Writer, Everything’s on Loan

Stephen King gave a commencement speech at the University of Maine in 2005. I’m still haunted by what he said and the application to life and writing:

“And here’s a secret I learned six summers ago, lying in a ditch beside the road, covered in my own blood and thinking I was going to die: you go out broke. Everything’s on loan, anyway. You’re not an owner, you’re only a steward. So pass some of it on. You may not have much now, but you’re going to have a lot. And when you do, remember the ones that don’t have anything. A dime out of every dollar.”

You go out broke. Everything’s on loan. You’re not an owner, you’re only a steward.

I came to grips with these realities in 2009. During a routine five month ultrasound they told my wife and me our second daughter would die. Samantha would die in the womb or shortly thereafter.

She lived four days (see below).

The Prolific Writer Submission Requirements and Terms of Service

What Are We Looking For?

The Prolific Writer is all about writing fast, often, and well. Our community is dedicated to helping writers create work at prolific speeds. Prolific-ness can be defined by a variety of metrics. But at the heart of the prolific writer is a desire to produce consistent and quality writing for readers to enjoy. Words that impact others and make the world a better place.

We’re constantly in search of articles that focus on writing, productivity, publishing, and anything that inspires/helps writers get unstuck, and get more words on the page.

>Every article must fit our mission: Helping motivated writers get unstuck.

>Submissions must be nonfiction. Unless you’re participating in the 52 Short Story Challenge.

>We prefer unpublished stories. Not a deal breaker, but if you submit unpublished stories we can ensure they’re of the highest quality, and edited properly.

House Rules

By submitting stories to The Prolific Writer, you agree to play by the House Rules. Don’t be a jerk, play nice, and we’ll keep you around. If you continue to break the rules, we’ll send you packing. That’s fair, right?

A couple more things:

  1. Articles must adhere to the policies of Medium. Partner Program stories have their own rules to abide by. Please read them carefully.

  2. Articles must be appropriate. If The Prolific Writer deems your material crass, offensive, or not a right fit for our community, no-go.

  3. Articles must have a point. Please don’t ramble and tap into your inner-artist that’s a bunch of free-flowing nonsense. Action steps and practical application for your stories are much appreciated. Don’t be scared to experiment in style and tone, but, always shoot for inspiration and a focused point.

  4. Articles with an abundance of self-promotion, no thanks! Please keep your promotion limited. Linking to other stories are fine, shout out to your books okay, but don’t go crazy. A sea of links in your stories will not get published.

  5. Articles need to be well-written. Please use spell check and if grammar is not your strong suit, ask for help. If English is not your primary language, please have someone proofread. Poorly written articles will be booted to the curb.

  6. Articles must be formatted correctly. Please use titles, images, and formatting in proper ways. Your images must be for public consumption and royalty free. Pixabay and Unsplash are good sites for images. See Medium guidelines.

  7. Articles must be owned by YOU! If you’re submitting stolen material or not properly cited work, bye-bye!

  8. Articles are to stay with The Prolific Writer. Once your stories are submitted and accepted by The Prolific Writer. Please don’t remove them from our publication. You still own all copyright son your work, but if you remove stories often, you will be asked to leave.

How Do I Write for The Prolific Writer?

  1. Fill out a request form. Be patient, and it might take a few days before getting a response. Not everyone is accepted.

  2. You must have a Medium profile before requesting to write for our publication. No exceptions.


What Are You Filling Your Mind With?

Every writer will face the blank page with varying degrees of resistance, fear, and occasional diarrhea. The blinking cursor staring back at you with demon eyes speaking lies of:

“You’re an imposter, hack, your past successes mean nothing. You’re a phony. You have no talent or skills. What are you trying to prove?”

Sometimes the writer-demon manifests itself in other forms. A mind that simply lacks ideas.

The passion for a story or article that flowed with ease now hits a metaphorical brick wall. Your brain an empty vessel scratching for anything that resembles an idea. Anything that will keep the work moving along.

Regardless if you’ve written hundreds of articles and published a dozen novels, the writer-demon is real. But there’s hope my friends. And we find the hope long before you ever put a word on the page.

Legendary prolific writer, Ray Bradbury, suggested in a lecture three things for what he called: writer hygiene. What are the things you can do to keep your mind healthy before you sit and write?

