Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Best Feeling in the World

Okay, so the title might be a bit hyperbolic. I'm sure there are better feelings. Like having a baby. (I haven't had one, so i don't know.) Getting married was okay. (Just kidding, that was probably the best day of my life.)

But in terms of dreams, the best feeling in the world is seeing your work go out and knowing something is about to happen, good or bad. I suppose getting a call from a publisher that you'd just sold your novel or a call from your agent that you'd just made the NYT bestseller list would be amazing. But those are things outside your control.

Today I sent the three manuscripts I wrote this year to a professional editor. I did this at the prompting of a friend. Sometimes you have to take a risk, and you always have to be willing to let your work go.

You can't be a dreamer on an island. It doesn't work like that.

Malcom Gladwell has some good things to say about that in his book, Outliers. This notion that people "pick themselves up by their bootstraps" and just do it is a myth. We need help to achieve our goals. We need to be humble when we are offered correction. And no matter how good we think we are, we can always get better.

Sure, those sound like cliches. but I've talked with so many young people, particularly young artists, who believe they have to make it on their own.

You can't.

The greatest myth in the world of art is that people achieve great success on their own.

This plays to the individualism of our culture and the mythology that many artists are prone to absorb. But it just isn't true.

And now, with my work sent out, I will wait until October 19th before I hear back from my editor. She will give me an idea of what works in my books and what doesn't, and where to go from here. Even thinking about it causes my stomach to flutter a bit. I'm certain the weeks will pass slowly.

In the meantime, its on to the next book. Two thousand words a day, regardless of how I feel, as well as a a blog five days a week to see if I can encourage all you fellow dreamers.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe sending your work out isn't the greatest feeling in the world. But man, it's up there. The key is control.

If you control your life, if you put in the effort and then do whatever is necessary to see your dream through, it makes life exciting.

I don't know what my editor will say. And even if she likes my work, there's no guarantee that the books will be published.

But I've put myself out there. First with my beta-readers, and now with an editor.

Don't rely on someone else to give you your dream. Go get it yourself. You won't regret it.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Prayer Circle Anyone?

I worked with someone (Kathy) a couple of years ago who was, without question, one of the most positive people I'd ever met. Ever time i said hello, she would shake my hand, her eyes going wide like she'd just won the lottery.

"Steve! How are you?" Kathy would ask me, her face glowing. "Isn't this a wonderful day?"

She was very nice, and everything she said needed exclamation marks. While I appreciated her love for life, I did find it difficult at times. Every day wasn't a great day for me. Not just because of my mental health issues, but because. like many writers and artists, I find life upsetting. It bothers me how we factory farm animals. It bothers me that we're more interested in Kim Kardashian's belly ring than the treatment of refugees. It bothers me that we don't care about single moms in this country.

And so there were a number of days when I would avoid Kathy. It wasn't a wonderful day, and as an artist, some days were particularly horrible. All I wanted to do was get through the next eight hours and commiserate about the state of humanity with a friend or a bottle of wine or both.

That hasn't changed. And there are days, like this this week, that life feels particularly hard. I'm sure a psychologist may have a better idea why this is so, but since I'm poor and can't afford one, I don't fully understand the rhythm to it. I only know that waking up today was tough. Just like yesterday. Am I still writing? Yes. Did I still write a blog and two thousand words on my new novel last night. Yes. Do I feel like sunshine and meadows? No.


When I reconfigured this website a week ago to write about the thing that mattered most to me, people pursuing their dreams, I resolved to give you, whatever reader happened to stop by, some level of encouragement. Something to take with you tomorrow that would give you strength going forward. I resolved that this wouldn't be another writer's vanity site. It wasn't about me. It was about you, as much as I could manage.

Today, I don't have any happy stories to tell. I still have two thousand words to write, and I'm guessing the only reason I'm here is that I'm married to such an amazing person. Bethany not only understands me, but takes the sting out of my misanthropy, when I feel like humanity is nothing but a failure. When I feel like I'm nothing but a failure.

This has been a difficult year. I was fired from my job as a youth worker in June, three weeks before the school year ended. I was fired by someone I thought was my friend, and it was done in a way that left me a nervous wreck. The entire year had been stressful, so much so that I developed IBS. It became difficult for me to eat, and even now, I generally eat only once a day. After I was fired, I started to get the shakes. I wasn't working, so I took over house duties, and when I did the groceries, I'd pull out the bills before the cashier finished so she wouldn't see my hands shake.

