Happy Randsday! Lessons in Writing and Living from Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand is my hero. You must have or will see that I talk about her and her works a lot. This is because I adore and revere her. As a philosopher and writer and most importantly the individual she was, with the sense of life that she had.

So I wanted to share some quotes and things I have learned from her.

1. Don’t settle for the folks next door.

 “I did not start by trying to describe the folks next door–but by inventing people who did things folks next door would never do. I could summon no interest or enthusiasm for people as they are, I had in my mind a blinding picture of people as they could be.” [1]

In writing, characterization does not mean recording people as they are. It means projecting in essence, people as they could be. 

In life, search for, invest in and deal with good people. Good people with the potential for the wonderful.

Look for the extraordinary, the misfits, the rare gems of people who meet your standards of good and potential for betterment.  

In stories, you wouldn’t settle for anything less than epic characters. Then why would you settle for anything less than epic in life? Why would you settle for the average Joe, the folks next door?

2. Approach literature and life as a child does. 

“The simple truth is that I approach literature as a child does. I write–and read–for the sake of the story.” [2] 

The consequence of good literature may be philosophical enlightenment, education, inspiration and intellectual and personal development of the readers. 

But the primary purpose of literature, and what should be the goal of writers, is to tell a damn good story with the portrayal of heroes among men, the portrayal of men as they ought to be. 

Your goal in writing should be to create an amazing story with amazing characters by projecting people as they ought to be instead of as they are. 

Approach literature as a child does – read and write for the sake of the story.

Girl reading to her teddy bears
Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Similarly, your goal in life should be to create an amazing story. Create the story of your life, by making the right choices, fighting the right battles, striving to become the person you ought to be and want to be. Work towards a happy ending, your happy ending. 

Approach life as a child does.

3. Aim for “as it ought to be”.

The goal of literature should not be to teach but to show. To give the reader the actual experience of life as it ought to be.

 “Although the representation of things “as they might be and ought to be” helps man to achieve these things in real life, this is only a secondary value. The primary value is that it gives him the experience of living in a world where things are as they ought to be.” [2]

Values and virtues dealt with stories can inspire and motivate one to strive towards them and achieve them in real life. Art can teach us things. This is a secondary consequence of art, of writing. 

However, primarily fiction should immerse the reader into the world and people presented. To experience life, the world and people as they ought to be.

In this way fiction is a way of tapping into the writer’s imaginations to project the real-life possibilities (in terms of abstractions, if not in the concretes presented) for every individual. In this way, fiction is not escapism either, fiction is fuel for the soul.

Similarly, the goal of life should not be to watch it pass by from the sidelines. But to immerse into it fully and fight for the values most important to you.

“Anyone who fights for the future, lives in it today.” [3]

By fighting for your most important values, for a future that you want, for a world as it ought to be, you experience the world as it ought to be in the present.

4. Philosophy is a necessity.

“To be the kind of writer you want to be, you need to be the kind of thinker you have to be.” [4]

“Fundamentally, what is important is not the message a writer projects explicitly, but the values and view of life he projects implicitly. Just as every man has a philosophy, whether he knows it consciously or not, so every story has an implicit philosophy.” [4]

The philosophical “message” is not the goal of literature, the story is, the presentation of heroes is.

Especially as a writer, we need to be aware of our value or belief systems to be able to shape it and apply it to our writings. 

Even when we are not aware of it, our value systems are reflected in our writings. It’s better to be aware of what these values are explicitly rather than not. The more clearly stated our explicitly held philosophy, the more clear the view of life will be projected in our stories. 

Holding clearly an explicit philosophy enables me to create the kinds of heroes with the kinds of values that I would admire, idolize and find heroic. It enables me to create a story that I would want to live through.

Novel writing requires holding and applying some philosophy, implicit or explicit.

The same is true in life. We all have a philosophy, whether we hold it implicitly or explicitly, we all need it, have it and use it. The more confidently and consistently we hold our philosophy, the more successfully we will be able to apply it, explicitly or implicitly, in the choices we face every day in life.

For this reason, I study philosophy along with writing because it allows me to develop my own sense of life value system, to shape it and apply it better in my stories and in everyday life.

The philosophy you hold explicitly and the sense of life you hold implicitly help you make the choices and decisions to accomplish your goals.

