“I’m married to an amazing man,” she told me, “and he has an amazing story.” I knew that her husband, “Tim,” was a well-known artist. His works could be found in most of the permanent collections of major art museums throughout the world.
“One day,” continued my friend, “I suggested to Tim that he write his memoirs and he responded, as I knew he would, “But I’m not a writer. I’m a painter! You’re the writer. Why don’t you write them for me?”
“That’s all the encouragement I needed—and in fact, that’s probably what I wanted him to say! I’d already created an MP3 file on my computer for collecting the interviews with him that I would transcribe and turn into a book.
“We had a wonderful time doing the recording sessions because it gave us a chance to reminisce about the many years we’d spent together. His childhood was also very dramatic. His parents were dairy farmers from the Midwest and neither of them understood or appreciated their youngest son’s passion to become an artist. It’s an amazing, bittersweet story how he ran away from home, hiding as a stowaway on a freight train and ending up in Chicago where he earned money painting signs and houses… eventually winning a scholarship to the Chicago Art Institute. It’s a real American rags to riches story!
“Upon completing the draft of Tim’s autobiography, I shared it with an editor colleague for her input, but when I received her comments a short time later, I was devastated as well as extremely disappointed.
“Here’s what she wrote:
You did such a great job! You’re such a good writer. BUT… I have to be totally honest with you. Otherwise I couldn’t live with myself, and we’re close enough that I know you’ll understand exactly what I mean.
Tim isn’t in this book. He’s had such an extraordinary life and his stories are magical. But the reader never really learns about him. We never discover the inner monologue, what he’s thinking and feeling throughout all these experiences. In other words, it’s all about the stories and not about Tim.
What are his deepest thoughts, his feelings, his dreams? How does he feel about such and such? When such and such happened to him, how did he react inwardly? What did he learn from it?
When he paints, what inner process does he go through? Is the preparation easy or difficult? Is it different every time he starts a new work? What are his deepest fears?
I think you know what I mean. A man’s life is here through these anecdotes—and so skillfully written. But the man himself is absent. That’s the most important part of a biography… the part people really want to identify with. What does he really want to tell the reader about himself?
“I showed the letter to my husband, waiting for a response to register in his eyes, his facial expression, his body language.
“Nothing. Nothing at all except a shrug of his shoulders and a secret smile. ‘You see,’ he said at length, ‘that’s the point.’
“‘What do you mean, “that’s the point?”’ I asked him, not understanding.
“‘I’m an artist, not a writer. I paint. Whatever I have to tell the world is in my paintings—and if people don’t understand, if they don’t get it—that’s their problem, not mine. My message to the world is in my art, not in a book.’
“I understood what he was saying, yet deep down, I didn’t totally agree with him. It’s not that he’s so much more than his painting because his art is who he is. And his message is powerful. If it doesn’t move you or ‘get you in the gut,’ he feels as though he’s failed to communicate, to express himself. That communication or expression for him is not through the written word and a published book, but through his paintings.
“Yes, I certainly did understand,” my friend continued, “even though I wasn’t satisfied. I still felt empty. Certainly no artist needs to be called to the witness stand to defend themselves, to explain ‘what their work means’ or ‘what they’re trying to say.’ I was after something different. First and foremost, Tim expresses himself through the medium of painting, the visual arts. He is also a person, and even though the two are integrally linked, he also has the ability, as we all do, to be self-reflective, to view himself as the ‘observer,’ or as he appears as a Self to himself.”
My editor friend was trying to explain the difference between a book written by an artist, and the artist’s output. It’s true that often a creative person also discovers another form of self-validation through a written version of their memoirs.
You: That really is an interesting story, and I have to admit, I’m not a particularly modest person. I do have a high regard for myself, but let’s be honest. A new book has to be original. What would make people want to read and buy my book?
Me: Thank you! That is exactly the question I’ve been waiting for you to ask so I could deliver the meat and potatoes of this book. Let’s not waste another minute! My message to you can be summed up in six little words:
You are your most important asset.
Those six words are your Treasure, your Gold Mine. They include your self-esteem and your self-love. They inspire and motivate you to be the very best you can be at all times, 24/7, whether in the work place, at home, giving a seminar, socializing…
When you believe in yourself and value yourself as your greatest asset, you know you have no other choice than to “go for the gold.” No holds barred. And that’s why you need to write a book—because you have a wealth of material to share with others.