I remember one incident at the grocery store where I'd failed to prepare the bills ahead of time. When I reached into the wallet, I couldn't control my shaking hands, and it took about ten seconds for me to pull out the appropriate bills. The cashier was very nice, but her expression was such that I felt my face flush with embarrassment.

Oddly, my writing has flourished the past six months. Depression and sadness are not a hindrance when it comes to art, though it is a hindrance in other ways.

I seldom go out now. And while things have started to improve, there are weeks, like this one, when it is all I can do to get up.

I don't say this to elicit some sort of "touchy-feely" commiseration, I say it because I know some of you are going through the same thing. And while we all want to be encouraged by people who "have it all together," I'd much rather listen to someone who struggles with the same shit that I do.

Artists like to hide their brushstrokes. Unfortunately, fellow dreamers become discouraged when these heroes, who have done such great things, achieve one success after another without understanding that pain is part of the process.


When I was a teenager, I was part of an active youth group in my church. Once a week we would hold prayer meetings. About twenty of us would gather into a circle and talk about our struggles and then pray together. Sometimes (too often) the meetings would dissolve into gossip. ("I need help with Diana, because she's been flirting with Tom and he doesn't know that God has promised him to me." Or, "I really like Jean, but her family doesn't go to church enough for us to be together, and I saw her hanging out with Jim, who's not a Christian.")

But generally speaking, it was a pretty amazing thing. It was good to share, and even if it went off the rails at times, there was a sense of togetherness, of everyone leaning in together. Leaning on one another.

I thought about posting something else today, because I really didn't want to write about the noise in my life. But if I want this to be a place where we can gather and be open together, we need to feel one another's pain. We need to see that we're not alone. That the dream we chase isn't just meadows and sunshine.

We need to see the brushstrokes.

These are mine.

Yes, I expect things to get better. And no, I understand that as a writer I will probably never think of the world in terms of sunshine and rainbows. There is too much pain for that.

But I remember how I felt in that circle. I remember how privileged I felt when one of my friends shared a private struggle. How connected I felt because I shared that same struggle.

We work towards our dreams, and we want to be encouraged. But we can't forget that part of our journey is to rally around those who are struggling. That we're all human. That we're all going to go through times when everything feels wrong.

My hope today is that this place can be part of your Prayer Circle, whether you're religious or not. I don't have all the answers. No one does. But what I do know is that there is a place for all of us, and that so long as we focus on pursuing that which makes us feel most alive, we have a chance to pull out of any tailspin.

You are loved. You will fail. Together, we can pick each other up again.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Battle of Every Day

Some days you don't feel it. Some days it's all you can do to get up in the morning, let alone push towards some far off dream that may or may not happen, one that numerous people have told you to forget about.

I know this because I'm having one of those days. I threw out my back a couple days ago (sleeping on my stomach). Every position is painful, and if I sit too long, I can barely stand.


So the the thought of editing fifty pages and writing a blog and editing some other work (we're talking about seven or eight hours in a chair) makes my entire body want to groan. Aside from the that, it's also gloomy outside, and my normal energy and excitement to write just isn't there.

But as you can see, I'm writing anyway.

One thing I've learned over the years is that there's no correlation between how we feel and the work we produce. This isn't just true of writing. There can be a myriad of reasons why we feel the way we do on certain days, and it will have no impact on our work. If anything, these are the days that I know I should be writing because I'll be more likely to take a few chances and be more honest. Gloominess hides the censor button.

None of this matters if you don't get to work, though. And pretty soon, we start making excuses on other days. Suddenly what was a dream has become a hobby. And then, before you can blink, the hobby is gone, too, and you find yourself doing what everyone else is doing. Going to work at a job you can't stand and complaining about your boss to your co-workers.

Last year, I worked at a place that caused me nothing but stress, and by the end of the year, that's exactly what I was doing. I was sitting around with my co-workers complaining about my boss.

But I was still pursuing my dream. I still had this crazy idea that I could make it as a full-time writer. That meant coming home from my paying job only to spend hours more writing, doing the job I considered to be my REAL job.

And it made everything about my life different. Society wasn't going to dictate who or what I became. Yeah, I still had to pay the rent, but after that?

My life was my own.

