There are times when trying to articulate what I’m saying can be a little harder than others. I know what I want to convey but that’s sometimes more grey than people would like. It’s so easy, especially in the modern era, to be labeled as the enemy by everyone because your nuanced position happens to be neither firmly in the black or the white. Too often, the two sides are unable to see that there are a lot more people who stand somewhere in the middle. And, a little over a year ago, I walked right into one of those conversations accidentally while in search of something to post to my blog. Before I knew it, I was receiving a swath of comments and messages regarding copyright and the legality of fan-works.
As a result of the conversation, I’ve spent the last year writing a series of posts responding to a litany of polarized views. But in responding to so many varied opinions not everyone actually understood what points I was making at the time I was making them. From addressing the moral superiority some people thought they had, to pointing out that fair use isn’t quite as sturdy as people on the internet hope it to be – I’ve been trying my best to respond to everything while keeping my own position as clear as I could. And, frankly, despite my best efforts I know that something this complicated is almost impossible to keep clear in short order. In fact, I’d even go so far as to argue that’s by design.
One of the hardest parts of being involved in a creative profession is dealing with the forces that drag down your productivity. I’ve talked about it often enough in the past because, frankly, that’s what all of us do at some point or another. But generally when we talk about these things we talk about how to make sure you “stay motivated” and keep working even if it’s only a little at a time. We talk about the idea of taking regular breaks to keep fresh and not be frustrated. We talk about setting a reasonable word goal for the day. And this is all good… for the first draft. But the fact is that if you intend to go beyond simply a hobbyist and into making it a successful career (with luck) then there’s more to it than simply staying motivated throughout the initial writing – because the time in between those efforts is going to be taken up by other tasks you’re not too thrilled with either.
And this is the part where neurotic natures that slow your creative process can become downright damaging to your actual results. Sure, in theory the hardest part is to actually get something to the page because that’s a lot more complicated than most people acknowledge it to be. That part can be tiresome and ugly and leave you feeling exhausted and frustrated. But the thing about it is that writing and editing your work is only the first step and, sadly, is still miles away from actually getting it all where you need it to be. Even after publishing you’re not actually “done” and there is still a mountain to climb ahead of you before you reach anything resembling a peak. That mountain’s also pretty much the reason why writers fail, btw, so you better be ready to find a few bodies along the way.
As someone still climbing that mountain, I can’t tell you how to do all of the things that you need to do to get to the top. I can, however, tell you what I’ve learned about the pitfalls behind me and the ones I’m learning to cross right now. Every day I find myself learning something that I realized would have been a life saver years before, sometimes even downright messianic. I have, to put it lightly, learned everything I have through trial, error, and hilarious misfires. How bad were these misfires? I released my first book in the same month a well known bestselling author released one in the exact same genre. Lesson learned? Figure out what the big fish is doing in the pond before you jump in.
So know when I pass on today’s advice I’m not talking from a position of authority or judgment, I’m talking as someone who has done really stupid things and has learned in the process. And recently as I was trying to learn how to fix one of my problems I saw someone struggling with the same issue I was. Both of us had been struggling to keep up with the schedules we had set for ourselves, even adjusting for my recent misfortunes, and I’d just learned why from a third party. To put it bluntly, if you struggle with keeping up with your schedule… Continue reading Schedules and Valued Time→
There’s something I don’t talk about very often but is well worth mentioning right now: I am a fan of Shark Tank. Yes, for some weird ass reason I really like watching startups and entrepreneurs try to get money. It started during one of my trips to Canada when I realized how amused I was by their version, Dragon’s Den, and I’ve been watching it ever since. And it’s not just Shark Tank, I’m into similar shows about getting an investor on board too because I like to see people come up with ideas, business models, and strategies and see if they can get someone to buy in. I’ve long mentally registered it as a form of research because someday, theoretically, I hope to leverage my work into a more complex business and, as an independent, I’m basically a business unto myself. But the reason why I bring it up is because of one of the things that often gets cited as a reason why this guy decides not to invest in certain businesses.
Keven O’Leary is the designated asshole of the series in two countries, both as a Shark and as a Dragon. And generally the reason why is because he’s the most brass tax of anyone in the show. It doesn’t matter how good your life story is, it doesn’t matter if you cry, it doesn’t matter if you’re helping hungry children in a third world country – Kevin wants money, Kevin is going to get money, and Kevin will shit on you if he doesn’t think you can make money. It’s really kind of ironic that he’s basically the public representative of a mentality that drives most financial markets and yet we only hate him because they set up a production and cameras. Mitt Romney basically did the same thing through most of his life and he was a successful politician right up until he got caught calling half the country worthless. But one thing that Kevin has said about certain businesses really rings in my head today.
