Being Your Best

All writers suffer from poor sales at one time or another in their careers. Why is this? Well, for one thing, when you’re building your audience or re-building it after a long period away from writing, you have to find new readers and at the same time regain the trust of old readers.

So, how do you build an audience or re-build one? Well, you start by writing the best story you can. That goes without saying. And every writer thinks that’s what he or she is doing. But the thing is, if it’s easy, if it flows without any problem, then nine hundred ninety-nine times out of a thousand, it’s not any good.

We all want to believe that everything we write is perfection made manifest to the world. But it’s not. If you’re not frustrated with your progress, if you’re not upset because you don’t know where to go next, if you’ve lost your way and you can’t find your way back to what you want to say or where you want to go, if you can’t get the description right, or the dialogue right, or just the words right, if at times you don’t hate your story, if your story is challenging you, if you’re bored with it, then chances are the reader will be bored, too.

And a bored reader is a reader that leaves you.

Your story has to challenge you. And not just because when you’re challenged, your reader will be challenged too. It has to challenge you so you can grow as a writer. When you grow as a writer, then you grow as a person. And when you grow as a person, then you’re ready for your next challenge. This is true not only for writers, but dancers, musicians, composers, actors, film makers, architects, bakers, everyone who’s trying to make a difference in the world, or trying to express their true selves in a creative way.

Think it’s not true?

A reporter once asked Ernest Hemingway why he re-wrote the last chapter of “For Whom the Bells Toll” forty times. Hemingway’s response? “To get the words right,” he said.

Every composer struggles to get the music right. Every dancer practices the steps until they’re perfect. Every actor struggles to learn the lines and then when they’ve mastered them, struggles to perform them until the lines become part of them, so that their characters come alive in their dialogue.

Actors and writers have a lot in common. Both succeed or fail through their performances. An actor strives to become the character, sharing his heart and memories and spirit with the characters until she is at one with that character. So, too, writers have to live their characters’ lives, bringing out from deep inside themselves their deepest fears and their greatest joys.

A writer who puts everything into her writing will eventually become successful. So, too, will an actor who doesn’t hold back. Painters and other artists must become one with their work, too.

If you’re not one with your painting, if your not one with your writing, if you not one with whatever you’re doing,with how you’re revealing your most creative desires and goals, even if its in baking or cooking or house building, then you’re failing. You’re failing yourself, you’re failing your audience, you’re failing your future.

To be successful, you have to start with your best and keep seeking to achieve your best.

Good luck. See you out there.

Truth in Writing

Every great story has a bit of Truth in it.  Personal truth, societal truth, the truth of humanity, something that the writer has learned. Such as the unlimited and pure love a mother feels for her child. Or the sadness a father feels when his children have grown up and don’t need him anymore, when they abandon him for their own loves and lives.

A frequent theme throughout life is someone giving up their life to save someone else, be it friend, family member or stranger. We see it in war, we see it when a building is burning down, we see it on the streets when complete strangers throw themselves on others to protect them from a sniper’s bullets. We think of that as the ultimate  act of valor and compassion.

In a book I read about American soldiers in Iraq, there was this one young soldier that everyone in his platoon thought of as a screwup. They even expected him to be the first one to bail out of the humvee they road around together, if a grenade was thrown into. Then, one day, an eleven-year-old Iraqi boy threw a grenade into their humvee. Everyone stared at it, expecting to die. And this young man, who everyone thought of as a coward and a colossal screwup, flopped onto the grenade, saving the other four men in the vehicle and while his chest and abdomen were shredded by the blast. They couldn’t believe that he loved them so much, thought of them as family so much, that he sacrificed himself so they might live. They were so ashamed of themselves for previously thinking so poorly of him.

This giving up of your life for others is not a new thing. In the Bible, in the Gospel of John,  Jesus says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about truth in writing. I just finished reading a book by Molly Guptill Manning titled, “When Books Went to War: the stories that helped us win world war two.” The United States in particular, and the Allies in general, didn’t just save the great art works in Europe from destruction by the Nazis, but they fought Fascism with books. From the 1930s through the end of World War 2, the Nazis burned more than one hundred million books. Anything that opposed hatred and fear, anything against Fascism, was destroyed. Not just great novels and plays, but Bibles, copies of the Qu’ran, even copies of Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s (pronounced “Lou See”) Tao Te Ching. Anthing that uplifted humanity, they destroyed.