It's not too late to try something new. Go for it! Maybe you wrote stories back in university but gave it up when you had kids. Or maybe you used to sing in a band, but stopped because work was too busy. Whatever it was that caused you to "be normal," (A Myth. I wrote about this last week.) why not let that go and move to something more exciting.

That's not to say every day will be all glory and sun-filled meadows. I love to write, but there are days like today when, quite frankly, I want to tell my keyboard to stuff it. These are also the days that provide the greatest reward, when you see what you've overcome to get the work done.

Remember, whatever you want to achieve in life, its mostly about "the every day." And on the days you don't feel it, when you're tired and sore and are fairly certain that your brain isn't working properly, just show up. Do what you can and see what happens. Dreamers like you and I persist through all seasons, not just the nice days.

Go run in the rain, and then get back to work. You can do it.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Try Something New

It seems like a long time ago, but in August of 2013 I'd just finished yet another draft of Second Blood, my fantasy novel already six years in the making. I'd cut it and trimmed it and re-edited it numerous times. Three times I'd sent it to agents without so much as a sniff. And yet I was certain that this was how it was done. Patrick Rothfuss had taken ten years to write The Name of The Wind. Brandon Sanderson spoke of the ten year period it took him to get Way of Kings, his best-selling epic fantasy series, the way he liked. Hell, Jefferey Eugenides took nine years to write Middlesex, and Pulitzer prize winning authour Donna Tartt says that she only expects to write five books in her lifetime.

I'd absorbed these success stories. Believed that they applied to me without ever thinking about me. About what I was as a writer and a person. I was forty-one years old. I'd sniffed the hem of publishing's robe with a literary agent in my early thirties, but that hadn't gone anywhere. Whatever I was doing wasn't working. After twenty years, my writing career was going nowhere.

I happened, after much searching, upon a website called NaNoWriMo. National Novelist Writing Month. A supportive and interactive website that encouraged writers to take up the challenge of writing fifty thousand words in thirty days. That's right. Fifty thousand.

Having hewed to the concept of years to produce a good book, and being extremely critical of those who didn't, I was mildly appalled by the idea that a writer could produce good work in such a short  time.

However, I hadn't met with any success, so I registered (free) and took the challenge.

If you're not a writer, it is hard to explain how much fifty thousand words in thirty days is. Suffice to say, you're buried in work. Buried in your story. It is hard to think of anything else.

I persevered, and within that month, The Last Angel was born. Everything changed after that. I realized that I worked better, that my stories were more complete, when I wrote them at hyperspeed. I wrote the sequel the next year. And now, two years later, i have three complete novels and two that are already half-done.

Agents have shown interest. My beta-readers love the work. And next month a professional editor will be looking at those first three books.

None of this would have happened if I had stuck with my original idea of just re-writing the same book over and over. I don't lay any special claim to this other than frustration, which led me to attempt something I thought was impossible, but it ended up freeing my gifts to tell the stories and write the books that I was born to write.

The key is this: whatever dream you're pursuing, if it hasn't happened, maybe it's time to change things up.

Keep the dream, but change the methodology.

Tony Robbins, our erstwhile guru of motivation, says that doing the same thing over and over to get a different result is a definition of insanity.

He's annoying, but the message is right.

How can we expect different when the methodology is the same.

Change it up. Approach things differently.

As a rule, we don't like the change because we fear it.

So don't be afraid. Figure out what you need to do to "upset the applecart."

Scatter the apples to the ground. Throw them against the wall. Burn the cart. Whatever you do, don't use the same strategies that led to failure.

You're better and smarter than people think.

Just don't be afraid. If you're afraid, you won't succeed. No matter how good you are.

The Necessity of Humour

Every dreamer,as I've mentioned before, will be met with resistance.

Why? Because we are taught as a society to conform, to do things "the right way." This often means doing things the way everyone else is doing them. Or the way your family has done them. Or the way your colleagues and friends do them.

It's disheartening.There's is nothing more discouraging than telling your dream to a loved one or friend or family member and have them shoot it down.

If you aren't willing to face this kind of criticism and ignore it, you'll never get there. One reason I admire actors in Hollywood so much is that (If you do enough background reading), you see how often they are rejected for roles before they "make it," and how persistent they are in the face of so much negativity. It doesn't excuse the shallowness of some of them, but it helps you understand that you need something of an ego to endure the countless people who tell you that you're just a pretty waiter.

