What John Lennon Teaches Us About Writing

No story this Wednesday because, instead, I want to pay a bit of tribute to one of, if not my absolute favorite, artist, John Lennon. Thirty years ago today, a man hid a gun underneath a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and murdered the man who brought us The Beatles, and some of the best written songs of all time.

I can remember listening to The Beatles since I was able to form memories. My parents played them so often in the house that it was like growing up in the ’60s. Then, I discovered John’s solo career. As someone who was influenced and inspired by a man who was dead before I was born, I know that John’s lessons are as relevant today as they were in the ’60s and ’70s.

From the words of a writer, here are some of my favorite, relevant quotes from John that will make you better writers as well:

“I’m singing about me and my life. If it’s relevant to anyone else’s lives, then that’s all right.”
– John said this to a fan who couldn’t believe, and was actually hurt, that he personally wasn’t in John’s mind when he and Paul wrote Abbey Road. Matter-of-factly, John told him all he thinks about when he writes is himself, and maybe Yoko “if it’s a love song.” Lesson learned: you’re the only person who matters when it comes to your own work. Forget the trends, what you think audiences want, and what emotions you hope to evoke in others. If it doesn’t come from you, it won’t work anyway.

“When I was a Beatle, I thought we were the fucking best group in the goddamn world. And believing that is what made us what we were. It was just a matter of time before everybody else caught on.” – If you don’t believe that what you’re doing is worth sharing, then no one else will. Next time you’re in doubt, just tell yourself that you are the fucking best writer in the goddamn world! And if audiences still don’t catch on, at least you’ll have produced something you’re proud of.

“My role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.”– This is one of the best lessons you can hold onto as a writer. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but good writing transcends agenda, always. If your writing is honest and is a reflection of the world you are trying to convey, then a message will happen naturally. You do not need to preach to anyone. They will see through you and reject your message out of spite.

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” – Not unlike the message above, remember to be honest in your writing. Whether you’re writing contemporary fiction or world-building fantasy, human emotion connects readers to your work. People are complex, and if your characters are just as dynamic, readers will find different ways to connect with them, leaving their own take from your story up for interpretation.

“There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known.”  – Taken out of the context of John’s time, think of this quote as a “there’s nothing new under the sun” colloquialism. There will always be someone with your idea and there will always be those writing in your genre. It doesn’t matter that there are eight million novels out there about a rugged, just shy of retirement, detective who needs to solve this one last case. Or that there seems to be a never-ending supply of spies kicking the asses of terrorists. All that matters is how you write it, and that will make others want to rediscover “what is known.”

And finally…

“You’re all beautiful and you’re all geniuses. “

Thanks, John.

18 thoughts on “What John Lennon Teaches Us About Writing

  1. I particularly appreciate the one about art being about reflections. There's really nothing more beautiful in the world than art that can honestly convey real human emotion in a subtle way. It just feels intimate and… intensely personal. It's a thing of wonder.

    Much respect for the man and the millions he inspired. Myself included.


  2. While I didn't grow up listening to Lennon, I love this posts! It is so encouraging as a writer, especially with all the posts on what's selling and what's not. Just be real as a writer, don't try to preach or copy or anything else, be real to the art. Love, love, love it!


  3. This is an AWESOME post. I must admit, I was not always a Beatles fan but I discovered them and their music in my early twenties. Then I saw Across the Universe and fell even more in love with their music.

    I wrote my first manuscript on a group of boys in the 70s traveling to meet Charles Manson and I researched music from the Beatles yet again. Basically, I became a late fan of them and John Lennon. Even though he left this world way too soon, at least we allow his spirit to go on vicariously through his talented writing. Love this post 🙂


  4. A perfect post for this day. (Came via Indigo, btw.)

    I was a twenty-something living with my boyfriend when we lost John Lennon. It had been laundromat night and we heard when we got home. My boyfriend fell asleep and I got drunk, piles of clean clothes stacked around us, while listening to what turned out to be 24-hours straight of Lennon's music from a Portland radio station.

    Tonight my husband and I will be in Portland for the Leonard Cohen concert. I wonder if he will mention this anniversary…


  5. Loved this post. I definitely feel like I was born in the wrong decade bc I'm a huge Beatles fan. I even bought their Rock Band game. I'm glad you mentioned to forget the trends. My writing can be a bit dark & I've been tempted to take a walk on the “light side” but it doesn't feel authentic. I really needed to read this today so thanks. 🙂


  6. What a beautiful tribute to the legend. Thank you. John was and continues to be ahead of his time. Even today, his words touch, move and inspire future generations. Thanks for posting this.


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