So the United States printed small little pocket books to entertain and enrich the lives of soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen throughout the world. It was not just a war of strategies, a war of weapons and violence and destruction, it was a war of ideas. Just as the war against ISIS is a war of ideas.

The Nazis destroyed more than 100 million books, but the United States printed more than  123 million books and sent them overseas, first to American enlisted men and women, then to some of our Allies, and then to some of the emptied-out libraries in liberated countries.

I recommend every writer read Molly Manning’s book.

Books are more than just platforms for stories. More than just a means for making money. More than just for entertainment. They can help you process your life. They can lift you up. Then can teach you about yourself and others. They can lift you up out of the dull and deceptive world we sometimes seem to live in.

In the introduction to Manning’s book, in a young Marine’s letter to author Betty Smith, who wrote the classic “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” a book now almost forgotten, he tells her that at age 20, he had seen and felt such suffering that he was a hardened and cynical man, incapable loving anybody or anything, that he was dead to the world and the world was dead to him.. Then, while confined to a field hospital bed, suffering from malaria, he read her book. He had read it twice and was so uplifted and so moved, he wrote, that he was re-reading it a third time. He explained that her book had released him from the hardness and hatred that he had felt and that he could live again.

Smith’s book is set in 1900 Brooklyn. It’s about a twelve-year old girl growing up in poverty. The father she loves and worships is a dreamer, but also an alcoholic. He can’t keep a job. Her mother works herself to the bone day after day, often working fourteen hours a day. When her father dies of pneumonia, it breaks her heart. But she continues on.

There’s a million billion stories like Smith’s book, throughout all history and throughout the whole world. And for this book to lift up a battle-hardened Marine, to give him hope for his future and life once more, that’s part of what every author should be aiming for.

Don’t just write about other people’s experiences, about the truth they’ve discovered. Write about what you’ve learned. Write to uplift. Adventures and action and romance and all these things are fine, but some character of yours somewhere in each story you write should have learned something about life, about moving forward, about personal growth, about living, about hoping, about loving.

Some authors want to bury the reader in the past, making the reader feel guilty for the suffering others endured. That’s not lifting up, that shaming people, that’s tearing them down. You can write about these things, but you have to find a way out of all the sadness and suffering that has gone before, for your characters’ sakes, and for your readers’ sakes, too.

What has happened in the past is in the past. The past is dead and so are its victims and victimizers. Don’t victimize your readers. They won’t love you for it, they’ll hate you for it. Then you, too, will be a victimizer.

When we watch adventure movies, movies with Indiana Jones in them, with Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, we have a great time. What lifts us up in these action movies? The heroes, their promises of overcoming evil with good, that they’re out there defending us. That we’re protected. That we’re safe. That someone will stand up for us.

We not only experience a great fictional adventure, but we come out feeling hopeful, for our day, for our future.

Hope is what refugees fleeing from war feel when they travel to a new country. Hope is what those whose houses are on fire or threatened by fire feel when they see firemen coming their way. Hope is what you feel when you’ve been lost in the wilderness and suddenly you spot a plane or a helicopter or someone coming toward you. Hope is what keeps farmers going when their crops have been destroyed by the weather, or insects, or the carelessness and selfishness of others. Hope of next year being better is what keeps farmers going.

Your characters have to have hope, even as you as writer has to have hope. You hope that the story you’re writing will be popular. That you’ll be recognized. That you’ll make money. That your audience will grow.

And what you need to put into your stories is hope. Your characters, no matter how awful what they’re experiencing is, need to have hope. Hope that things will get better. Hope that they will survive.

Yes, your characters need to suffer, as much as Jesus suffered carrying his cross to his crucifixion. But they have to have hope, too. Hope that their suffering will end.

So, put whatever truths you’ve learned about life, put them into your stories. Give them to some of your characters. Even Romeo and Juliet had hope that they might live together in love and peace. The fact that it didn’t work out for them makes the story much more dramatic. But let some of your characters learn, love, and have their hopes fulfilled. Don’t make it too easy for them, but don’t make it too impossible, too.

See you out there.

Good Storytelling

What’s the secret to good storytelling? Ready for it? It’s simple. Study the writers who are good storytellers. But who are these good storytellers and why is good storytelling so important?

The reason good storytelling is important is because you want an audience. And once you have an audience, you want to keep it, even expand it. So, as I have often said in other posts, if you want to keep your audience happy, you have to respect them and like them, and yes, even love them. Make your audience your friends. Even better, make them your family.