“What you’ve got to do from this night forward is stuff your head with more different things from various fields . . . I’ll give you a program to follow every night, very simple program. For the next thousand nights, before you go to bed every night, read one short story. That’ll take you ten minutes, 15 minutes. Okay, then read one poem a night from the vast history of poetry. Stay away from most modern poems. It’s crap. It’s not poetry! It’s not poetry. Now if you want to kid yourself and write lines that look like poems, go ahead and do it, but you’ll go nowhere. Read the great poets, go back and read Shakespeare, read Alexander Pope, read Robert Frost. But one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights. From various fields: archaeology, zoology, biology, all the great philosophers of time, comparing them. Read the essays of Aldous Huxley, read Lauren Eisley, great anthropologist. . . I want you to read essays in every field. On politics, analyzing literature, pick your own. But that means that every night then, before you go to bed, you’re stuffing your head with one poem, one short story, one essay — at the end of a thousand nights, Jesus God, you’ll be full of stuff, won’t you?”

-from “Telling the Truth,” the keynote address of The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, 2001

You Don’t Need a Decoder Ring or Special Undies to Write

A writing legend Harlan Ellison died last summer. Ellison wrote in just about every genre but known for his Sci-Fi and speculative fiction stories. He also produced work on about every platform possible (novels, short stories, TV, film, and audio).

Ellison was a brash man who had strong opinions about writing and the industry. He also was married five times and maybe not a guy to invite over for Sunday brunch.

Regardless of Ellison’s temperament and multiple failed relationships he offers solid advice for writers. Behind the rough veneer of Ellison he tried to champion the ordinariness of writing. Remove the mythical nature of word slinging and bring it down to the bottom shelf of mere mortals.

Ellison wanted people to know that writing didn’t require super powers or specialized degrees.

In fact, he once said:

…the hard part of writing isn’t becoming a writer, rather, staying a writer.

For all of Ellison’s controversy surrounding his personal life he wanted writers to write. Not only write, but write fast, often, and well.

Ellison was a professional writer for fifty years and made a great living. But what did it take? How did he do it? What insights does he offer us mere mortals?

C.S. Lewis on What Makes for Good Writing

In C. S. Lewis and the Art of Writing by Corey Latta, Lewis writes a letter to a girl inquiring about what makes for good writing. Lewis gives eight tips that still hold the test of the time for the modern writer:

1. Turn off the radio.

Okay, maybe we listen to the radio less than previous generations. But how about social, TV, podcasts, Netflix, and You Tube? I’d say Lewis is spot on. Distraction is the enemy of good writing.

2. Read all the good books you can, and avoid nearly all magazines.

What’s a magazine?

3. Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. You should hear every sentence you write as if it was being real aloud or spoken. If it does not sound nice, try again.

When polishing and editing your work read it aloud. If you can, print it off, read aloud, and mark with a red pen. I know authors who listen to their books read to them via software on their computer. You’ll catch all kinds of funky stuff.

4. Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else. (Notice this means that if you are interested only in writing you will never be a writer, because you will have nothing to write about.)

Can I get an Amen?

The passionate writer is a prolific writer. Lewis wrote fantasy and Sci-Fi novels for adults and children. He also wrote Christian theology and popular Christian books for a broad audience.

Lewis wrote what he wanted to write despite almost getting crucified by the Oxford literary elite. We do our best writing with great passion and heart because of a love for the subject at hand.

Write books about dragons eating a village, or how to sew a sweater. Do what interests you and you’ll find an audience. There are more people who like your interests than you’d think.

5. Take pains to be clear. Remember that though you start by knowing what you mean, the reader doesn’t, and a single ill-chosen word may lead them to a total misunderstanding. In a story it is terribly easy just to forget that you have not told the reader something that he needs to know- the whole picture is so clear in your own mind that you forget that it isn’t the same in his.

Too many newbie writers try to be cute and clever with their language. Clarity wins the game. Tell the reader what you want them to know, see, or experience. We can attribute the timeliness of Lewis’ work to his clarity of speech.

Do your readers know what you’re trying to say?

J. R. R. Tolkien on Writer’s as Sub-Creator’s

The story-maker proves a successful ‘sub-creator’. He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed.

