ON PRIDE

Have you ever had a friend tell you they are proud of you, or tell you that you should be proud of yourself or your accomplishments?  On the few occasions it’s occurred with me it always throws me off.  It seems like something a parent should say to a child, or something you should say to someone that you feel may have low self-esteem.  Tell them you’re proud of them―make them feel good.

This happened to me recently and I really had to think about what they were saying because my first response was something like this.  “What the hell do you mean you’re proud of me?  You think I need a compliment or something?”

Sometimes I have to point my finger at myself and realize it’s me that has the problem.  Why should I be the only one that’s proud of my accomplishments?  It may go much deeper.  I think being proud, or having pride is an odd concept that gets intermingled with self-esteem.  Often those who appear the proudest of themselves are using it as a cover for their own low self-esteem.

So how does one find healthy pride?  Not being an expert on this I have concluded that healthy pride has more to do with self-honesty than anything else.  Few of us are capable of carrying out a self-assessment in an honest manner.  Not because we don’t want to, but because we can only use the tools we have and those include all the self-protective mechanisms we’ve spent years working on.

Perhaps, pride is a humble acceptance of those talents that others have identified in us, and that we personally know come from our true selves and not some manufactured identity or mask we create so that others will believe something about us that is not true.

Unfortunately, that narrows the field of those with true pride.  We live in a world of people who strive to emulate identities they have found on the internet, or in movies, or perhaps their favorite rock band―A world where many people define their own happiness on whether a team of professional athletes on a sports team wins or loses―a world where few have identified who they personally are, but strive to be something they are not.  Are these people being honest with themselves—about who they are?  Or are they hiding their true selves by pretending to be something they are not?

I realize this is an uncomfortable thought but the reason I’m bringing it up is because I believe in order to create literature, art, or music, beyond simply crafting it, 100% self-honesty is required.  True art will be the result of self-honesty, and pride will be a non-evasive by-product of knowing that one has produced that art, regardless of whether anyone recognizes it or not.  The ultimate compliment comes when someone is proud of being associated with what your self-honesty has produced.  You too will know when that compliment is an honest one, or simply someone blowing smoke because they feel they have something to gain from you.

I suggest looking deep into your upbringing, all the good, the bad, the dysfunction, the pain, and the happiness and find that true self.  I know this is not easy for me, but it is something I’ve committed to strive for.  Forget about someone else’s successes, failures, and experiences and find your own. Then you will produce your best work and be proud of it.  So will those around you.

Confession of a writer

Last year I began attending a writers’ group.  We read what we write and criticize each other.  It’s a healthy experience, but it seems people don’t like to beat up on their peers.  They’re too nice.   I love it when someone beats my writing up.  Not because I’m a masochist, but because that’s the only way I really learn.  Kick my butt, I say, and they say my writing’s pretty good.  No, I say, lay it on me.  But they don’t.  That’s not my confession though.

Here it is:  I attend a writers’ group because when I criticize someone’s writing, it causes me to look much deeper into my own.   There’s nothing more humbling then telling someone they shouldn’t use too many adverbs, or whatever, (in front of a group) then realizing that I’ve made the same errors and my writing is up next.  

As corny as it sounds, the real benefit, for me at least, of attending the writer’s group is that it makes me a better self-editor.  It took me a few years of writing before I started this because I tend to be a loner and prefer to live in a cocoon and write in a corner somewhere.  Not to mention, there’s always someone cocky in these groups who believes he or she is God’s gift to the literary world just waiting to be discovered.

I’m wondering if anyone else out there attends writing groups and whether or not they find any benefit.  If so, let me know.

The Novel and the thirty second ad

I recently read that a one hour program in the United States contains typically 15-16 minutes of advertisements per hour.  We’ve accepted that 25% of our hour with our favorite show will be advertisements, but the interesting part is how the ads are changing and what it might be doing to our psyche.   The trend seems to be towards 15 second ads, based of course on the notion that Americans’ attention span is shrinking.  Right now nearly half the ads are thirty seconds and the other half are fifteen seconds.  If we watch a program with sixteen minutes of advertising we can see sixty-four thirty second ads, or 128 fifteen second ads in an hour.  Of course, we see a repeat of the same fifteen second ad over and over so by the time we go to bed we’re seeing images of some Insurance guy as our best friend.