And how do you that? By catering to their tastes. Tom Clancy did that with all his techno-thrillers. His audience expected suspense, they expected fancy technology, they expected good heroes and dastardly villains. They expected action and they expected terror and suspense. And they got all of that.

Terry Pratchett fans expected great humor, fun characters, impossible situations and even more impossible victories, as well as great heroes and wicked villains.

With Shakespeare its wit, and romance, villainy, humor, incredible dialogue, good guys and bad guys. You have suspense, you have drama, you have irony, you have love. You have it all, including great sets and great locations.

But even Shakespeare had his master: The Bible. For those who disregard it as religious dribble, think again. Look at the stories. You start out with Adam and Eve, who live in Paradise, and maybe have for thousands or even millions of years. They live in perfect harmony with every  beast of the field and yet, they’re bored. They want more. So a lowly snake convinces them to steal from the Lord God. And for that, for trying to make themselves into gods, they are banished for eternity from Paradise.

Then you have Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. But the greatest story in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, isn’t any of them. Nor is it Moses, or Joshua, or even the Jews exiled to Babylon. The greatest story is the story of King David, God’s beloved one, the conqueror. David starts out as a lowly shepherd boy who saves the day by killing a giant warrior with a simple smooth stone drawn from a creek. He tosses the stone with a sling and slays this great warrior, driving the stone into the man’s fore head.

From there, he becomes the king’s servant. But the king is jealous of David, as he grows into manhood and seeks to slay David, even as David avoids slaying his king. But the king eventually dies and David is made king and conquers everyone and everything.

But, having nothing more to conquer, he conquers a beautiful married woman who steals his heart. He sleeps with her, committing adultery, forbidden by the law. So he has her faithful husband, who is also David’s faithful servant and warrior, sent into battle and then left behind for the enemy to kill. Then he marries the woman, Bathsheba.

What a story there, and what great storytelling. You have a youth who defeats a giant. You have a jealous king who seeks to slay the youth because the people love him more than they love their king. Later, the boy becomes a man and conquers his little world. But he takes a married woman to bed, breaking the law. And to cover his indiscretion, he has the woman’s husband killed, You have the innocent and pure youth, who loses all of that when he becomes king and abuses his power.

You have everything there for a great story.

So Shakespeare, and the Bible, and who else? Charles Dickens. JRR Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury (one of my favorites), and hundreds, maybe thousands more. And every one of them respected their audiences, giving them what they wanted.

Too many writers today, too many artists, musicians, poets, dancers, actors, comedians want to do what they want to do, disregarding  their audiences. “If you don’t like what I’m doing, F— You!” That’s how you lose your audience. Without readers, without viewers, without listeners, how can you make any money, let alone a difference?

And making a difference, whether you can admit it to yourself or not, is what it’s all about. If you’re not mature enough to understand that, maybe you should set aside whatever talent you have and find a different career. Too many people, with great talent, waste it on selfish intentions. Don’t be one of them.

Value your readers, your audience. Give them what THEY want, not what you want. Let someone else worry about whether it’s art or not. Lift your audience up. Make a difference.

To do that, you have to put everything into your work. Each story has to be as perfect as it can be. Think about each character, each event everyday, if not every moment.

Good storytelling makes a difference.

See you out there.

Good Stories

Most people think it’s easy to tell a story, and most people are right. But just because you can use your imagination and tell a quick little story doesn’t guarantee that you can write good short stories or a good screenplay or novel. It takes commitment and hard work, not to mention lots of thought and research, to write good stories. I’ve mentioned this in previous posts several times.

Imagination is important. But so is listening to how people talk to each other, so you can write good dialogue. It’s also important to observe people, to see how they treat each other, to notice what hurts them and what heals them.

Good stories also require good plots. And the thing is, finding a good a plot isn’t that difficult. First you have know what a plot is.  And the important thing is knowing what a plot is versus what a story is. I’ve mentioned before that the story is what happens to your characters, how they treat each other, what they experience. The plot is where the story is going, what happens along the way, and how it ends up.

For instance, if you meet a publisher or a literary agent, they usually what to know what your story is in two short and concise sentences. If you ramble on, they’ll know you’re an amateur and ignore you. However, the two-sentence story-line has to include the plot.

Here’s a good example: “There are two feuding families: the son from one family and the daughter from another fall in love and want to get married. The families forbid it; tragedy ensues.”