— from “On Fairy-Stories” (1939 essay)

TPW Motivation Monday's 011: 5 Advantages for Being a Prolific Writer

In the latest installment of Monday Motivation's, Ryan explores the advantages for being a prolific writer and creator. Does quantity diminish quality? Listen in and find out. More writing resources at: https://www.theprolificwriter.net/

Mentioned on the Show:

 

Keep Your Writing Time Sacred

Most humans use a calendar. We schedule our meetings, appointments, social events, and anything of first importance. These commitments once scribed with ink or digital application aren’t up for negotiation. The time allotted for these meetings only rearranged in dire circumstances.

What if we treated our writing time with the same sacredness?

If you’re a professional writer and slinging words provides your livelihood, I’m sure your calendar is your friend. But for those who write, want to write, or want to take their writing to the next level, your writing time must become sacred.

Only under extreme circumstances will we allow an outside invader come and steal time away from our writing date. I’m not a legalist, and know things happen, where writing isn’t our highest priority.

But what if we flipped the narrative on our writing goals and dreams? Instead of fitting in our writing time whenever the calendar allowed (which never happens). Instead of squeezing in a few words here and there while the kid’s sleep.

Why not put our writing time on the calendar and treat it like every other appointment? Why not give the kids away for adoption (not really, just seeing if you’re paying attention)?

TPW 096: Tim Tigner on Teaching Yourself to Write

Intent on combining his creativity with his experience, Tim began writing thrillers in 1996 from an apartment overlooking Moscow’s Gorky Park. Twenty years later, his passion for creative writing continues to grow every day. In this interview, Ryan and Tim discuss how he learned to write, why outlining is a must for thrillers, how Tim's military experience shapes his writing, why most marketing advice is dumb, and much more. You can find Tim at: http://timtigner.com/

Mentioned on the Show:

 

Does Your Writing Tidy Up Reality?

One of the hardest skills learned for writing anything is to be honest. Finding that thread of vulnerability, authenticity, and truth-telling. Where we say what we mean, and mean what we say.

Flannery O’Connor in her book on writing, Mystery and Manners, explains the job of a novelist:

“The novelist is required to open his eyes on the world around him and look. If what he sees is not highly edifying, he is still required to look. Then he is required to reproduce, with words, what he sees. Now this is the first point at which the novelist who is a Catholic may feel some friction between what he is supposed to do as a novelist and what he is supposed to do as a Catholic, for what he sees at all times is fallen man perverted by false philosophies. Is he to reproduce this? Or is he to change what he sees and make it, instead of what it is, what in the light of faith he thinks it ought to be? Is he, as Baron von Hugel has said, supposed to “tidy up reality?” (177).

Whether you have faith in the Divine, or not, the work of the writer is always the same… never tidy up reality. Truth-telling is the primary vocation of the writer.

5 Advantages for Being a Prolific Creator

What do Isaac Asimov, Agatha Christie, Barbara Cartland, and Edward Stratemeyer have in common? They were some of the most prolific writers and creators ever.

Asimov wrote over six hundred Sci-Fi and nonfiction titles. Christie wrote sixty-nine novels and nineteen plays. Stratemeyer wrote one hundred ninety books in the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series.

These authors alone sold billions of books (not a typo). They penned millions of words, hundreds of novels, nonfiction works, short stories, plays, and did it without the aid of a computer.

Prolific authors of the past are fascinating people. How they created so much content by hand or on typewriters. Barbara Cartland averaged a new book every forty days in her career.

And she didn’t have the distractions of Netflix and Social.

Not only did these prolific authors create volumes of work they also maintained high quality. A feat of its own.

Is there something we can learn from these prolific and speed demon writers?

I think so.

Isaac Asimov explained the advantages of being prolific in his biography, It’s Been a Good Life:

“One advantage of being prolific is it reduces the importance of any one book. By the time one particular book is published, the prolific writer hasn’t much time to worry about how it will be received or how it will sell. By then he has already sold several others and is working on still others and it is these that concern him. This intensifies the peace and calm of his life” (205).

