Welcome to the Pep TalkPosted: March 1, 2017
Every month in this space, author Jeff Bowles offers advice for young and struggling writers. No one ever said becoming a world-famous storyteller is easy. This is the Pep Talk.
First an admission. It’s much easier for me to be upbeat about the writing careers of others than my own. It is a damn hard slog going from obscurity to success story. Most upstarts never make it, and even when they do, they often find it a double-edged sword. This game of ours, this writing thing, it’s full of ups and downs, zigs and zags, bad decisions and tribulations that’d make most normal people run and hide. Except we aren’t normal people, are we? We’re the ones who risk everything and spend long sleepless nights worried about fictional people and places that will never exist. What drives us to do it? What drives you?
Here’s a little bit of math a mentor once imparted to me: a billion people in the world want to become writers. Of that billion, a million make it past their first story and a thousand actually get something published. A hundred in that thousand make a career of it, and only ten become best-sellers. Are these odds in any way accurate? Probably not, but they are illustrative, don’t you think? When it comes down to it, becoming a successful writer is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve got to outlast the next guy (or gal), work your tail off until your competitors are little black specks in the rear-view. May take ten years, may take you fifty, and hell, you may not make it at all. But you’ve got to have goals, direction, purpose. You must see yourself as that bestseller, because if you can’t travel there in the mind, you’ll never travel there in the body.
Practice makes perfect, but perfection, talent, natural ability, they only account for a fraction of what it takes to get what you really want. Aim high. Start small but think big. Dreams are absolutely free, and the only people who’ll try to take them away from you will be those who doubt your ability. Prove them wrong. Don’t delay. It’s a long road, so you’d better start now. It’s been said by much better writers than I that in effect, one needs two of three of the following to succeed: luck, talent, and hard work. Luck and hard work will get you there, but so too will talent and persistence. Never discount the old Edison standby: one part inspiration to nine parts perspiration. It never fails. Those who start from nothing—and honestly, we all do—but never stop pushing often become the strongest and most adept.
You don’t need an expensive education or writing workshops and seminars to get started, though certainly those things can help. Pick a book, any book. Read it cover to cover and then sit down and write something better. You know you’re capable, and so do I. What the hell have they got that you haven’t? Most common answers? Luck, patience, and/or years of experience. It’s easy to feel jealousy when stacked against the ones who’ve already achieved. Believe me, I know. But you’ve got to hand it to those folks. They went after what they really wanted and fate smiled upon them. No mess, no fuss, they achieved, which is exactly what you want to do.
So here’s the thing. I don’t care who you are or where you come from, if you’re looking for the quick cash-in you WILL be disappointed. Like you, I began writing my own stories with the notion it wouldn’t be long until I was earning enough I could quit my job and in earnest, begin my ascent up the bestsellers’ list. I’ve been doing this for a decade now, and I can honestly say the most frustrating part has been in accepting the world hasn’t been waiting to throw critical and commercial laurels at my feet. I’m just a poor schlub like you. And like you, I’ve got places to go, people to see, but no damn money for a cab or in the very least, a cheap cross-town Uber.
But I don’t quit. I can’t. If I ever did, it’d be the biggest mistake of my life. It’s common knowledge, or maybe it’s some kind of hominid genetic heritage, that the longer we chase after something, the harder it is for us to give it up. When we think about a goal all day long, choose to pursue it, become it, to sometimes ignore all other obligations, we are in fact daring fate to send it our way. Sooner or later, it dawns on us the end goal is not nearly so engrossing as the work required to reach it. In other words, may I humbly suggest it makes no difference whatsoever if you become a millionaire bestseller or not. The reason you’ll keep going is passion, love, desire. Even on the days you hate this gig—especially on the days you hate it. There’s no shame in breaking down sometimes and allowing yourself a bit of remorse. Disappointment and rejection sting 100% of the time. Trust me on this.
Only don’t despair too long. If there is one universal truth to our existence it is this: thoughts become things. Consider yourself a failure with a bit too much intent and deliberation, and you may just find yourself failing every time. But if you can see past the downturns, those times you’d like nothing better than to torch your manuscripts and run screaming back to reality, know this: you cannot chart a path to joy in one hour, one night, or one year. Never underestimate the value of a positive mental attitude. If there’s only a single difference between you and every other upstart, let it be your mindset. In my experience, you’ll burn most of your frustrating years right at the outset. As you struggle to learn your craft, yours will seem like the stupidest, least worthy goal in existence. But it’s not. And as the years go by, you’ll start to realize that desire and predestination look the same in hindsight.
Here’s what I want from you until we hook up for another Pep Talk, reader. I want you to write your butt off and take no prisoners. Yes, it’s a long haul, and yes, it will not come easily. But there’s one truth to all of this most people won’t count on. Happiness today engenders happiness tomorrow. Engage with your writing like it’s an old friend, a family member you’ve not seen in years or a new love you’re eager to spend every waking moment with. The passion comes through, and so does the bright spark of your soul. Don’t give an inch and never look back. You keep focused on the road ahead, and when the time comes to pull over and take a pit stop, open your eyes, view the scenery, and then get back in the car and apply pedal to metal. It isn’t the worst thing in the world. You are a writer. Say it again for me. You ARE a writer. Now get back to work, my friends, and show us all what you’ve got.
Interested in Jeff’s writing? Check out his latest short story collection, Godling and Other Paint Stories: https://www.amazon.com/Godling-Other-Paint-Stories-Bowles-ebook/dp/B01LDUJYHU
YouTube’s Jeff Bowles Central: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6uMxedp3VxxUCS4zn3ulgQ