January 4, 2011

New Year’s Resolutions

By the time you read this, it might already be 2011. Think carefully on my words, o wise people from the future…

No, wait. It’s definitely 2011. Sorry about that.
And where the hell is my flying car? It’s the future, fer cripes sake…
As is my habit at the start of the year, I’d like to talk for a bit about one of the outer-issues, so to speak, of writing. Normally I try to stick to tips on the writing process itself, but I think it’s good once a year to bring up gurus or networking or one of those elements that has nothing to do with writing, but people are convinced is essential to it.
So, that being said… let’s talk about your New Year’s resolution.
This little rant is really aimed at two groups of people. I’ve mentioned them obliquely here once or thrice. So let me ramble on about them a bit more directly. Or better yet, let me tell you a few stories…
Story the first.
A friend of mine recently lost her job. These days, that’s call for a panic attack, granted, but she kind of lucked out. She actually got a sizable severance package she wasn’t expecting. About three months pay, when all things got added up.
Now, said friend has talked about writing a book for ages, so when I heard this my very first thought was “a blessing in disguise.” Three months pay can be stretched out to four or five months if you live tight, which means at least three months she could devote just to writing. How many people reading this little rant would love such a thing? Three solid months where all you had to do was write your current project?
I said so and my friend agreed, it could be great. But she couldn’t talk for long– she was heading over to a dealership. Y’see, with all this money, she could finally get a new car. Nothing wrong with her old car, mind you. I mean, it wasn’t new. It didn’t have an iPod dock or OnStar or anything. But it was a safe, functioning, fuel-efficient vehicle.
So, new car. Payments. Higher insurance. OnStar fees. Turns out she needed to focus on looking for a new job right away. Yeah, you may argue this is just poor money management. More to the point, though, it really hammered home where writing really sat on her priority list.
How many people do you know like this? They go out to clubs, they see movies, and they go to parties. They spend money on clothes and food and games. These folks insist they want to write, but it seems to be the one thing they never do. Will they give up anything just so they can have a little more writing time? High speed internet? Cable television? Name brand groceries? Dropping any one of these things would mean less expenses, which would mean less time at the day job (or watching YouTube clips) and more time writing.
So if you really want to be a writer, why would you keep doing stuff like that?
That’s the first group. As for the second…
There’s a mentality bubbling that I call special snowflake syndrome. I don’t think it’s anything new, by a long shot. I do think it’s grown in strength because the internet lets these folks get together and talk. If I believe something, and I bump into a stranger or two online who believe the same thing, then it must be true, right?
These folks believe that writing is easy. It’s an art that flows from fingertips easier than water from the tap. It’s a gift to be shared with the world. They’re also loose with labels and definitions. I’ve seen these folks claim you can call yourself a writer if you post on message boards. Or that you’re a successful writer if one person says they like what you wrote.
More to the point, because writing is so “easy,” these people believe they’re all entitled to success, regardless of their skill or effort. They will succeed. Because they’re all special! They expect it the same way most of us expect the sun to rise in the morning and politicians to mudsling during debates. We’d be stunned beyond words if these things didn’t happen. In the same way, the snowflakes just can’t grasp the idea that success may not be in their future. I mean, he succeeded and she succeeded and they succeeded– don’t I deserve to succeed now? My turn must be coming up soon, right?
Y’see, Timmy, the awful truth is that writing is hard work and most of you won’t succeed. No, not even if you know five other people who have. More to the point, you’re definitely not going to succeed if you don’t take writing seriously and put some real effort into it.
Now, if you just want to dabble in writing, that’s fine. We all have a lot of skills and talents we keep on the casual level and never develop. I can do an oil change and rotate my tires. Even once replaced a broken passenger-side window all on my own. But I’m no mechanic. I also dabble in cooking with a fair degree of success, but I’d never dream of calling myself a chef. And I’d never claim I was an artist, even though I sketch and doodle all the time.
Story the second.
In the opening scenes of Scott Frank’s phenomenal script Dead Again, detective Mike Church (who would go on to direct Thor) goes to visit a disgraced psychologist now working in a grocery store (who would, sadly, go on to do not as much). As their talk moves on, the psychologist notices Mike looking again and again at a pack of cigarettes and makes the following observation.
“Someone is either a smoker or a nonsmoker. There’s no in-between. The trick is to find out which one you are and be that.”
“Well, I’m trying to quit.”
“People who say that are pussies who cannot commit. Find out which one you are. Be that. That’s it.”
So here’s my New Year’s resolution suggestion for you. It’s going to sound a bit harsh, but if you’ve been coming here for any amount of time, it’s not for the milk and cookies, is it?
Yep, there’s been milk and cookies this whole time and no one told you.
The point is, do you really want to do this?
I know that may sound like a silly question, but do you? Really?
Are you willing to give up anything for this? Tiger Woods pretty much gave up his childhood to become the greatest golfer in the world by age twenty. Leonardo barely ever left his workshop. Galileo went to prison rather than stopping his work. Do you have that kind of dedication? Do you even want to have that kind of dedication?
Are you calling yourself a writer because you want to write, or because you want to be on bestseller lists or get invited to cool Hollywood parties? Do you want to put words on paper, or are you just looking forward to the results of doing it?
I don’t have cable television. Or high speed internet. My car is fifteen years old (but gets phenomenal gas mileage). I don’t own an iPod, a BluRay player, or any type of gaming system past this laptop.
What I do have is the freedom to write full time. Which I put to very good use, as all the Amazon links on the side can attest to. And I have it because I don’t have all those other things.
All I ask you to do as your belated resolution is to figure out if this is really what you want to be doing for a living. If you can be honest with yourself about this, you will be much, much happier in 2011.
Find out which one you are. Be that.
Next time (if I haven’t driven you away), I’ll be ranting again about writing. Just sitting down and writing.
Until then… you’ve got something to think about, yes?
And maybe some writing to do.

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