Recently Chuck Wendig posted the 25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing on his Terrible Minds Blog. He is blunt and to the point and, more importantly, he is right. In fact, he is so correct in his assessment that I could probably write a blog for each one of those 25 things.
I’m not going to do that. I don’t have the time, really and if I did, well, I’m not sure what I have to say would be any different from what he said. However, there are a handful of these suggestions that I will write about.
It’s simple. They are all things that I have faced or dealt with while writing that I think are important for other writers to know about. They are also things that we all need to overcome (not just in our writing world, but our real world as well) in order to even see a hint of success in this business we call writing/publishing or at anything else in life.
For this blog I’m going to tackle #21 on the list: Stop Listening to What Won’t Sell.
You’ll hear that. “I don’t think this can sell.” And shit, you know what? That might be right. Just the same — I’d bet that all the stories you remember, all the tales that came out of nowhere and kicked you in the junk drawer with their sheer possibility and potential, were stories that were once flagged with the “this won’t sell” moniker. You’ll always find someone to tell you what you can’t do. What you shouldn’t do. That’s your job as a writer to prove them wrong. By sticking your fountain pen in their neck and drinking their blood. …uhh. I mean, “by writing the best damn story you can write.” That’s what I mean. That other thing was, you know. It was just metaphor. Totally. *hides inkwell filled with human blood.*
One thing sticks out about this more so than the rest: It is your job as a writer to prove them wrong.
Okay, let me repeat that:
It is your job as the writer to prove them wrong.
Tell me something: has anyone ever told you that you can’t do something? What did you do when that happened?
I’ll tell you what happens with me. I prove them wrong.
My art teacher in high school told me I wasn’t good enough, that every other student in the class was better than me. She was a vindictive lady and she, clearly, didn’t like me. I was a sophomore and still feeling out the world. I said nothing—I think that was her intention; to hurt me so bad that I wouldn’t say anything or that I would ask to be transferred to a different class. One problem with that. I had to take art and she was the only art teacher. There would be no transfer unless I took a failing grade in the class.
That wasn’t happening.
What did I do? Well, I stewed for a couple days—maybe even a couple weeks—before deciding she was wrong and I was going to prove it. By the end of the school year I had created a black and white penciled work that held 17 images on it, all of them related to wars and the military. In crumbling gray tombstone letters, I had drawn the words MEN OF WAR in the center of the image, a beret hanging off the edge of the M. Another of the pictures was a rifle jabbed into a mound of dirt, a helmet hanging over the butt—a soldier’s grave. A battleship being bombed at Pearl Harbor encompassed one corner. There was a plane and a man crouched on the ground, weapon aimed at the enemy. There was a crosshairs—yeah I was especially proud of that. You see, there was meaning in those crosshairs. Can you figure out what it was?
I’ll give you a hint: my art teacher was in my sites, so to speak.
I passed the class and she, begrudgingly, gave me an A for the project… Oh, yeah, no other student could touch that picture—they weren’t good enough…
I grew up playing basketball in a gym where I was the only white kid. That’s right, I was white bread, cracker, whitey. I was told ‘home boy can’t play.’ No respect. None. I went to that gym four or five times a week to shoot baskets, rarely getting invited to play in the games (you can call me Rudolph D. Rednose, thank you very much).
Then one day—I guess I was thirteen or so—one of the guys wanted to play a game of one on one. “Twenty-one, win by two,” he said. Understand, that’s not scoring by twos and threes, that’s scoring by ones, with the person who scores getting the ball back with another opportunity to put more points on the board.
This guy was older than me by three or four years and I knew what was going to happen. He was going to embarrass me and he was going to enjoy doing it. Then white bread would be laughed at and never come back. I saw it in his face, in his eyes, in the way he smiled at me when he threw down the challenge.
“Okay,” I said.
He looked a little stunned. Surely, white boy wasn’t going to accept his challenge.
I did and he commenced to wiping the floor with me, winning 21-3. Yeah, it looks like a football score. To put this in perspective: he made 21 shots. I made three.
His buddies laughed and howled and just rubbed it in with each shot he made. When the game was over, not only did he win, but the entire gym probably thought they had run me off.
“Let’s go again,” I said.
“Let’s go again.”
We did and he beat me again, but not as bad. I scored seven that time.
“Let’s go again,” I said after losing the second game.
We did and he beat me again and again and again. Six times this guy drudged me in front of his friends. By that sixth game, though, I had started figuring him out, the way he dribbles, his favorite shot, how he defended me. I only lost by five in that last game. His friends were no longer howling and laughing and having a good time. I think he was relieved that he won that final game.
The next time I saw him at the gym, I challenged him. What was he going to do? Say ‘no’ to the white kid right there in front of his friends? He beat me three more times.
Then one day I beat him. It was a close game, but I won. Then I beat him again. They all took notice and white bread was no longer white bread, but one of them. They learned my name, even gave me a nickname. I had proven to them that white bread could play.
As a writer, I was told I sucked by an editor. It was a few years ago and that editor and publisher is no longer around. His exact words were: You should quit writing. You’re not good at it.
I stewed for a couple days–probably more like weeks–and I almost gave it up.
Instead of quitting, I wrote more and more, trying to hone the craft that I knew I could do. I’m a good verbal story teller. I can paint pictures for people as I tell it to them, drawing them into my world. If I can verbally tell these stories, I can write them as well. No doubt about it.
This brings me back to #21: Stop Listening to What Won’t Sell.
Answer me this: how does anyone know what will and will not sell? They don’t. They may think something will or will not sell, but they don’t know.
I can’t believe I am about to type this, but, Twilight was turned down by a lot of publishers before someone took a chance with it. Oh, yeah, it won’t sell, by the way. That’s what the publishers thought. They were wrong. Twilight has sold quite a few copies and, in case you haven’t heard, there are a few movies dedicated to it…
No one knows what will or will not sell, so why listen to them?
The slice of the pie in today’s publishing market is bigger than it has ever been. Sure, there’s more competition out there, but if you are a writer and you can tell a good story then you can do this. It takes work–a LOT of work, but you can do this.
And I don’t mean writing what everyone else writes. As a writer, in order to be worth a grain of salt or anything else, you have to have your own spin on things. You can’t be a cookie cutter writer and expect to set yourself apart from all the other cookie cutter writers. Experiment. Have fun. Take risks and don’t be afraid. Enjoy the process of creating… and don’t ever let anyone tell you that what you’ve written won’t sell. There’s a market out there for good stories. You just have to find it and one day someone will take that chance on you, on your work.
Trust me on that…
For now, I’m A.J. and I’m out…
[[Side Note: My short story collection, Along the Splintered Path, is out and can be picked up at Amazon by going: here
To anyone who picks it up, I say thank you very much for doing so and I hope you enjoy the read.]]