The point you ask?  A fifteen second ad must be very focused and waste no time, just like writing a story in today’s market.  The upshot is this.  The average adult in the US watches 5 hours of television a day.  Hmmm… That’s 640  fifteen second ads/day or 4480 ads/week, or 232930 ads/year.  What?  A quarter million?  Ok, in reality some half of those ads are thirty second ads so you can cut that in half.  That’s only 115,000 ads a year, or so.  I neglected to ad in the YouTube ads we run into, or the pop-ups, or the focused Facebook ads.

There’s good news though.  Children 2-11 years old only watch about twenty-four hours of TV a week so they’re only getting about two thirds as many ads.  Whew, under 80,000 ads a year. 

So what does this have to do with writing a Novel?  It’s not news that structuring a novel has changed since Moby Dick.  We want an audience, but we have to pull them away from the Internet, or the TV.  We have to write short scenes, tight scenes, and gripping scenes.  Considering that a thirty minute program has to tell a complete story in about twenty minutes of thirty second scenes, the challenge is evident.

Now, here’s my kicker.  A prediction based on what I see on YouTube who appears to be the king of forcing thirty second ads and five second choices.  I predict that as Amazon keeps growing the market for electronically formatted books, the time will come when after ten pages, an ad will pop-up before one can continue reading.  Hey, nobody’s watching TV anymore, everybody’s online and the advertisers need to reach us somehow so we can know what we want.

My conclusion:  Keep trimming those scenes, keep them short, keep the suspense high and always drop in a teaser for the next scene.  You can buck the system but you can’t fight the evolution of the machine.

The Maladjusted Writer

I never ever thought of myself as a rebel, but others have called me that.  I was also told that I wasn’t well adjusted by a Corporate Human Relations manager.  I remember telling him that the problem wasn’t me; it was that my boss was an idiot, and I couldn’t allow myself to follow stupid rules.  This seemed to come as a surprise to the HR department.  I guess they figured anyone who graduated Magna Cum Laude in Engineering would be sufficiently institutionalized to carry out the corporate duty of generating revenues for the company so the CEO could get his thirty million a year or whatever.

Bottom line,  F— that.  Does that mean I’m a rebel?  You decide.  I kept quitting jobs with my middle finger in the air until one day I realized they were right; I wasn’t well adjusted, at least to a world of idiotic rules.

At some point, I quit changing jobs, and changed careers.  I decided the only way to have independence is to be independent.  I opened my own business, followed my own path, and held true to my own convictions of right and wrong.  I grew my business, and sold it for enough money that I don’t have to work again unless I want to.

What’s this have to do with writing?  I will tell you.  I don’t write according to commercial guidelines because I don’t write with the goal of earning money.  I write for the same reason I read.  I love reading great stories.  I want to write a great story.  That may never happen, but one thing I’m sure of:  It will damn sure never happen if I follow commercial guidelines.  The great books I’ve read were not written as commercial projects.  Few were successful at the time of their writing, and they were written by someone who didn’t really care if they were a commercial success.  They were written by some lonely writer living in his own little world sharing his unique interpretation of the world.  Often it was an interpretation that nobody else had come across, and sometimes one that the world wasn’t yet ready to accept as truth.

My conclusion:  Trying to write to a commercial script is for someone whose goal of publication and commercial success outweighs his or her desire to write a great story.  Thus, before I really started writing, I spent a good portion of my life attaining a position where I could write whatever the hell I wanted and not give one rip shit what anyone thinks about it. 

Of course that’s easy to do in a blog, but in a novel?  Yes, I think that’s how a novel should be written and that’s how I wrote mine.  It’s not published as of yet, but the few who’ve read it believe it will be.  I’m currently writing a sequel.  I write to make people think, to challenge their belief systems and morals to the point of discomfort.  Discomfort works well in fantasy because it’s easy to return to the real world.  When discomfort pushes its way into the reality we live in, it’s not as palatable. 