Which is why all dreamers need humour in their life. As a kid growing up in a small town, I was the youngest of three. My family is great, but there was often tension within it. As the youngest (and undoubtedly the most spoiled, as the only boy), I quickly learned that my role was to break that tension. To make people laugh.

And so I did.

I'm over forty now, and I still try to make people laugh. (Which is a really good skill for picking up hot women, like my wife, FYI) The tension is no longer there, but the habit remains. And waht I still appreciate, when it comes to dealing with my daily harangues, whether its depression or rejection or just getting my work done, is the solace of laughter.

We adults, as a rule, take ourselves to seriously. Everything is serious. Every life moment is crucial. Our votes. Our ideas. Our work environments.

We get so wound up in "being adults" we forget that the most joy we had came when we were kids. When we were allowed to play. And playing is dreaming. There is a direct correlation between the two. I take my writing seriously, but if there's no joy in it, it isn't a dream.

I've spoken with a number of successful people who believe the only "real" pressure comes when you work a high corporate position where you make lots of money and work intense overtime. And oh yeah, your salary is $500,000 a year.


I'd suggest that there is far greater pressure when you're not sure how you're going to pay rent and you're writing at 2am to finish a short story that may or may not ever be sold. I'm not suggesting that the high-powered executive isn't facing pressure. They are. (I've had a number of clients like this) But to suggest that such pressure is greater than that of the starving artist is bull. A single year of a salary like that is worth eight years of the life of a starving artist.

This is where the importance of humour enters. I've met numerous artists who are just as sad-faced and delirious as my high powered lawyer clients.(I'm a personal trainer. We see LOTS of rich clients.)

This is unacceptable.

If we lose our sense of humour, we lose our sense of place. This is death to any dreamer. It practically guarantees that we will become a self-important jerk.

And we have enough of those.

My suggestion? Find a way to laugh again.

Don't strain yourself to tell your partner that you're working on "your career." Don't roll your eyes at them when they ask you how it's going and don't quite understand. Of course they don't understand. Explain it to them, even if you've done it before. And most importantly, find things that make you laugh.

Laughter heals us. It makes us better. It helps artists to lose their narcissistic strain, (Yes, it's in you, too, no matter what you think.)

Tonight, I've posted a few videos that I find hilarious. I suggest you find people (John Oliver?) that speak profoundly but make you laugh. Never underestimate the power of a smile.

We need you to dream, but you need to laugh to follow through.

So let's find things to laugh about.


As a trainer, I have to include this one from Regan.

And one more from the great Louis C.K. (Swearing in this one, if that bothers you, but minimal) This is probably my favourite comedy bit of all time. Yeah, it's that good.)

Smiling now? Good!

Now get back to work, and forget about those dream killers and doubters and dummies who can't be bothered!

We need you!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

In Search of Normal

When I was a kid, I assumed that my family was normal. That we were just like everyone else, and that everyone else was just like us.

This is how kids see the world, because its the only thing they've known. So regardless of how odd their childhood situation may be, and mine wasn't that different than most of my friends, things always feel normal.

It isn't until you're an adult that you realize normal doesn't exist, that as a place, it's as mythical as Atlantis. And yet, unless you're one of the few people in the world who have somehow managed to moved from childhood to adulthood to parenthood without any difficulties along the way, (And yes, I know a few people like this. They aren't writers.:) ) part of us is always searching for it.

We think that our life is not what it should be.

We think that our kids aren't as well equipped as they should be, that we failed them as parents.

We wonder how our parents managed to give us this amazing, healthy, NORMAL, life, and our lives feel like we put our pants on backwards. How did this happen?

This is especially true for artists. I can tell you that I never considered this life when I was a teenager. I'm a bit of late bloomer, but when I think back through the years, everything from my divorce to my battle with depression to my career changes, none of that was planned. And yet, every time I wrestled with something new, I longed for those childhood days when everything was simple.

When everything was normal.

Why do think you hear people longing for the "good ole days." They're searching for normal.


What I'm saying is that your life isn't normal, and never will be. And for my fellow writers, this is a very good thing. It allows you to dig into your character's lives without judgement. And nothing turns off a reader more quickly than writers who judge their characters. You can have distasteful characters, but you have to at least understand where they're coming from.

And for the rest of you fellow dreamers, I would suggest you avoid 'normal' at all costs. Like a siren calling from shore, it will pull you off your path. People are going to tell you that your dream is ridiculous. They will. They will push you to be more like them. I suggest you answer them this way.

Be different.