If don’t recognize it, that’s Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. Or the musical “West Side Story.”

A more simple way to describe that story is like this, “Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Girl dies. Boy kills himself.” Eleven words, short and sweet.

That’s the plot. The story fills in with who they are, they are like, what are their friends like, what are their families like, where do they live, when do they live, who’s responsible for her death, how did it happen, why did it happen, why did he kill himself, what happened after they died?

The last part, “What happened after they died?” is the resolution. Keep that short, but not too short. The aftermath should show the friends and families reaction, but not much more. A few lines, maybe a few paragraphs, a couple of pages, but not much more. Not if you don’t want to make the end overly melodramatic and ruin the story.

A good example of a short and sweet resolution is the end of the 1930s “King Kong” when a crowd gathers around King Kong’s corpse. One of the main characters says, “It was love that killed the beast.” That sums up the whole movie. Impossible love.

Another part concerning a good story is what it says about the human condition. Love, for instance, is an important part of the human condition. Even if you’re not writing a love story, love should still be present. You love your sweetheart, you love your friends, you love yourself, you love your family, your pets, nature, your life, your privacy. Maybe you love your job. Maybe you love your church or your home or your community.

Maybe you love chocolate, or reading comics. Maybe you love music. Maybe you love Star Wars. Maybe you love helping people. Maybe you love writing. Maybe you love money. Or your car.

A good story should help the reader process his or her life and experiences. So, some sort of small truth should be there for the reader to relate to, to help the through his or her life.

You might think that’s bull crap, but its true. But don’t try to approach and define big truths, for stories about that tend to do so get too big and boring for the reader and to fail. Try to keep your personal beliefs out of stories, including your personal prejudices and hatreds. You want your readers to be entertained and to learn, but putting your anger into stories can backfire and you writing career can fail. You want your readers to love your stories and love your writing, not to despise or hate you.

So, what are small truths? Love, friendship, faith, family, respect for others, respect for yourself, self-confidence, self-sacrifice, redemption, courage, loyalty, honor.

Of course, there are opposites to all these things, too, such as loss. Loss of love, loss of companionship, loss of self-confidence or self-respect, loss of others respect or trust or confidence. But opposites are the challenges your characters need to overcome. If your characters go into darkness and stay there, your readers won’t find any hope and examples for them to overcome the darknesses they feel they’re trapped in, whether real or imagined.

It’s dangerous to write about good and evil, but if you don’t, you won’t have any stories to tell. Your characters need to overcome evil in their lives in order to grow. If they don’t grow, your story may fail. And if your characters don’t grow, don’t overcome evil, your readers won’t either.

There’s a responsibility when writing, just like there’s a responsibility when driving. Bad judgements in either can lead to personal disaster.

No one is innately evil. All babies are born pure and innocent. People are pulled to the darkness or the light by the fear they experience in their lives and their ability to overcome it, or their failure to do so. Psychologists say there are only two basic human emotions, love and fear. And I would say that fear is painful.

In my next post, I’ll talk about where to find good story examples. Shakespeare is always a good place to start.

See you out there.

Your Audience

Every writer, every singer, every actor, comic, dancer, musician, poet, painter, DJ, reporter, journalist, worker, politician, everyone, wants to make money in their chosen path,  be successful, be adored, be famous. In short, everyone want to be a rock star. And everyone can be. However, it takes time to develop an audience.

We live in a time where the internet and television bring us instance gratification. Computer games and social media cut away at patience. We want what we want and we want it now!

But it takes time to create a good book, a great painting, a hilarious act, a fantastic performance. And while some people can do it within a few months or maybe just a few years, it still takes commitment, patience, and time.

And courage.

So many of us give up so easy. Some begin to doubt themselves, even doubt the world. “No one notices me”, “No one recognizes talent anymore”, “People want crap so I’ll give them crap”, “F… the world”. These are common feelings among creative people. Everyone, since the dawn of time, perhaps even some of the first cave painters, has had times when they doubted themselves or felt angry at society because their talent wasn’t instantly recognized.

Sure, there may have been some people who have never felt this way. But secretly, maybe they did, even if only for a nanosecond. Even Jesus had doubts. In the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before he was taken prisoner, he doubted himself, if just for a tiny moment.

Self-doubt is a common theme in Society and in fiction. Look at Barry Allen in the CW series “The Flash”. Here he has this wonderful super power and yet he constantly doubts whether he’s good enough, fast enough, brave enough. (I so tired to this. Let’s give the boy a little ego boost for a change.)

