Sunday, July 15, 2012
Don't Be A Serial Sucker
It’s tragic how quickly hope can turn into fog of despair, how soon the buoyancy of excitement and expectation deflates and leaves you groveling in the filth and muck. Up high, above the clouds and mountain peaks, even the deepest valleys are but crude scratchings in a sandbox. Up high, through the crystal-clear lens of good dreams, we can see beyond the horizon of forever.
But we cannot stay high forever, literally or figuratively. That’s an ice-clawed, heartless truth of life. Our shiny, wonderful, hope-balloon, plumped full to bursting with optimism and joy, eventually gets a teeny tiny pinprick in it. Maybe we put that miniscule hole there by considering doubts, those that sneak into our subconscious in the still black of 3:00 am, usually after we start awake at the sound of a red-eyed and slobbery thing dragging its ragged talons against the windows of our minds.
We begin to descend earthward, back to the dreary and fragmented nightmare realm of reality. We don’t want to come down, so we puff desperate breaths into our hope-balloon. Instead of rising, the damned thing springs more leaks and we fall faster, down through the clouds and below the mountain peaks. Those once insignificant valleys loom, gaping wider and wider, becoming bottomless gullets that vomit stench and despair.
At last we touch down in a swamp littered with thousands, maybe millions, of others just like us. Up above us, we see the dreams of others, a billion multicolored balloons soaring high and out of reach. For ourselves, we find that our glorious prospects are on life-support, our balloons flaccid, impotent.
Now what? Well, this is where things get tricky.
A reasonable person heads to the Happy Hospital, and there finds an army of empathetic nurses and doctors. They listen and nod, they tell us to lie back and relax. Next we know, our veins are full of needles and tubes that pump us full of poison. Before we realize we have been tricked, our hopes and dreams collapse in on themselves, become swirling black holes that feed off other people’s dreams. The sky, once a rainbow sprinkled blue, becomes an opaque orange-brown smog….
At this point, you may well be wondering what I’m talking about? The short answer is life. Uncertainty, misgivings, outright disbelief, these we must all overcome. Rather, we must cage and starve them, for these hindrances will never relent. They might change faces and skins, but they keep coming, keep tripping us, keep trying to jab stakes into our hearts. Because I am a writer, I will focus on that now, but the lessons apply to general life, as well.
So, who are these enigmatic figures in white, those who wander the corridors of the Happy Hospital and come bearing poison-filled syringes? There are two breeds of wolf that wear the same clothing.
The first claim to know all the Secrets. “Without me and my tips and tricks,” they say with an oily smirk, “you’ll never, ever, ever make it.” They sucker you in, take your money and time, razzle-dazzle you, and then cast you adrift. When you follow their secrets and fail … well, you must have missed a step somewhere, or cut corners.
Blinded by the shiny girth of your hope-balloon, you nod sheepishly, and unwittingly direct other suckers to the same wolf that tore out your heart, even as you move on to find another wolf that will gobble your kidneys, or maybe your throat. Or, maybe, you go back to Wolf One, and signup for the Super Premium Secret Knowledge Package….
The second group are those who know all the tried and true rules and formulas. After getting ravaged by the Secret Knowledge wolves, facts and figures and processes look boring but safe. “Do steps A through D,” they intone with somber expressions, “and, if you have the writing chops, you will have success.”
Makes sense, right? But most people hear only, “Do steps A through D … you will have success.” Nothing about having the skills. And like their brethren, when you fail after using their formula, it’s your fault. So you plug away, find someone else peddling a different formula, all the while huffing and puffing on your hope-balloon.
At the end of the day, there are all kinds of wolves and demons you have to overcome if you want to succeed at anything. Someone always has the answers, and the hapless masses always believe them. Even after they have been suckered a dozen times, they will believe the next blowhard. Don’t be a serial sucker. I have been, usually motivated by the idea of quick success, or the easy road.
Okay, so here is my advice, formulas, and secret knowledge, in terms of succeeding at writing :)
1) Read until your eyes bleed. Read for pleasure, across many genres. Analyze why you find a particular book pleasurable. Analyze why you did not find a particular book pleasurable. Now apply what you learned to your own writing.
2) Write until your brain gets mushy and your fingers cramp. This, I am certain, is as important or more so, than reading. You can read the top ten bestselling fitness books of all-time, but if you just keep reading instead of dragging your butt off the sofa and hitting the gym, you will continue to look like a sculpture made from marshmallow fluff.
3) Put your work out there, wherever you can, and let everyone know about it. This is really a numbers game. There are over 7 billion people on the planet, and the chances are extremely high that if you can write anything that even resembles a story and are proud of it, some other reader will not only like it, they will happily pay for it. Don’t believe me? Well think of that book you read that everyone else is raving about. You think it’s trite, childish, or just plain sucks, yet that author is making a mint. Tastes are highly subjective. Look at that as a blessing, rather than a curse.
**** Bonus tip for life and writing: Work hard, trust yourself, have fun, and keep the faith. Tell all the Debbie downers and wizards of smart to go bite a big one :)