

Thank you for writing this! I have felt really sad since hearing of Jobs' death, even though I never knew him, even though I'm not a techie. But I felt an urgency to share myself, like he did, before my time runs out. I'm thrilled my first book--SACRED--will be published next fall, and I hope that it can add to the beauty of our beautiful world.

Shevi said...

Best of luck with your book, Elana.