And Ego is just the problem for all of us. We want to be recognized and we want to be recognized now.

But what we forget, or choose to ignore, is that it takes time to build an audience. That’s why politicians, generally, start out small, running for mayor or state senator before going on to Congress or the Senate, or even the Presidency.

Everyone needs an audience, recognition. But all the advertising in the world won’t bring you success or sales if you don’t have a good product. All advertising brings is people willing to look at what you have. Then it’s all your responsibility to hook them with good writing, crisp dialogue, great singing, hilarious jokes, whatever it takes to accomplish your goal of recognition and fame.

Whether you’re trying to move up in your business, or make money selling cars or food, it takes time to gather support. Author Ray Bradbury said it took ten to fifteen years to gather the fame you need to live modestly on your work. And a few more years after that for more success.

We all know that success takes hard work. But we all think that the handwork will bring us instant success. Yet an audience isn’t developed by advertising, but by word of mouth. One person reads your book, or listens to your jokes, loves your singing, loves your art, or watches your show and recommends it to someone else. Eventually, like falling dominoes knocking the next domino down, you develop an audience.

Recognition takes time. But don’t suppose that because you’ve gained some recognition, you can take off for a few years and come back and your audience will still be there, because a fledgling audience is like a fresh egg, delicate. Run off for a few years and your egg rots away. The same’s true of your audience.  One or two followers may remember you, but everyone else will most likely have forgotten you.

And don’t think that your audience will be happy with one or two works. Nowadays, people want new work from you every few months, or at the very least, once a year.

Successful artists live off of new works. Lots and lots of new works.  Shakespeare didn’t write just “Julius Caesar” and “Romeo and Juliet” and leave it at that. He wrote dozens of plays.

Likewise, one Ironman movie wasn’t enough, nor one Star Trek movie. Your audience wants more and you have to give it to them. And even if your audience starts out small, be patient and give it time. If you constantly put your best efforts into your work, your audience will grow.

When the first Star Wars movie came out forty years ago, I was one of maybe fifty people in the theater. It had been out for a week and no one really knew what it was. But a week later, I stood in line for hours while waiting to see it a second time.

So, be patient. Work hard. Keep producing. And don’t give up.

See you out there.

 

 

The Value of Writing

Sometimes, I don’t know if it’s worth writing a blog.  People don’t read as much today as they did just a few years back. What with all the wild things going on around the world, with social turmoil, violence, hatred, fear, greed, and politics, more politics than you can throw a stick, or sweep away from you with a broom or a tennis racquet, there’s just too much going on for someone to care about someone else’s blog

If I was writing about politics, about health care or the sitting president, or the former president, or about Russia or Syria, Asia, or Africa, or Civil Rights, then I’d probably have a million readers. And just as likely I might have half a million readers who hated me, a few thousand who liked me and the rest who couldn’t make up their minds.

But I’m not interested in writing about that. I admit that I follow much of that melodrama, but I’m not interested in contributing my voice to much of it.

Recently, I heard a black man speak who had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, who stood up for civil rights and was frequently beaten down for it, who’s heart still beat in fear whenever he’s driving down the road and he hears a police siren racing up behind him. It was his message that impressed me the most. He said the Civil Rights movement back in 1950s through the 1970s was about Inclusiveness, about being respected as a human being, about fair treatment, equality, about living in peace and harmony with Whites, Asians, Hispanics, Arabs, and Native Americans, and that the current Civil Rights movement should be called the Uncivil Rights movement, or the Hatred Movement. He felt that Dr. King’s movement had been stolen from Dr. King, because now everyone wants to play the victim card. They want to be treated as victims and they want separate spaces, whole buildings where only one race lives in it, whole colleges, whole cities, maybe even whole states. And he’s disappointed and ashamed with all these young people fighting against the very thing that Dr. King and those would up with him fought for.

See, I can write about politics. But I don’t want to. I’d rather  write about writing.

Everyone writes something every day. People write notes. People write Emails or Tweet, or write code. They write Fan Fiction. They write computer games. They write gift cards. And many, many, MANY people write poems, essays, and fiction. And they all want to be published, either online or by mainstream book publishers. And they want to be published now.

What do they desire from publishing? Fame. And money. Lots and lots of money. They want wealth and fame. And did I mention riches? They want to be wealthy.