Embrace it.

Don't worry if someone says "you're weird." You don't want to hang out with that person anyway, because they're probably a jerk. (And jealous)

The greatest memories in this life are the ones that come unexpectedly. And the only way that happens is if you're willing to take a few chances.

Be bold.

Stop searching for normal and start living.

Go get 'em, tiger.

The Space Between Lines

Every novelist, every artist, knows this space. It's the one between creating, the necessary break. I wrote three novels this past year, along with half of another one. I promised myself that I would rest. that I would take a week to recuperate, to read, to listen.

Holy crap, it's been a long week.

I've never truly understood writer's block, though best-selling writer Ted Dekker suggest that it's base in fear. I'd agree with that. I think most human hesitation is based in fear, and that it's especially true for artists.

We worry about who we may please. Worse, we worry who we may upset. Perhaps its our language (a constant anxiety for me) or our themes or our understanding that a sex scene, however tasteful, is necessary to the story.

We fret and worry and gnaw our fingernails.

And yet, this is so much better than not working. Not writing. Not dreaming.

All dreamers live in a space between lines. Sometimes those lines are family, with their rigid codes of what is acceptable and what isn't. Sometimes those lines are of our own making, be they personal or professional. And sometimes those lines are of our imagination. We expect certain things from others, and when we can't deliver, we deride our own abilities.

Don't do that.

The most important voice in any society is the ones that writes between the lines.

Do your work.

See the lines.

And forget about them.

We need you. 

The Power of Ridiculous

The whole notion of making it as a writer, or any kind of artist, is ridiculous.

Look at the stats. Unless you know someone or meet a person at a conference,literary agents reject nearly 99% of all queries. (The number is actually higher than that) You may have written a perfectly good manuscript with a great hook after years of working on your craft. You send it out, hoping to draw interest, and... crickets.

The publishing industry is somewhat in chaos now, what with the advent of self-publishing. Some of these books are really good. Michael Sullivan got a deal based on his sales, and Hugh Howey got a seven figure deal that protected his digital rights, which is completely absurd.

More, writers are finding that they can earn a decent living by simply developing their brand, being prolific, and publishing their own work, which allows them a MUCH larger percentage of dollars from their books.

All of this is true, but a writer, an artist, must still be... ridiculous. They must believe in their work when no one else does. they must believe they're getting better even when it feels like they aren't. They must believe they have important things to say even when their family members or friends think such notions are silly or stupid or egotistical.

But the writer isn't wrong. They MUST be ridiculous to be successful. This is true of all dreamers. (Dreamers come in different categories, but the one truth that unites all of us is that at one time many people told us to stop. Told us that we weren't good enough. Told us that our dreams were foolish.) Whatever quirks we may possess (and we tend to have a lot of them. When my wife puts her cell phone down, I immediately move it to its "Spot" on the shelf by the kitchen.), the attitude of "whatever" needs to be dominant.

If you listen to successful actors and actresses, they often sound extremely vain, and their explanations for their success is simplistic. Of course it is. "Making it," in anything, but particularly the arts, requires luck.

Now, we artists don't like to talk about it much, because its out of our control, but it's always there. Hitting the agent at the right moment. Getting the editor who is looking for a book with your themes. Hell, they have stats that show people being prosecuted are as affected by the time they face the judge (just before lunch, late in the day) that matter as nearly as much as the evidence against them.

It is completely ridiculous (and arrogant) to assume that the world needs to hear what you're saying. But if you don't have this attitude, you'll never make it. Those stars I mentioned earlier? Most of them faced rejection over and over. Being RIDICULOUS allowed them to get through their failed auditions and helped them forge ahead.

All dreamers need to understand this. And if you develop a few quirks, a few neuroses, along the way, don't worry about it.

They're necessary.

Now get back to your dream and get to work.The world NEEDS to hear you.

Everything else is nonsense.

Even if you're being ridiculous.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Advice for Struggling Artists (From a Mad Man)

A friend of mine sent me this link last week, an article written by Matthew Wiener, the creator of Mad Men.

