I’ve read a lot of fiction, written a lot of it too, and I’ve also given/conducted podcast interviews.

As a result of these endeavours, I came up with a checklist to identify areas in which I can improve. I thought you’d find it useful too!

  1. Is this entertaining/interesting? If not, what purpose does it serve? (I don’t know if there is another valid purpose, but I doubt it!)
  2. Am I expressing what I truly believe or is it rather what I want to be read/heard stating that I believe? (Often different.)
  3. And to that end, if I find myself giving impassioned exhortations about global/social issues, how much of a personal stake do I have in these debates? Have I any real-world examples of when this issue affected me, or am I just setting up straw men—in someone else’s battleground?

Here’s an example: look at most of that Count Dankula guy’s videos.

He became embroiled in a free speech argument that’s super important—but as for his content, so much of it is riding trends rather than original opinions. In which case, what does he add to any of these conversations but their regurgitation in a Scottish accent? Is that really how he’s supposed to use his time? Is that the best he can do?

Or look at this video by (conservative vlogger?) Theryn Meyer, where she has realised the consequences, for her soul and that of others, of bandwagon-riding.

The point is: What is bothering YOU, not someone else? What is closest to home?

The idea, of formulating your own opinions and observing your environment (starting locally) with scrutiny, is daunting—but exactly how else would you describe your task?

  1. Am I outright stating something I read elsewhere? In which case I should cite the reference, unless I have added something to it or rephrased it in a way that I would express. If you don’t have your own way of adding to a particular conversation, that’s okay—life is so big, and we’re all learning always—as long as you admit it. In other words: Whereof I cannot speak, thereof am I silent? (Wittgenstein 😉 )
  2. To that end, on occasions when I am implored to offer a comment on a particular issue, do I find myself resorting to the same arguments from a small number of books I read/things I heard too long ago? These are then the most pressing areas of weakness to work on next (if they are also areas of interest.)
  3. Am I capable of writing as if no one is reading/ speaking as if no one is listening? In other words, can I face/present pure ME?!

If this seems odd, or even scary, here’s the caveat: The inherent bias here, if you can call it that, is my interest in you and your work—not in what anyone else wants you/your work to be. Not even what I would want it to be, but what it actually IS.

I unashamedly hope you develop in yourself sensors that pick up when any of these questions are relevant. Ask them and rectify any instance wherever the answer doesn’t satisfy you.

I hope the benefit to your immortal soul is so great that it trumps your desire to satisfy the demands of a large audience or market forces.

Here’s an example of that:

Charlie Kaufman is an unabashed favourite of mine.

(Before I continue, we can use this admission as an example of how to comply to the checklist: “How does this standard white guy choice represent YOU, Leo? Aren’t you violating your own rules?”

To that I would answer: I will risk being seen as cliché because I’m assured of how his work relates to me personally—therefore maybe it doesn’t outwardly appear a non-cliched choice but it meets my own criteria, so I’m satisfied and that’s fine. Plus, he’s part of a healthy artistic diet of others, a mix from a sufficiently large pool, which looks like no one else’s.

That’s all I’m asking you to think about with this checklist. Maybe you won’t end up changing anything about your speech/writing etc. You probably won’t in most instances—even so, an internal quality check will make you/your work/your assertions stronger.)

Anyway, his last film, “Anomalisa”, didn’t make its money back—which doesn’t surprise me too much, unfortunately. By most standards, it’s weird and dark and perhaps too depressing. Even so, what you can say about that film and few others is, “I’ve never experienced that before and now I can’t get it out my head.”

Off the top of my head, here are some other writers who, appear to fulfil these criteria: Sheila Heti, Clarice Lispector, Philip Roth, Vladimir Nabokov. I could go on and on and on! But whatever you might want to say about them, what they all have in common is that I know their names and they were at the forefront of my brain when pressed for the names of originals.

And that’s what I want for you—because that’s what you’re supposed to be.

I’ve said this before: if your goal as a writer, as a human being, is to be the next Stephen King, get in line. Your ticket is #20345. (With ticket #1? Stephen King himself. He’s still the current Stephen King. With ticket #2 is his son, and both of them combined are far more than enough for most.)

If it’s to be the next Stephen King meets—I don’t know, Tom Clancy: congratulations! Your place is now #1023.

If you want to be the first you, your ticket number is #1. Thank God you’re here! We’ve been waiting for you! Right this way. I hope you weren’t too difficult to find…

Write in your own vein. EXIST in your own vein. Strip away anxiety and futility as you push yourself towards uniqueness, towards a place of zero competition.

Good luck!!