The prolific writer whether penning articles on Medium or indie publishing books on Amazon have an advantage. Asimov gives at least five:

1. No one book/article is that important.

When you produce content and publish at a high clip, no one book becomes precious. What I call the Gollum Factor.

Instead of petting, caressing, and thinking your latest project is the best thing since sliced bread, move on. Create something new.

The prolific writers of the past and present don’t have time to obsess over the one thing, because they’ve already started the next thing.

2. No time to dwell on sales, reviews, and reception.

Yes, please. What derails the sensitive artist and creator among us? Bad reviews, sales, and people ignoring their work.

What if instead of crying about an anonymous reviewer saying your book or article was sucky… you wrote the next thing?

What if you produced enough work and content that when someone left a harsh critique you said: I don’t remember what that was about… can you refresh my memory?

Prolific writers and creators have a short memory. They’re freed from the chains of watching sales dashboards, clicks, views, and reads.

The prolific writer is already working on the next project and not caught in the vortex of sales data.

Austin Kleon on Stealing Like an Artist

“Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes. The reason to copy your heroes and their style is so that you might somehow get a glimpse into their minds. That’s what you really want–to internalize their way of looking at the world. If you just mimic the surface of somebody’s work without understanding where they are coming from, your work will never be anything more than a knockoff.” Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist

Ten Years Ago Today…

Ten years ago I experienced a highlight of my short life. Not all that unusual and something most people experience. If you’re reading this… it happened to you. I witnessed the birth of our first daughter, Samantha.

Every year on March 13th, we celebrate the birth of our sweet-Sammy-girl. The seared images in the hospital room haunt my mind. Samantha’s chubby cheeks, wide-Pelton-nose, much like her brother Owen and great-grandpa, and lots of hair, thick locks of red hair. Watch out for those redheads they’re not messing around.

But while most people prepared to drink green beer and inhale Shamrock Shakes in 2009, we celebrated with heavy hearts. Those images of hospital rooms, beeping machines, visiting family members, and tears, lots of tears, had a different edge.

The entire pregnancy was one of uncertainty. Would Christy make it to full term? Would there be complications with Samantha? We had prepared ourselves for the worst. Most families are preparing a room with decorations and color schemes matching a boy or girl.

We were preparing our hearts for burial.

Samantha was born March 13th and met her Creator four days later, on March 17th.

Today is the day we met our baby girl, and four days from now, we’ll remember her death.

But we’re not without hope. Years and distance between the pain helps in healing wounds. Counselors and friends are helpful too.

Everyone is born and everyone dies. An inescapable truth. Like sin and taxes, always crouching at our doors. The passage of time heals wounds on an emotional level. But wounds are real and confusing. Memories don’t seem to die.

These memories heightened every year when spring bursts with new colors and new life. While many will drink oddly colored beers and tell themselves it’s okay to get hammered, it’s a holiday. I reflect on death and the dustiness and shadowiness of life. Life under the sun.

Maybe in the kindness of God he allowed Samantha to live and die in spring, and around Lent (of the Christian Church calendar). A time of reflection on things dying, rising, a time of reflection on our mortality and considering cross and resurrection. Not sure.

But without fail, as we celebrate the life and death of our sweet baby girl, new thoughts and revelations come to flood my mind. Not anything profound, really, just stuff I already know to be true.

One central idea these days is the line that represents our lives. What line, you ask? That dash between our birthday and death-day. A simple white line on our tombstones.

What will our lives say between these two lines? How will we live and love? Where will we invest our presence and time and money and energy?

As I creep toward forty, I’m finding myself more aware of people and life. The things that used to drive me nuts now rolling off my back. I’m more aware that everything is a gift and don’t miss the things right in front of you. You get older and you take stock of your life. Probably normal stuff. If you’re lucky to have years.

I’m not sure what Samantha learned in four days of life. Most of them spent in a hospital room with tubes and wires keeping her alive. Samantha pumped full of meds easing the pain of her broken body. If suffering creates faith, hope, and endurance, Samantha had a ton.

And yet Samantha’s story does not differ from ours. Her death forces me to ask questions: How will I manage my pain? Run to a bottle or fantasies on a computer screen? Throw myself into work?

Or, I can acknowledge pain comes for all. And in the midst of the pain, I will choose to live. Say: I Love You, more often, hold loved ones closer than the day before, and give people the benefit of the doubt because everyone has a story, and they’re not pretty.

