What Business Are We In?
I heard a story about Steve Jobs. They say he used to roam the campus at Apple sometimes, poking his head into random offices and cubicles. He’d ask people, “What business are we in?” and listen attentively to whatever answer he got.
Then he’d ask, “What business are we REALLY in?”
I love that. From the moment I heard it, I began incorporating it into my own process for working on a book.
I ask myself, first, “What is this novel (or piece of nonfiction) about?”
I let myself answer.
Then I ask, “What is it REALLY about?”
I’m trying to get to theme.
Almost always, the answer to the second question will take me to a level well below consciousness, meaning the consciousness of the characters in the story (or of the reader’s consciousness if we’re talking about nonfiction.)
What is Game of Thrones really about?
What is Mare of Easttown really about?
What is Grand Theft Auto really about?
I imagine Steve Jobs was looking for an answer way beyond computers or smartphones or even tech in general. I think he wanted to hear something about human consciousness or the spiritual evolution of the species.
You and I as artists have to dig just as deeply.
To say that our story is about courage or honor or redemption is not enough. That may be what the piece is about. But it’s not what it’s REALLY about.
What is your story REALLY about?