That’s the type of story I enjoy reading and writing.  I don’t think it means I’m a rebel any more than the fact that following bullshit rules in some corporation seems like a waste of my time and energy.  ­­­­­­I hope you’ll do the same when you write your novel or short story, or whatever.  Write it without caring about commercial formulas, current market conditions, or success.  Dig deep, find your interpretation of the world, and write the story you have to tell from your heart.  By the way, I don’t suggest quitting your job or flipping anybody off.  Being rebellious doesn’t really lead anywhere; being maladjusted might.

About Those Mountains

About life and literature―Promise

The pictures on my blog and Instagram are photos I took while climbing mountains.  Climbing a mountain is a bit like writing a novel, possibly more so than running a marathon.  It really is a one step at a time adventure.  Occasionally, one has difficulty finding a route up the mountain and has to take some steps back and redirect.  Mostly though, it’s the mental game of placing one foot in front of the other when one is fatigued, and mentally worn out from the steep and sometimes rough terrain.

A few years ago I went to South America with the singular goal to climb the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere, Mt. Aconcagua.  After climbing local mountains such as Mt Rainier, Mt. Baker, Mt Hood, and the other volcanoes of the cascades I wanted to try high altitude climbing.

It turned out to be the best training I could have asked for in preparation for writing the novel that I have since completed.  Incidentally, my novel is a crime novel not a mountain climbing novel.

In order to climb high altitudes, one must first train, then acclimatize.  This is carried out by spending months of weekend climbing, and running.  Then, once on the high mountain, by climbing a few thousand feet higher daily, returning to a lower altitude for a night, then climbing higher and staying higher, gradually moving up the mountain.  This allows acclimatization so that one will not develop Cerebral Edema and die and requires various amounts of time on the mountain depending on the altitude.

Still, when summit day arrived and we climbed from 19,200 ft to 22,840 ft the altitude played havoc on my mindset, and psyche.  There were times when I felt like quitting but—in the end―it was one foot in front of the other, at a snail’s pace all the way to the summit, and highest point in the Western Hemisphere.

I think mountain climbing sums up the journey of completing a novel through to publication.  There are often route finding difficulties, and always a new challenge of acclimatizing to what one didn’t know before one started the journey.  After the fervor and toil of writing many drafts, and having editors and readers making suggestions, and writing many more drafts there is a moment of perceived completion.  This is the false summit.  It seems this is when the real high altitude acclimatization begins because one realizes that the mountain has not been climbed.  The summit (publication) does not come so easily and there suddenly appear new challenges that were never identified prior to setting out on the journey.   When I climb a mountain, or now as I have completed writing my novel, I don’t look to see how far it is to the summit, I just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

A Work in Progress

Last month I submitted my first short story for publication.  I decided to submit short stories after having several agents tell me that my novel was well written, and engaging, but would probably not find a publisher since I was a no-name.  After that my strategy became to publish some short stories before submitting my novel again.

I’m excited to announce that my short story was accepted for publication in an online literary journal, “gravelmag.com”.  Gravel is published by the MFA program at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.  My story will appear in the October issue. I’ll probably put out a link and share it once it’s published.  It was a personal story, nonfiction.

Here’s what I noticed about this piece after it was accepted.  I found several sentences that I was (even more) unsatisfied with my punctuation.  The one word that I never felt was quite right in the story now seems like it doesn’t belong at all and glares at me as if it’s in bold print.

I have since submitted a short fiction story and found myself editing between every submission such that everyone receives a different version.  I used to write software, and it was never finished and that’s how my stories feel.  Anyone who uses the WINDOWs operating system knows that it gets updates every week or so, and then eventually they just build a whole new version of the same story.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could build auto updates into our published stories?

I believe a story is like that.  It seems that if we sit on a story for a while we update it with new thoughts. I often wonder if it’s due to evolving thoughts as the world and our perspective change, or just from letting the story simmer.  I’m afraid if I ever do get my novel published I’ll want to change the story before it hits the press.  I guess that wouldn’t be such a bad problem.