What Did You Write That For?

“Any writer overwhelmingly honest about pleasing himself is almost sure to please others.”

~ MARIANNE MOORE

I have had a long and preponderantly happy life, and a good deal of that happiness has come from my writing, and the response of both friends and strangers to it.  I’m a guy who dropped out of school after 11th grade, joined the military and had a big adventure while learning what they could teach me.  Returning to civilian life, I continued to write, my four years in the navy providing a rich mine of characters, locations, and situations as grist for my mill.  As an author, I am technically, I suppose, self-taught, as I couldn’t afford college or writing retreats.  I did have the wherewithal to discover, seek out, and filter what spoke to my developing style into a concise library from among the thousands of how-to-write-books books that are available, so in that sense, you could say that I’ve been taught by the best, from Evan Marshall to Stephen King.  In spite of all this, when I began to finish books and seek publication, America’s acquisition editors proved to be the one group that I couldn’t crack, and I managed to collect rejection slips from more publishers than most people know exist.

Apparently, reading instructional manuals written by great authors isn’t quite the same as sitting in their classrooms, reacting to their lessons and being able to ask pertinent questions, yet in spite of this, with the exception of those editors, virtually everyone I have been able to get my work in front of professes to like it a great deal.  It began with friends, family, and coworkers, when I would hand them a manuscript and say, “Tell me what you think.”  I found an extended audience in writing.com, when I joined back around 2011.  I began the construction of Beyond the Rails, shared every story there, and scores of strangers loved it.  When I discovered CreateSpace in 2013, I published the first six stories as a book.  Reviewers and critics ate it up, and that was all the encouragement I needed.  I have since stepped away from writing.com, and I’ll concede that that could be a mistake, but I felt like I needed a professional-looking “me-only” web page to represent me to the world, so here I am with four books published and more on the way, and with the kind assistance of WordPress, a most professional-looking page to represent me to the world.

So, given my background, what is the secret of my success?

“Success?” you ask.  “But you never inked that big contract with a publisher.  Where is this success you speak of?”

Well, success has as many different meanings as there are people seeking it, and my success has been vindication, validation of the fact that I really can tell a good story that can hold a reader’s interest from the first hook to the final victory.  I get three or four Emails a day about my work; Stephen King gets three or four thousand, but I’m happy.  Like most writers, I’m essentially a private person, and I’m not sure I’d do well if thousands of people were clamoring for interviews, TV appearances, convention panels and the like.  Monetarily, sure, but there are other measures of success besides money, and to me, having that little intimate group of fans, and a few book sales each month lights my heart with joy.  In essence, I had a long, productive career, I have a better-than-adequate retirement package, and my days are devoted to my loving family; I’m not sure I’d enjoy being yanked out of here to put on a Halloween costume and strut around some hot, crowded convention over a long weekend.  But being appreciated as a writer?  There are few rewards that approach that feeling.

So how did a barely-educated high school dropout reach this point?  I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and I think the answer has to be by writing what I love.  I was a child in the 1950s, and we weren’t well-off.  One of the things I vividly remember was a near-weekly trip downtown to hit the Goodwill and Salvation Army stores.  As a young child, I always picked over the toy bin to see what treasure some anonymous little kid had parted with, but as I got a little older, I developed a love of reading, and if there’s one thing that thrift stores have in burgeoning abundance, it’s books.  Back in the 50s, I was poring over shelves and bins of books written in the 30s and 40s, and even then, I loved action and adventure.  But books in those days, even books aimed at adults, could be read by children, because they weren’t dripping with gore and torture scenes, the women didn’t fall into someone’s bed every time they tripped, the heroes were heroic, and the villains didn’t have to have some redeeming quality.  I began to miss those books as I grew to adulthood and they fell out of favor with whoever decides what books make it to our bookstores, and since no one else was going to write them, I decided I would write them myself.  My surprise was complete when my modest modern audience embraced them like they had never seen them before!

I think there’s a moral here somewhere, something that writers can take away and use, and I think it might be to write what you love.  Not what you know, what you love.  If you write the stories you love, and let that love of your chosen type and genre show through on the page, you will have won 90% of the battle…  At least, that’s my experience.

In Other News…

I have already mentioned the fine work of Bryce Raffle and David Lee Summers in the short life of this site.  Today I have the pleasure of directing you to the place where you can find both of these upright gentlemen together and interacting.  Allow me to present the latest edition of Dead Steam, Bryce’s blog, where he interviews David about his career as an author.  Very much worth getting to know these two, and as an added bonus, you might find a new read or two among his eleven novels, eighty-five short stories, and fifty-five poems.

Well, that’s it for me.  Join me again Friday for a Blimprider Times where I’ll feature a site that I’ve found entertaining, and bring you up to date on what’s been happening around the intergalactic airship of your mind.  See you then!

3 thoughts on “What Did You Write That For?

  1. Not everyone can afford to write what they love, though I don’t understand what they’re doing writing, but that’s another story. You can – and I can.

    What a lot of reading gives you is standards. It takes a while to learn to write to the standards of what you love to read. A lot. The books on writing help (I’m an autodidact, like you). Writing helps. But the thing that helps the most is asking yourself if the words on the page are the shining vision in your head. If not, back to the drawing board.

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  2. Thanks for the shout out! Much appreciated!

    We’re very much on the same page as far as “success” is concerned. Living in celebrity-obsessed America, it seems some people won’t consider you a success unless your face is instantly recognizable and people discuss your inner-most thoughts around the dinner table. I’m perfectly happy putting my fears and dreams on paper and if some people read them and groove on them, that’s awesome.

    Your story reminds me of another dude I once met who taught himself about writing. He did graduate from high school, but he didn’t have money for college, so he spent time in libraries reading books and learning from the best. He hung out on Venice Beach and sold newspapers to get by. He eventually got to know a few writers who gave him a leg up. This guy was Ray Bradbury.

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    1. Good morning, folks, and thanks for taking the time to indulge an old fool. Alicia, there’s a quote I dearly love that I allow to guide my writing at every turn. It’s by Ken Kesey:

      “One of the dumbest things you were ever taught was to write what you know. Because what you know is usually dull. Remember when you first wanted to be a writer? Eight to ten years old, reading about thin-lipped heroes flying over mysterious viny jungles toward untold wonders? That’s what you wanted to write about, what you didn’t know.”

      That’s what I wrote that for! Nobody wants to read a book that’s based around your expertise as a bookkeeper or a house painter. Take them on a ride they’ll never forget, and they’ll be quoting lines from your book after it’s faded into the mists of time.

      David, that doesn’t apply to astronomy, not if you have a storyteller’s soul. The Astronomer’s Crypt is meeting every hope and expectation. I’m accompanying my daughter to her root canal today in case she needs someone to drive her home, and I expect to finish it in the waiting room. Great story about Bradbury. Just the sort of validation that an indie hobbyist needs to hear from time to time!

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