The death of Samantha revealed a lot of stuff clogging up my heart and soul. A man who believed God owed him something. Like a healthy daughter and long life. Why didn’t Samantha get that? Why didn’t I get to walk her down the aisle? Hold her when she wasn’t feeling well in the middle of the night, and one day kiss her own children?

I don’t know.

But I’m a trophy of God’s grace. Forty years proves it. If the tape of my life rolled in full view, I’d be lucky to have two.

The wounds aren’t as raw as they once were. I can control my emotions most days despite the tears running down my face as I write these words. But they’re good tears, Spirit-wrought tears.

A reminder of the fragility of life with all its pain and suffering and joys. A reminder I’m dust, and dust I’ll return.

Samantha was a gift for more reasons I can count. She reminds me we’re alive, and still have a lot of living to do, and the whole thing is grace, so rejoice in it.

Don’t miss the little moments. Miracles are happening everywhere if we have eyes to see. Hold the ones you love and tell them they matter. Don’t hold grudges and forgive as much as it’s possible.

Your kid’s aren’t owed long lives. None of us are.

The whole thing’s a gift.

And when you have a gift, you share it with others.

Tonight we’ll gather at the cemetery, let off balloons, and eat a nice meal to remember Sammy. Cemeteries are no longer scary for me. Only settings for horror movies.

The cemetery has become a welcome companion. Where I sit with Sammy and walk along the other tombstones and think about lives cut short. Where I reflect on my dash.

My mind can’t help wander to a unique death. A death that was followed by resurrection. A tomb empty after three days.

A tomb where the woman said: he’s not here.

I believe in God and I believe in resurrection and I believe in life after life.

That’s my hope for Sammy, me, you, my family, and all humanity.

Death doesn’t have the last say and an empty tomb proves it.

I might be a mess, but I can look to something outside myself, and find hope.

And remember, the whole thing is grace.

*Originally published on Medium.

Want to Write Page Turning Stories? Take These 7 Steps

What separates an excellent and mediocre story? Why do some books, TV shows, or films keep us up into the wee hours of the morning?

Sleep optional until we find out what happens next.

While other stories never grab our attention and fizzle out on page fifty or episode two.

Why?

Glad you asked. Every great story has common similarities.

Seven to be exact.

If you want to write compelling, interesting, and page turning stories, consider these seven story structure elements. Every story has them, and the great ones, nail them.

These ideas aren’t totally my own, but have revolutionized how I write novels, and understand story structure. These seven story elements come from John Truby’s book, The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller.

What Truby calls: The Seven Key Steps of Story Structure. These seven steps are the heartbeat of every story because they involve human action. And human action involves characters and characters are the reason we love stories.

Let’s examine the steps together, and see how we can make our next story page turning awesomeness, keeping our readers up late into the night.

Step #1 A Hero

A hero in a setting with a flaw/weakness/need.

Every great story has a hero (main character) with serious problems. A flaw or weakness that’s ruining their lives. The bigger the problem the more interesting the story.

A need is what the character must overcome for them to have a good life. This typically involves overcoming the flaw/weakness and growing by the end of the story.

Great characters and great stories have two kinds of weaknesses/flaws:

1. Psychological- some kind of flaw that causes harm to the hero only.

2. Moral- some kind of flaw/weakness that causes problems for everyone else.

The secret sauce of great storytelling and crafting compelling characters is to ensure they have psychological and moral flaws.

A great example: Silence of the Lambs.

Weakness: Clarice is an inexperienced FBI, haunted by childhood memories, and a woman living in a man’s world.

Need: Overcome her past and prove she’s a good agent in a man’s world.

Key point: people don’t like perfect characters, or victims. Boring! People can’t relate to perfection. Beat the crap out of your heroes. Your readers will thank you.

Step #2: A Desire (Goal)

A hero in a setting, with a flaw/weakness/need, and a desire (goal).

Every story has a particular goal and desire the hero must accomplish. That is why readers come along for the ride. They want to solve it with you. The desire is the hinge for everything.

If your story doesn’t have a defined desire/goal, you don’t have a story, or a very boring one. A story that goes nowhere.

