Saturday, January 23, 2016

A lesson from the one-handed man

I've decided to focus these posts on writing. I'm doing so for mercenary reasons, mainly that I want to draw more views to this blog and in particular to my postings. I've resisted discussing writing before for several reasons. One, a lot of writing advice is what's been lapped up somewhere else and simply regurgitated. Two, giving advice is easy. I felt that no matter what I offered, readers would ask, "Okay, Mr. Smarty-pants, why aren't you sitting on top of a big pile of writer money?" Yes, indeed. Well, I'm still at it and I ain't done yet. Plus, I didn't want to sound like a pompous gasbag. God knows we have plenty of them already. And I didn't want to be regarded as a Yoda-like hermit living in a swamp, dispensing crapisms like, "Do or do not. There is no try." "Write not mind but heart."

But writing can be a trek through a bitter desert, and it's good to return to the well and refresh ourselves. We can feel lost, and sound advice and positive examples help us stay on track. As firm as the journey might be in our mind, the path is never smooth. Life happens. We adjust to shifting priorities. Things don't work out like we planned. As writers, we face rejection, in fact we seek it. We pretend to show a stoic face, but the "NO" always burns. Disappointment lies in wait. We garner great reviews but sales remain lackluster. When we do manage decent sales, we learn they're not good enough and it's sayonara from the publisher. Or the publisher folds. Our agent quits, or we quit them. Tires go flat. Our dog dies. On and on.

I pay my bills as a freelance writer and one of my projects is ghostwriting a line of inspirational books, sort of like the Chicken Soup for the Soul series but--considering I am at heart a mystery writer--with an emphasis on hard-boiled drama. One of the stories was about Jim Abbott, the  baseball pitcher who--despite being born without a right hand--made it to the major leagues. At one point his career was floundering and he received a harsh rebuke from a sports critic. Abbott obsessed with what the critic wrote, and he sought him out. When confronting the critic Abbott said that his performance was pretty good considering he only had one hand. The critic replied, "That's no excuse. You have to rise above your circumstances. You're more than a one-handed ball player, you're a professional. We expect more." Abbott reflected upon those hard words and realized the critic was right. To prevail you must rise above your circumstances. Abbott decided there was much about his circumstances he had to accept, but the two most important factors that determined his success were absolutely in his control: Attitude, and level of effort.

What about us writers? What's your attitude? What's your level of effort?

No time to write? Take a look at your schedule and carve out the time. Rise early if you have to or forgo some social life to spend time on the keyboard. Or find writer friends and writer time then becomes social time.

Lacking motivation? Then ask yourself tough questions about why you're writing and why it's important to you. From there, set goals and hold yourself to them.

The green-eyed monster got you? Jealousy is not worth your energy. I've met successful writers with so many flaws that I pitied instead of envied them.

There you have it, this month's advice: Rise above your circumstances. You alone control your attitude and level of effort.

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