You see, Kevin doesn’t invest in things that center on a single person’s talent. He doesn’t put money behind the efforts of one person. If it’s not something that can be replicated without that person, he doesn’t give a shit. And, he explains it in the typical fashion of a reality TV villain: “You could be hit by a bus tomorrow and I would lose my investment.”
After spending much of the last several years regularly updating this blog, it has been some time since I went a month with anything fewer than 5 entries. I love to ramble to the masses, after all, and make sure to post at least once a week whenever possible. So it would make sense, after this August came and went, that some people who have visited this blog would have one very important question to ask me:
Fair question, my imaginary audience, but no. And, while I didn’t die, I can see why you would wonder. It is true, for several weeks now I have been effectively dead to the world. In fact, after frequently making jokes I was a zombie fueled only by caffeine and calypso music, I finally found myself for the first time completely unable to raise my corpse to the challenge. Having resolved to use the month of August to get ahead of several projects so that I could enter 2018 with a fresh start and renewed drive, I ended up with one of the greatest pains I had ever felt in my arm and found it difficult to do much of anything with it. Had I broken it in some freak accident? Was I suffering some sort of traumatic disease which was stripping the use of my arm from me? Did I tear the muscles in some dramatic fashion?
Years ago, when people were still feeling out the eBook market, I had what we would call a “rough year” and made a couple rash decisions. The first was that I was going to self-publish a book because I’d seen numbers suggesting that my chances with and without a publisher were roughly about the same. This was during that hazy time back when the economy was crashing and no one was confident about anything – advances were down, advertising was shaky at best, and Amazon was starting to eat enough of the market to kill Borders (ironically thanks to a deal they made with Borders). So, of course, I wanted me a piece of that action.
But self-publishing lead to my second rash decision: I was going to start trying to promote myself – something that anyone who knows me can tell you was probably the bigger mistake of the two. My personality, in real life, is fairly conflict driven and yet introverted. For those of you doing the math, yeah, that generally means I’m my own worst enemy. So the idea of trying to be my own hype man is a bit like having Moriarty give the elevator pitch on Sherlock. Sure, he’s well aware of Holmes’ strengths, but he’s also invested in ruining the guy.
Still, I went about making content on a fairly regular basis by starting this blog. It wasn’t a vanity project as some critics have suggested, but an attempt to look like I know what I’m doing. Perhaps, with enough effort, I can find my audience and make those efforts worthwhile. And, despite everything, there is a benefit to the fact I second guess every move I make: I am constantly using this blog to do a self critique.
As such, I occasionally go back through old posts, old work, and old concepts to find new ways to hate on my younger self. It’s beneficial, despite how I make it sound, to take stock of what mistakes I made in the past and then learn from it. I know I’m not perfect (something we should all keep in mind), and that I have to constantly improve to progress. So I’m willing to give myself an honest performance evaluation every once in a while. There’s just one thing I tend to regret about these evaluations: I end up re-reading or remembering comments I’ve gotten on the internet.
As is well known to anyone who’s followed the blog for a long time, the guy who writes it is a broken man who becomes crippled at the mere sight of flower petals. Allergens are my greatest enemy, and they’ve often made getting up in the morning difficult. Hell, today they made getting up in the afternoon difficult as I temporarily fell asleep face first on my desk. Generally that means that I’ve got a touch of derailed productivity, the need to step away from certain tasks to chase down others instead. And, despite my own advice, sometimes I still fall into the trap I described back when I first mentioned the phenomenon. It’s easy to think that you’re not doing your best if you give into some physical ailments, even if everyone around you tells you that it’s okay.
But, having finally come to realize that I was just being silly in trying to chase down my original task for the day, I’ve accepted that I should have listened to that guy hopped up on benadryl many months ago. I shouldn’t push myself to do a task that I know isn’t going to be getting my best effort. I shouldn’t damage the work just to appease my guilt over my physical failings. There are other things to be done, other tasks worth my time, which I can still do even if my head feels like it’s been stuffed with cotton and can only be relieved by the blessings of the MyPurMist given to me for my birthday.
For years I’ve had a bit of a running joke that I tell even if people aren’t in on it. It’s often rumored that talking about your goals will actually give you an inflated sense of accomplishment. So, as a writer who hasn’t really had a huge amount of success (yet), I tend to rely on self-deprecation to avoid actually stating my goals out loud. Don’t get me wrong, I remind myself every day that I’m a writer and that’s what I want to be, but when I talk to other people I try to make sure I don’t get a big ego about it. We’ve all met that guy who says he’s writing a screenplay or novel and thinks that means the world should kiss his ass. I never want to be that guy, so I make sure to label myself appropriately.
I’m a professional bullshit artist.