5. For yourself, first.

“I decided to become a writer —not in order to save the world, nor to serve my fellow men—but for the simple, personal, selfish, egotistical happiness of creating the kind of men and events that I could like, admire and respect.” [1]

To live for yourself and to hold self-interest as a virtue does not mean that you do whatever you please on the whim of the moment. It does not mean that you get to violate the rights of others. 

Because if you actually think about it, why would indulging every whim and pushing everyone away with hurtful actions be in your self-interest?

It is in your self-interest to think long-term instead of acting on a whim and respect the rights of other individuals because only then will you be able to get value for value in life.

This is a fundamental topic that goes way deeper than anything I can dive into in this article.

To get a proper introduction, check out “The Virtue of Selfishness” by Ayn Rand.

Only by focusing on your own goals in writing and writing for yourself primarily will you be able to sustain a long term interest and drive in writing. Then you will be writing about things you are passionate about. You will invest your soul into the stories you write and this will be reflected in them. 

This is what will attract those other oddballs out there who share the same values that you hold. This is the kind of readership you want to build.

Similarly in life, you must live for yourself first. Then, you give life your best, you do it with a passion and you create and share values because they serve your happiness.

Part of this is fostering good relationships for your own happiness. To do so, you create and trade good values. This means surrounding yourself with good people from whom you gain as much value as they gain from you.

It all begins with thinking about yourself first.

6. You can learn. 

“Writers are made, not born.” [1]

Writing is not an innate gift that you are born with and which you could not learn. Like with everything else, it is a skill to be learned.

It may feel like an innate gift as claimed by many authors. This happens because it feels like the writing just pours out on the pages without effort in some instances. These instances are earned by constant learning and the fueling of the subconscious with the right material.

You can learn to write.

Every individual is born with a blank slate. The story you fill in the pages of your life is entirely up to you. Fill them with the values you foster and the choices you make. If you make mistakes, learn to correct them. If you make bad choices, learn to make better ones tomorrow.

You can learn to live.

7. Judge life, as you would writing, by how well it is integrated. 

“The hardest and most important task of a novelist is to integrate his plot structure to the theme of his novel.” [4]

“In judging a novel’s esthetic value, all that one had to know is the author’s theme and how well he had carried it out. Other things being equal, the wider the novel’s theme, the better it is as a work of art.” [4]

“It is the unity of the book–the unity of theme, style, conception and execution–the unity and complete, ruthless consistency that made the book successful. People are starved for something strong and definite. They’re so sick of half-hearted evasions, generalities, compromises, standard patterns and feeble attempts to please everybody…” [4]

Judge your own writing by how well the plot structure is integrated with the theme of the novel. How well the story, with the development of its characters and the progression of its events, has executed the central theme.

Set goals towards the primary purpose of your life. Make choices to achieve those goals. Judge your life by the choices you make and how integral they are to your life goals.

Don’t wait for others to judge you, judge yourself and improve, by your own standards and values.

8. Selectivity is key. 

“It is the selectivity in regard to  subject — the most severely, rigorously, ruthlessly exercised selectivity — that I hold as the primary, the essential, the cardinal aspect of art. In literature, this means: the story — which means: the plot and the character — which means: the kind of men and events that a writer chooses to portray.” [2] 

As a writer, everything you choose to include in your story becomes important to the whole story. By the mere fact of being included. 

So make sure every word, every punctuation within a sentence and every sentence you have included in the story serves to tell the story precisely as you see it.

Similarly in life, learn to be selective, to be picky.  To prioritize, select and live by essentials. By the act of selecting one thing over another, it becomes important in your life. So make sure to choose wisely.

Selectivity is the linchpin of art and life.

It’s My Life!

The most important lesson I learnt from Ayn Rand was that it’s my life and I get to live it how I choose. And nothing sums it better than this quote from Atlas Shrugged.’

“I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” [6]

Here is an article celebrating the self – Who is John Galt? The Paragon of Man’s Ego

On this Randsday, I give myself the gift of these reminders to abide by in my writing and my life.

And I am listening to “Bon Jovi – It’s My Life”, on repeat!

Now you go do something for yourself.

References:

[1]  A. Rand. Ayn Rand: A Writer’s Life.

[2] A. Rand. The Goal of My Writing”.

[3] A. Rand. The Romantic Manifesto. 1971.

[4] A. Rand. The Art of Fiction. 2000.

[5] A. Rand. The Virtue of Selfishness. 1964.

[6] A. Rand. Atlas Shrugged. 1996.

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