"I remember studying Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan" in high school. According to Coleridge, upon waking from a deep, opium-induced reverie, he recalled a vision and immediately wrote the 54 famous lines. But when we started doing the poetic analysis, it became clear that there was no way this poem came out all at once. It has this amazing structure. We learned from letters and notes that had been discovered that it was likely Coleridge had not only worked on "Kubla Khan" for several months, but that he also sent it to friends for feedback.
Excerpted from Getting There: A Book of Mentors, by Gillian Zoe Segal. Published by Abrams Image. © 2015 Gillian Zoe Segal.
Artists frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces. They want their work and their career to be shrouded in the mystery that it all came out at once. It’s called hiding the brushstrokes, and those who do it are doing a disservice to people who admire their work and seek to emulate them. If you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that. People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged, because they can’t do it like they thought it was done. An artwork is a finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes.
Writers were revered in my home and I wanted to be one since I was a kid, but when I went to college, I could not get into a writing class. I went to Wesleyan, a very small liberal arts school. The classes had only 12 to 15 people, and you had to submit writing samples to get in. Mine, apparently, were just not good enough. I was rejected from every writing class. I ended up convincing an English teacher to do a one-on-one independent poetry study with me. When I finished my thesis, I was extremely proud and wanted others to see it. I gave it to a humanities professor and he invited me to his house to read the work out loud. After the first poem, he told me to get out a pen and take notes. He began, "The infantile use of . . . The puerile . . . The childish use of . . . The cliché awkwardness . . . " It was one humiliating cruelty after the next. And I had to write these insults down myself. I literally went through hours of this, poem after poem. He finally leaned over to me and said, "I think you know that you are not a poet." I said, "I was not aware of that."
While being battered always hurts, an important survival mechanism I’ve acquired over the years is to both thrive on rejection and hold on to compliments. Rejection enrages me, but that "I’ll show you!" feeling is an extremely powerful motivator. I’m at a point now where I’m afraid that if I lose it I’ll stop working. On the flip side, there’s nothing like a meaningful compliment from someone you respect. In my youth I was a miserable student and rarely did my homework. My fourth grade teacher once pulled me aside and let me have it. She said, "Talking to you is like talking down the drain; you don’t hear anything. You think you are going to make it through the rest of your life because you are charming. You think you don’t have to do all the work—but you do." I remember looking up at her after this tirade and saying, "You think I’m charming?""


He goes on to talk about the process of making sure you work every day, even if its just a page or two. Artists can be cruel to themselves. We beat ourselves up, demanding perfection, when what's really needed is perseverance.

The writing life is a life of patience. A marathon. This is true of any dream. Some days I wake up and I know its not there. Every sentence feels like an unfolding lawn chair. I can't focus.

I write anyway.

Other days, it's more of an emotional issue, when my mental health issues (Depression. I know, I'm a cliche.) become particularly troublesome.

I write anyway.

The key is that you allow yourself to produce crap. That is, even if your work is terrible, it doesn't matter, because every time you do it you're getting better. More, it's the discipline that matters the most, because once it becomes habit, that vague, mystical notion of a dream suddenly becomes concrete. Whether it's writing or playing an instrument or learning how to build things, the habit is what matters.
If you develop good habits, you can't help but get better. And when your dream moves from being something vague, like clouds on a distant horizon, to the ground beneath your feet, your life changes. 
And if you're anything like me, it will feel like you're breathing for the first time.


Yesterday, someone told you that pursing your dream was dumb. That you'd never make it. That you should try to make a more stable life.

That person is full of crap. Get a job. Support yourself. And spend the dark hours doing what you've been called to do.

(More Rudy to push us!)


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

More Coming Soon

Today is the official re-launch of this web-site. As much as I loved the idea of the old site (Trials of a Kind Life), it was still too broad a theme. And for as much as I'm grateful for the people who took time to visit, I wasn't sure that I was giving enough back.

It was fine for me to write posts that offered observations, which occasionally involved wit or humour or, on my REALLY good days, a bit of wisdom.

But it's time to narrow that focus.


One thing I've always wanted to become is a person of encouragement. I learned to hate the doubters when I was young, and now as I enter my, err, physical prime, I still want to be that person. I've been writing for a long time, and so what I want to offer you is a place to come where YOU can be encouraged.

This site is a place of dreamers.

Of starving artists.

Of wanderers.

Of heroes.

Whoever you are and whatever you're pursuing, I'm going to try to help you. Stop by to be encouraged, then get to work, whatever that work is.

Whatever that dream is.

Everything on this site will be geared towards you, whether its a personal story of struggle that I think you'll relate to or a few simple verses that may give your day a boost or link up a few sites that you might useful.

This world is a pretty gloomy place without dreams. And yes, most people (including me) are full of crap.