Now, don’t miss this. The flaw/weakness of the hero is something within. The desire and goal of the hero is external. Don’t confuse the two.

Typically when the hero solves the weakness/flaw dilemma they’ve now reached their desire/goal. The flaw and need of the hero is often more obvious. The desire less so.

Example: Saving Private Ryan, John Miller wants to be home with his family and friends. The entire mission for saving Private Ryan, is so he can get home, so he thinks.

But when you get to the end of the movie, when Miller has a chance to go back home, he realizes the mission was much deeper. Miller is willing to die for the mission to see Private Ryan get home.

Step #3 The Opponent

A hero in a setting, with a flaw/weakness, and a desire, and someone/something opposing their goal.

The opponent is what we call the antagonist, or villain. Now, here’s the key for making compelling opponents for the hero to battle. They don’t just do evil or look evil.

The opponent wants the same thing as the hero, and will do anything for the hero not to get it.

Did you catch that? The opponent can’t want something random in the story. No, the opponent has to want what the hero wants. The thing that’s making the hero miserable is what the opponent wants.

If you do this well, it will create all kinds of tension and problems for the hero, and tension and conflict makes for great stories.

Key point: the easy way to create a good opponent, is to think about the hero’s primary goal/desire. Then create an opponent that wants to attack that goal and desire. You can even have them attack the psychological and moral flaws of the hero.

Another trick to make your stories page turners.

Step #4 A Plan

A hero in a setting, with a flaw, desire, someone opposing them, and a plan to fight.

Once you have a character with a flaw, a desire, an opponent, you need a plan to finish the mission. Good stories will often have a mentor, guide, or helper, to encourage the hero and craft a strategy for winning the battle against the opponent.

Example: Star Wars, Yoda trains Luke to defeat Darth Vader (dark side) for control of the universe (Force- light side).

Key point: when you’re building out a plan/strategy, build tension by having the hero fail multiple times at the plan before reaching their goal. That will keep the reader turning the pages. Attempt, fail, attempt, fail, etc. This creates good tension before the final battle.

Step #5: A Battle

A hero in a setting, with a flaw, desire, someone opposing them, a plan to fight, and a final battle.

The battle can be words or action. Most often a battle will happen in the middle of a story where the hero fails against the opponent. But remember, the desire (goal) of the hero, and the desire to stop the goal of the hero, by the opponent, will build to a final battle.

Will the hero or opponent win?

You can go either way depending on what the story needs. (FYI: Romance readers expect the boy and girl to end up together).

Step #6: A Self Revelation

A hero in a setting, with a flaw, desire, someone opposing them, a plan to fight, final battle, the hero realizes their desire/weakness/flaw.

After the battle, we wear the hero down, and they come to a painful self-revelation. They aren’t who they thought. They’re weak, flawed, and jacked up.

The more you can help the hero see their imperfections, the better. Make the moral and psychological needs come to the surface.

Pro tip: don’t make this preachy and too obvious, that’s lame. But reveal what the hero’s true colors are, the good and bad.

Example: Huckleberry Finn, when Huck realizes he was wrong thinking Jim was less than human. Huck won’t tell of Jim’s whereabouts, and would rather go to hell, then see him caught.

Step #7: A New Equilibrium

A hero in a setting, with a flaw, desire, someone opposing them, a plan to fight, final battle, the hero realizes their desire/weakness/flaw, and goes back to normal.

The hero must change and grow. One caveat, the hero can grow to a higher level and learn to live in the world.

Or, the hero can go lower. Let’s say they’ve committed a crime, and now must live with the consequences. It doesn’t have to be a happy ending to write a compelling and page turning story.

Examples of a hero rising: Die Hard, John defeats the criminals, saves his wife, and renews his love to her.

Example of a hero going low: Vertigo, he drags the woman to the top of the tower to confess to a murder, and she falls to her death.

Wow, that’s a lot, I know. But all you have to do is craft characters and scenes that serve these seven elements. If you do, you’ll have an excellent story to share with the world.

Go get those words on the page!