Because that’s what you have to be if you’re going to be working in fiction. You have to be able to craft the most unbelievable bullshit into something people become invested in. You have to sell people on notions that you just pulled from the aether (or straight from your ass), and make them want to pay you money for it. It’s a skill that’s easy to learn but hard to master – a field where everyone feels they should be able to do it but only so many can actually pull it off. And that perceived ease of entry is part of the problem for guys like me.
See, writers, by and large, have to sell themselves as much as possible to get people to look their way. But, since there are so many of us out there, it’s hard to make that happen in short order. Most famous authors and screenwriters didn’t really have a major break until their 30s when many of those started trying earnestly somewhere around high school. There are always a few modest writing gigs here or there, you’ll make some headway as an intern if you have the right connections, but for the most part you’re just hoping you manage to out-shine someone else’s bullshit. Unfortunately, recent events with some politicians derailed my efforts for a bit and I was a little upset.
A couple days ago, I posted a little thing about the various events that used to kept me up at night as a kid. As an astronomy geek that’s been in awe of the universe since I could first read, I’ve been long fascinated and slightly tormented by just how insignificant we are to the cosmos. To paraphrase Carl Sagan, we are but a pale blue spec of dust. And, funny enough, sharing some of my old childhood fears got some people thinking about how potentially screwed we are on this rock.
But in all of the scenarios I listed, you could theoretically prevent the extinction of the human race by simply getting them off the Earth. This is because I spend my Wednesdays either pointing out something ridiculous or talking about writing and good story ideas. And while each of these outcomes would be horrible for anyone still here, there would still be a story to tell either in the aftermath or on another planet. The more people leave this rock before the end times, the more survive. Going to places such as Mars, Proxima b or any number of other exoplanets across the galaxy can prevent us from all sitting in one place, waiting to kiss our asses goodbye as the sky literally falls on us. Funny enough, there’s one scenario out there with absolutely no escape, one that could strike at any minute, one that could strike even as you read this blog right now.
You had a plan, not a good plan, but it was a plan that most certainly existed. First, you’d wake up, groan and shamble into the kitchen in search of Colombia’s greatest export. Grinding it up and snorting it, you’d take your caffeine as Satan intended and would be strong enough to face the day. Guided by the Tulpa of Juan Valdez, you would then sit down and grind out 2,000 words on that manuscript you’ve convinced yourself will be the path to fame and fortune. After all, you heard once that’s how Stephen King did it. And that guy looked amped in the 80s.
Just one problem – getting up isn’t happening. You tried for a moment but stopped once you felt your soul trying to escape yoru body. Everything hurts in ways you didn’t think were possible. Every muscle aches, your head is pounding, your stomach is churning and you’re pretty sure something is going to explode if you disturb it any. You weren’t partying last night, you had too much procrastinating to do on the manuscript for that. There’s only one explanation… you’re dying.
Oh god, you were so young, you’d done everything right, and now you’re going to melt into a pile of goo in your bed and be remembered by no one. Some poor bastard is going to find you face down on the pillow, glued to it by whatever the hell it is coming out of your nose right now. And what do you have to show for it? What have you left to the world? Stephen King wrote 12 books by the age of 35, what have you done with your life?
Wait…what if he was doing the other Colombian export? Oh god, you’ve been so stupid, spitting up black phlegm for months over nothing. Every day you’ve been walking around like some jackass from the old west looking for a spittoon!
Wait, focus, you’re dying, damn it. You need to get that manuscript done right now and make sure that you leave something for the people! You’re going to force yourself to get up and get your work done no matter what.
But that raises another question: how are you going to do that?
For a long time I’ve held that anything can be used to improve your writing. As I’ve said more than once, “all things are kung fu”. And this is often something that I tell other writers I meet because I want everyone to find new avenues to follow. To my shock, some of those people have come back to inform me that I actually know what I’m talking about, which is in part why I got started working on this blog. But sometimes I’ve drawn lessons and inspirations from things that most people just wouldn’t have ever considered rationally.
The reasons are simple, despite the fact I’m knowledgeable in the field, I’ve never had a formal education in it. There’s no shame in this, neither did Neil Gaiman or Ray Bradbury, but it does mean that I had to learn through odd methods. Neil jumped straight into journalism and writing non-fiction to help him learn how to write things in a clear, direct fashion and get readers interested. Ray taught himself by going to a library zealously until he could learn everything he needed. But me? I don’t live in a place with a good library nearby. I’ve never had access to reasonable resources.
So what I have used to teach myself are the internet, shelves of old books given to me by family, and the knowledge that everything in life can be studied. For instance, you can learn a lot by talking to people you have very little in common with – especially if they conflict with your world view. You can also learn a lot by talking to complete strangers, even if the world is full of people afraid to do that as of late. There’s always something to be learned by wandering through places you’ve never been. And sometimes, while many would tell you to read everything and watch everything, it’s often overlooked that “stupid” entertainment can still be a great teacher too.