So what?

It's not about them. It's about you.

Let's get started, shall we?

A Confrontation

"You pushed me! I'm sure they have cameras." The speaker was a thick woman with a heavy Pakistani accent.

"I didn't touch you!"

The woman pointed her finger at a young man wearing a bright orange vest. "Yes, you did! They have cameras!"

I was standing at the service counter at Loblaws, waiting to pay for a small box of wedge fries. The two were arguing five feet from where I was standing.

A manager walked over, a big man with a thick mane of curly hair and a speckled gotee. He listened to both sides before leading them away. I don't know what happened, (though I did see the young man back at work organizing the carts later in the afternoon) but  that wasn't what I found interesting

What interested me was how a visible minority clearly not born in Canada, was able to speak her mind to a young white man who'd been born here.

Now to most Canadians, particularly those of us in the bigger cities, this is not a big deal. This is what we expect to happen. And if the young man did push her or swear at her, she not only deserves to be heard, but the young man obviously deserves to punished. Again, this seems obvious. But think about all issues we've had with systemic racism within certain enforcement agencies. And this isn't just about our friends to the south. We've had issues here in Toronto as well.

Racism (like bigotry and misogyny) will never go away, though we do what we can to at least minimize its effects. And so often we see those negative examples on the news or pop up on our social media platform.

This is fine, because the only way we can correct things is to understand what's going on in the first place. Still though, it's nice to examples of when we get it right. Today, it wasn't about being white, being male, or being born here. And it was nice to see.

The Cost of Dreams

If you want to see a 210 pound weightlifter with a shaved head cry, just put on the movie Rudy. It is one of my all-time favourites, of course, and every time they get to the scene where he is finally accepted into Notre Dame, it's Niagara Falls, man.

I can't help it.

It isn't so much about dreams but the work that goes into them. And more than most inspirational movies, Rudy outlines the cost involved with pursuing your passion. I've been writing for more than twenty years, and am just now starting to crack that glass window. In October, a professional editor will be looking at the three books this past year to see what I need to do to go further. In the meantime, I've had nothing but positive feedback from all my beta-readers, some of whom I've never met.

This is all encouraging, and I've had a few people suddenly tell me that they now want to be writers. My first answer is 'no, you don't!' but I offer my help anyway. Not because they aren't talented or capable, but because it's difficult to explain the sacrifice involved getting from point A (writing) to point B (a well written book). In years past, I would have said getting published by one of the Big Six. Like Random House or Penguin. But the publishing industry has changed. Last year more than 700,000 books were published, and only 27% of them were published in a traditional manner.

So what does this mean? Well, it means that a lot of people have access to Amazon. Anyone can upload their work and sell it. Unfortunately, it doesn't say anything about quality. I'm not against self-published books -- I may take that road this coming year. However, to produce quality means effort. And sacrifice. And many nights alone with no reward in sight.

One of my biggest struggles with the newest crop of "I can do that" artists is that they assume that the work is easy. That they can give an hour or two a week and expect to be good. Frankly, anyone who gives an hour or two to a dream is not a dreamer, they're a hobbyist.

Which is fine. Nothing wrong with plugging a few words here and there or trying to write a story. In fact, it's an extremely helpful exercise. If we had a few more people trying to write stories and see things from the perspective of those unlike themselves, we'd probably have a better world.

What I struggle with is the presumption that anyone can do it. That it doesn't require hard work. It does. And if you want to be an artist, it will cost you your life, regardless how you choose to publish.

Writers write because they must, not because it's a "thing" like skinny jeans or vaping or a long beard. In Rudy, his whole life is about making the ND football team, and he's willing to do anything to get there. In other words, he works his ass off.

And when he finally makes it, there's payoff for the viewer, because we've seen the effort.

Do you want to be a writer? A painter? A singer? Great. Are you willing to put the time in? Are you willing to tell your friends to go away, to skip the big event to work on your latest project? I've been called a "wimpy leftie" for a long time. Some people in our society perceive work on a laptop to be less than work on a construction yard. Work in our mind as less than the kind that physically exhausts us. And when we're not being paid like lawyers charging $800 dollars an hour, it is sometimes not perceives as work at all.

What I can tell you is that if you want it, it's there for you. Whether it's writing or some other dream, so long as you're willing to put your hard hat on, you can do it. Just be prepared to get dirty. If you can do that, you can do anything.