Everyone wants to write a best seller and they want to flaunt it in  people’s faces. “I sold a million copies of my book, while you sold only one or two. I’m a success and your a failure. I’m valuable and you’re NOT!”

Most writers aren’t interested in the craft of writing. They’re not interested in the art of writing. They’re not concerned about being artists. They just want the fame and money.

Writers suffer from every kind of fear, depression, regret, and self-doubt that everyone else does. And many of them feel the only way to overcome it is through wealth and fame. They want to make certain the world remembers them long after they’re gone.

But what does wealth and fame do for anyone? How many billionaires and executives and rock stars and comics are really happy? What good is fame to Bill Cosby? Or money? He’s more infamous now than famous. And his victims want to punish him by taking his wealth away, even if it hurts his family. What do they care about others? They want justice. But it’s not justice, it’s revenge.

An old man, a parent and grandparent, who lost his entire family when the Oklahoma City bomber blew up the federal building, even killing his grandson who was in day care, forgave the killer. He said what good would hatred and revenge do him? It wouldn’t bring back his son or his darling grandson, who was the light of his life. Why hate someone when life was so short and so important? Would hating bring him relief from his suffering? Would hate heal him or make him happy again? No.

His story was told. And as a writer, I have lots of stories to tell. Some I can never share or tell, not even in fiction. Some things are just too hard to revisit. Some things are too personal.

Stories are important. Books are important. Novels and poems and non-fiction are important. Back during World War 2, millions of books were sent to soldiers, sailors, and airman, both in stateside camps and overseas. At first, they were gathered from publishing houses, from libraries, from private collections. But after a short while, the military began printing (with writers’ and publisher’s permission) fiction and non-fiction stories for the fighting man and fighting woman to read. Female pilots flew air craft from the U.S. to Russia; nurses served in every combat theater overseas, including the Philipines.

The purpose of all this was two-fold. One, to counter the message that Fascism presented the world, of race hatred and hatred of culture. And, two, because reading stories and non-fiction books helped our men and women to process reality. Those who chose books to read found that they could better  process the killing and death and destruction they witnessed every day. They could remember home and happiness, a better time. They read about valuing people, about valuing love and compassion and kindness, about good versus evil.

I don’t know if video games are as valuable with processing reality today. I doubt movies are, for they’re a shared experience, a temporary experience of just finite period of time. Reading a good story is a one-on-one experience, one that takes time, one that fills your thoughts and your spirit and soul. It is a deeply personal relationship between the reader and the writer.

Good stories bless their readers.

That’s why reading and writing are so important. It’s not about the money or the fame, its about the writer sharing his ideals and his experiences with the reader, in a manner in which the reader can relate to. Sometimes, what a writer shares comes from other peoples experiences and not just his or her own experience. That, too, is valuable.

Too many writers today don’t care about the value of their work, other than its monetary value.

Let’s look at an example of valuable writing, the original Star Trek series (I could have picked a thousand different examples, including Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, but most people know about Star Trek.)

What did we love about Star Trek? The characters and their friendships. They were more than friends, more than colleagues, they were family. But we also loved their challenges and their experiences. So many stories were filled with values and goodness, with racial equality, with an end to hatred, even with humor. Who can forget “The Trouble with Tribbles”? Or “Space Seed”, when the Enterprise crew awakes Khan and his cohorts, ready, willing, and able to conquer the universe?

Gene Roddenberry didn’t create that show  just to make money (which it didn’t do when it was originally on television) but to tell the stories he wanted to tell. To help people see a golden future where everyone on Earth could be friends.

So, to all those writers out there who decry about not being read, who don’t give a damn about art or good story telling, but only want wealth and fame and define success by those categories, I say that, yes, wealth would be nice, but even if you only have a few readers, if they’re entertained by your work, if they’re moved by it and it helps them get through the day, if they can relate with the characters and what they’re experiencing, then you are a success. Then you’re a good writer.

Don’t just measure your success by how much money you make or how many readers you have. Judge it by how good you feel when someone, anyone, likes what you’ve written.

And never give up home.

See You Out There.

 

 

Reality Check

I’ve thought about various titles for this post. One was Truth or Dare. Another was Truth or Consequences, but its the same thing as Truth or Dare. Sometimes, coming up with a good title is harder than finding something interesting to write about. And sometimes, good titles are easier than finding good subjects.

By the number of my posts that no one reads, not even followers, one can see how tough this gig is.

