When It Comes To Your Writing Process, Is It Better to Give Than Receive?

This guest post is by Jeff Elkins. A Write Practice regular, Jeff lives in Baltimore and is the author of B-More Stories. You can follow Jeff on his blog and on Twitter (@jffelkins).
Photo by Gabriele Diwald

Photo by Gabriele Diwald

When I was a kid, my favorite part of birthdays was getting presents.  I loved ripping the crisp paper, crumbling it into a ball, and tossing it over my shoulder as I gazed at the wondrous gift before me.  I liked to hold up the revealed present for a brief moment and savor it before diving into the next.  Once present-opening time was finished, I would sit and revel in all my new stuff.

As I’ve grown older, getting gifts has become less exciting.  I’m still appreciative.  I still enjoy getting new things, but the zeal for tearing open a present to unveil hidden contents has faded.  What excites me now is seeing how other people respond to what I’ve given them.  I love giving thoughtful presents.  It gives me great joy to see someone elated by something I’ve picked out for them.

The change from enjoying getting to savoring giving brings to mind the old proverb, “It is better to give than to receive.”  I think it goes beyond just exchanges of presents, and applies directly to our writing process.

When a Comedian Moves from Getting to Giving

A few months ago, I heard comedian Michael Jr. speak about a shift that occurred in his career when he started focusing on giving to his audience instead of getting.  He explained that for most of his career as a stand-up comedian, he told jokes to get the audience to respond, to “get laughs.”  One night, right before he began his act he had a revelation.  What if instead of trying to get laughs from the audience, he gave the crowd an opportunity to laugh?

The one word change from “get” to “give” may feel like a small shift, but it had a massive impact on how Michael Jr. approached comedy.  It inspired him to take his act to places comedians don’t usually go.  Rather than booking shows for his next tour in night clubs and theaters, Michael Jr. brought the gift of laughter to the people who needed a good laugh the most, including homeless drug addicts, violent prisoners, and abused children.

How to Move Your Writing from Getting to Giving

I feel the painful tension between getting and giving in my writing.  When you’re writing to get attention, or to get followers, or to get money, or to get reviews, your work is much less satisfying and enjoyable than when you’re writing to give back to your readers.

As writers, we have an amazing power to stories can shape world views. Our arguments can change thinking.  Our words can inspire and empower or tear down and harm.  Great books have and will continue to change the world.

What if we decided to use our power as writers to benefit others?  What if we directed our words toward improving a reader’s life rather than advancing our own career?  What if we stopped writing to get stuff and instead wrote a story as a gift to someone else?

How about you? Do you approach your writing from a perspective getting or giving? How do you give with your writing?

PRACTICE

Imagine someone you know who could use an uplifting story.  Picture that person in your head.  Think through how he/she has recently struggled.  Then, spend fifteen minutes writing a story that will lift his/her spirits.  When you finish, email your story to the person with the simple statement, “I wrote this for you.”  Finally, share your story with us by posting it in the comments below.

About Jeff Elkins

Jeff is a writer and pastor. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and four kids. He is the author of the short story collection B-More Stories. You can follow Jeff at his blog or on Twitter (@jffelkins).

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