(Source: The Anatomy of Story, John Truby, adapted from pages 39–55)

*originally published on The Writer Cooperative

Ray Bradbury on Half-a-Writer

“… if you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself. You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms. Without such vigor, he might as well be out picking peaches or digging ditches; God knows it’d be better for his health.” (from Zen in the Art of Writing, page 4)


TPW Motivation Monday's 010: Know Thy Self Know Thy Season

In the latest installment of Motivation Monday's, Ryan discusses the secret for becoming a prolific writer. It has nothing to do with technology, software, or skill. It's all about knowing thy self... and season. More writing resources at: https://www.theprolificwriter.net/

Mentioned on the Show:

  • Make sure to subscribe to the show and leave a rating/review on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-prolific-writer/id1185387038?mt=2

Outcomes Versus Process- from Bryan Cranston

Bryan Cranston from the iconic TV series, Breaking Bad, wrote in his biography, A Life in Parts, about a switch that happened in his career:

“Early in my career, I was always hustling. Doing commercials, guest-starring, auditioning like crazy. I was making a decent living… but I felt I was stuck in junior varsity. I wondered if I had plateaued. Then, Breck Costin [his mentor] suggested I focus on process rather than outcome.

I wasn’t going to the audition to get anything: a job or money or validation. I wasn’t going to compete.

I was going to give something.

I wasn’t there to get a job. I was there to do a job. I was there to give a performance. If I attached to the outcome, I was setting myself up to expect, and thus to fail. My job was to be compelling. Take some chances. Enjoy the process.”

The danger for anyone working in the public eye is an unhealthy obsession with outcomes. A speaker who hopes her last talk will lead people to action and transformation. The entrepreneur hoping the presentation will lead to investment dollars. The mom that corrects a child desiring for better behavior. A writer hoping their novel makes a bestseller list so they can swim in boatloads of money.

Outcomes aren’t evil and wanting people to enjoy and find our work helpful isn’t wrong. Making a few bucks, some acknowledgement, and kind reviews, after our blood, sweat, and tears isn’t a problem.

But when outcomes become a hand around our artistic necks choking out the life and passion and authenticity of our work… Houston we have a problem.

Bryan Cranston mentioned later in his book what happened when he stopped obsessing over outcomes and focused on the process:

“Once I made the switch, I had power in any room I walked into… Which meant I could relax. I was free.”

Know Thy Self… Know Thy Writing Season

A lot of writing advice says to write every day, write at the same time and place, and hit certain daily word counts.

Not bad advice if life was static and our seasons never change. What do I mean?

I’m a dad of four children, that eat all my food, and spend all my money. I’m not mad about it, it is what it is. My season of life.

My children span from one to twelve. They go to bed early and the two younger ones still take naps during the day. When they become teenagers, their bed times will be later, and with more late evening commitments will shift our family rhythms.

I also have a wife I like. And would like to say married to. What I know about my lovely bride is that she goes to bed early. Has for the last eighteen years. I’m more of a night owl.

My writing time is mostly late in the evenings when everyone is off to bed.

I’ve tried early mornings, but my biology says no thank you, and with little humans waking up at the wee hours, it’s not workable.

The point?

Know thy self and know thy season of life.


Definition of a Hack

Comedians will often call other comics: hacks. A hack comedian isn’t someone who lacks talent necessarily. Rather, a hack comic is someone who plays to the audience.

Now on the surface that doesn’t sound like a cardinal sin. Don’t writer’s play to the audience? Trying to write stories people will read and enjoy?

Yes, and no.

Finding an audience for your work doesn’t mean you have to sell out.

Hacks in the comedy world, or writing arena, are all about finding the lowest common denominator to get a laugh, or sell a book. They’re not hacky because they lack talent. Many of these men and woman are gifted.

Hacks are hacks because they don’t create work from the heart.

Steven Pressfield in his book, The War of Art, said Robert McKee defines a hack:

“… as someone who second-guesses his audience. When he sits down to work he doesn’t ask what’s in his heart. He asks what does the audience want?” (page 152)

That’s the key difference between the hack and non-hacks in our ranks. What do they think about when they get into their writing space?

More common features of a hack

1. Hacks write articles and books that are essentially click-bait, low hanging fruit, and not designed for gaining your 1000 True Fans.

2. Hacks research what’s hot in a market and try to emulate that authors success. Never truly writing something that moves their own soul. Something said in a style and perspective all their own.