Just a decade or more back, blogging was the gateway to success in writing. But there are too many bloggers now and not enough interest in reading blogs.

The same thing applied to Facebook and Twitter and all the other social media. All were considered gateways to success for writers, musicians, film makers, restaurants,  et cetera. But there’s  just too much information out there.

Experts claim information increases twenty times every year. It used to be impressive when it doubled every year, and then when it quadrupled every year. What will it be like when it increases a hundred times every year? And then five hundred times? And then, a thousand times? Where will it end?

For instance, just last year, biologists discovered more than sixteen thousand new animal and plant species, including a new spider species called The Sorting Hat Spider (named, obviously, after the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter series) and a species of caterpillar that swims. Just a few years back, scientists bemoaned the lack new species to discover. Finding four or five new species a year was big back then. Consider what a quantum leap sixteen thousand species are!

Likewise, what about E-books? Ten years ago, there were just a few E-books out there. Now, every year there’s literally hundreds of thousands of E-books published. And it’s estimated that by the year 2020, there’ll be millions of E-books published ever year. Where will it all end? With some solar flare that destroys the Internet and The Cloud?

Maybe.

Everyone wants to be famous. Everyone wants to make money as a writer. Essentially, we live in an age where EVERYONE wants to be a rock star. This includes not just musicians, or film makers, or writers, or politicians and bankers, but even teachers and professors and criminals.

The problem is, everyone wants to be an instant success. Look how even street gangs and murderers post their crimes on YouTube. It’s their gateway to fame. But writing, like investing your money, is a long-term affair.

No one wants to read the hyperbole associated with advertising. For instance, “This will be the last book you’ll ever read!” Did a serial killer write that comment? Sure sounds like it.

Or, “You’ll never read a book as great as this.” Bullshit. There are lots of great books out there. Finding them, amid all the crap, is the challenge.

Just because you can put two words together to make a sentence, (See Dick. See Jane. See Spot. See Crap.) doesn’t make you a great writer, or even a good writer. Turning out four or eight or twelve books a year, or even forty or fifty, doesn’t make you a good writer, or even prolific, it means you’ve got literary diarrhea. And maybe even physical diarrhea.

And we all know what kind of excrement diarrhea is, don’t we? The nastiest kind.

New writers talk all the time about throwing out all the rules of writing. Well, the rules are there to protect and guide you. To keep you from making mistakes and guide you towards success. Throwing the rules away in writing is as bad an idea as throwing away the rules and regulations for building houses.

A builder wouldn’t just throw down some plywood for a floor, nail some 2X4s to the floor, run 2X4s across the top for a ceiling, toss some dry wall on the walls inside and plywood on the outside and across the top as a roof, and then cut holes in for windows and doors and call it a house and sell it. The first big wind or first bad rain storm would flatten that house and everyone in it. If people died, the builder would go to prison!

Designing blue prints (so called because they were put on blue paper, or sometimes on regular paper with blue chalk), framing your house, planning where windows and doors and electrical outlets go, connecting the walls and ceilings with braces and trusts, all these things are part of the regulations required for building houses.

Likewise, grammar and editing and punctuation and rewriting are absolutely necessary for a good read and respect from your readers.

What about advertising, you ask? All the advertising in the world isn’t as good as a solid base of readers, a solid audience. It takes time to develop that and while advertising can help, you have to write good books. You have to edit and rewrite. You have to offer your audience a good product.

And sometimes, you have to fail. From failure, you learn how to become successful. You learn how to write better stories, how to avoid overly emotional scenes, how to create good, solid characters, characters your audience can relate to and want to read about. And it takes time.

Not just to create good stories, not just write them dow, but for your loyal audience to build up.

Let’s look at author Tom Clancy. He wrote “The Hunt for Red October” in the 1980s. His first publisher, who printed out a few thousand hard back copies, lost money on it. But when he sold his paper back rights to a difference company, and after several years of the hard back books literally floating around, and after word of mouth, the best advertiser of all, readers (lots and lots of readers) began to take notice of him. The rest is history.

Writing requires patience. And courage. The courage to hang yourself over that fence or off that ledge for people to see you there. With every story you’re putting out there, you’re taking a chance. Not just with trolls, but with sincere readers as well.

It takes time to write a good book. It also takes time to build up an audience. And it takes patience, dedication, and courage for writing. Just as it does for dancing or singing or acting or playing music.

Success goes to those who are patient, dedicated, and courageous.

See you out there.