Wednesday, April 21, 2010
What is your DREAM?
"I want to be a writer!" you say. You're eight years old. We all started then, I know, because any writer who says they weren't a writer and a story-teller from the day the doctor spanked and severed em isn't being honest.
You loved books. You loved movies. You loved plays or musicals or music. From that young age you felt The Spark.
You sang in the mirror and tuned your voice and wrote your songs.
You dabbled in poetry, and did I just say dabble? No, you didn't dabble, did you. While all those other kiddos were filling up their notebooks with pictures of army men and ponies and airplanes and flowers, you were burning page after page of stanzas, releasing this strange voice obsessed with rhyme and haiku and tangential viewpoints on the world around you.
You wrote short stories that your teacher read to the class and everyone laughed when they were supposed to laugh.
You wrote a novel that didn't make one bit of sense but it was this 120k word beast, this thing, this living entity that still breathes in the lowest drawer of that old cabinet in your old house, never to be published but never to be forgotten.
Your practice novel. We all have one of those. You do have a practice novel, don't you?
And inside of all that, you have this dream-fantasy. It's a rattling thing, a kid's shake-toy, something so personal you won't even mention it to your therapist. Not your spouse, not your mom, not your dad, not your sibling.
Maybe your Golden Retriever. I used to tell her all my secrets, and she took em to her much-too-early grave. (God, please throw the ball for Lexi. Amen.)
Me, I had all these dreams. First, I wanted to be a doctor. Yep, a doctor. I worked like hell for it, too, placed 2nd in my HS, but didn't get the right grades in college. Homework and over-education dull the mind, and I'd take a 0% on that 10% homework, knowing I could get an A on the tests, and settle for easy Bs.
Lazybones. I guess I didn't want to go into medicine enough. Maybe that wasn't an honest dream after all.
And I wanted to be a writer.
I knew I could tell stories on the side. No money in writing, is there. You could hit the lottery, sure, but the odds are five-nines against you: 99.999% chance you're either unpublished, or your royalties are just enough to buy food for that Golden Retriever who shares your secrets.
So in high school, for my 17th birthday, my aunt -- and she was more a grandmother than an aunt, far older than my seventh-born mother -- she bought me this Brother word processor and asked for a story.
See, I'd shared that dream already. "I want to be a doctor," I'd say. They all nodded.
"And a writer," I'd add.
Boy, that got their attention! Pluck a living heart from a pig and sew it into a dying man and you'll raise some eyebrows, sure.
But pluck a silent heart from a soul long-dead and burned by life's wildfires, and will it to beat life with nothing more than a series of 27 letters in random order, and you'll gain something far beyond eyebrows.
Because anyone can cut open a pig, see.
I didn't dream of being published. When someone said, "That'd sell a million copies!"
I would shrug. "Maybe."
I guess now I've modified that dream to be published. Sure, I want to get some hardbacks out there. Sure, I'd like to see my name on a bookshelf.
But I look at those shelves and I see plenty of idiots up there. We all do. I hate to say that, but talent and a good story won't get you published. I think of my stories, my babies, my darlings, and I'm not sure I'm ready to put them on the shelf next to these books.
I review my novels and wonder if they're worthy of asking you to read em in the nightlight. Do I really want to put anything on the shelf that is not the most incredible story I can write?
Is that story good enough? Your time is precious to me.
I'm not all about that space, see. I'm not obsessed with my book's number in the Library of Congress. I don't care about the word count or the plot lines.
My dream, if I had to line it up and spit it out, is this: Write greatness. Touch the reader.
That'd be it, I guess. Being published is a form of greatness, I won't dispute that, but my goal is to write stories that not only entertain, but also inspire the reader, and leave a lingering after-taste in their mind.
Which brings up my point on Reader Arcs. Arc the READER, not the character, folks!
I don't dream of 500 followers on my blog, nor of huge lines at my book signing. I'm not dissing those dreams -- that's cool -- but it's like, not my bag, man.
I dream of that one reader who says she cried at the ending.
I dream of that guy who shakes my hand and says, "Man, I get that. I really get that. Good job."
After 9/11, on 9/12/2001, I sent an email to my wife and my cousin. That's it. I started getting email responses from people all over the world, even had a personal note from a powerful business man here in Dallas (my now ex-wife is a CPA). He said he cried when he read it, and thanked me for writing down his thoughts. I got responses from Navy guys all over the world because my cousin was in the Navy at the time. His father still has that email taped to his fridge.
I passed off a short story to my boss dealing with space. He's a space nut. He said the story took him back to his childhood. "They don't write stories like this anymore."
He handed it to his wife and children and they loved it. The story was about a guy named Percy Freebottom -- ironically, soon to be published!
My boss and his wife were at a baseball game and something reminded them of Percy, the stars and the moon.
"Sorta like Percy Freebottom," his wife said.
THAT is my dream folks: Touch the reader. Leave that after-taste!
For me, it's not about profit or word count or fame or anything else. I can get those things -- especially profit -- in easier ways than writing.
This post is a fine example. I'm not trying to write my weekly or daily word count.
I'm writing something personal, hoping it'll touch at least one fellow blogger. I'm writing it because the worms insist it must be written, because this is important, because my squigglies, my slimey loves, they only dig where the soil is feral.
Yes, feral soil. That's where I dig.
See how that works?
Thoughts? What is your dream? Your passion? Your goal wrt writing?
PS, I want to be clear: In no way am I belittling other goals, such as obtaining blog followers, being published widespread, or writing strict genre books. Please don't think that.
It is not my intent to come across as one of those belittling ideologues who believe in art only for the sake of art, and consider those who seek profit to be sellouts. No no no. I simply want to state that this is more than profit to me.
I respect your passion, your job, your goal, whatever that may be, and would love to see that shared.