Monday, July 30, 2012

Letter From The Future

Warning - this is my semi-annual rant/editorial. Its purpose is to encourage anybody out there who wants to be "successful" at writing. Sorry, it's long. But at the end, I'll give you the mystical secret to writing success.

So I've been working tonight at the Cool Day Job (ironic, huh?) and managed to also get a bit of writing/film editing done (actually more like fun "drudgery" of author's-eyes-only backstory and clip-logging/trailer editing - and if you understand the paradox of "fun drudgery" then this post is definitely for you) when something popped into my in-box from Go Into The Story. GITS is a cool blog about screenwriting, and you might wanna check it out if you are interested in that sort of thing.

Anyway, at the top of this email from GITS are two letters written by comedian/actor Patton Oswalt. He used these letters for his keynote address in the Just For Laughs Comedy Conference in Montreal. You can see the letters on Go Into The Story.

Please check out the above link and read for yourself. His second letter begins with "Dear Gatekeepers." I think it is summed up nicely by this quote:
"Our careers don’t hinge on somebody in a plush office deciding to aim a little luck in our direction. There are no gates. They’re gone."
As I was reading Patton's letters, I thought how appropriate that attitude is, not only for comedians, actors and filmmakers, but also indy authors as well.

Once Amazon unleashed the floodgates of KDP, then anybody with access to the internet could publish a book, which, depending on who you listen to, is either "the future," or the apocalypse of the literary world.

According to Wikipedia, some self published authors you may have heard of include such names as William Blake, Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman and James Joyce. Umm, that seems like a pretty respectable list, even accounting for the inherent potential unreliability of Wikipedia.

But still there is the stigma of being self-published. I am even guilty of avoiding the term just because of that stigma. Instead I use "indy author." At least that tries to ride on the coattails of independent film's semi-respectibiliy.

The stigma of self-publishing would seem to indicate that many people think the demise of the gatekeepers is not necessarily a good thing. Obviously I disagree.

Here's another quote from the "Dear Gatekeepers" letter, and then I'll tie this all together:

(Oswalt holds up an iPhone)
"In my hand right now I’m holding more filmmaking technology than Orsen Welles had when he filmed Citizen Kane.
I’m holding almost the same amount of cinematography, post-editing, sound editing, and broadcast capabilities as you have at your tv network.
In a couple of years it’s going to be fucking equal. I see what’s fucking coming. This isn’t a threat, this is an offer. We like to create. We’re the ones who love to make shit all the time. You’re the ones who like to discover it and patronize it support it and nurture it and broadcast it. Just get out of our way when we do it.
If you get out of our way and we fuckin’ get out and fall on our face, we won’t blame you like we did in the past. Because we won’t have taken any of your notes, so it’ll truly be on us.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the stuff uploaded to Youtube. There are sitcoms now on the internet, some of them are brilliant, some of them are “meh,” some of them fuckin suck. At about the same ratio that things are brilliant and “meh” and suck on your network."

He's addressing his letter to the gatekeepers of broadcast media to an audience of comedians, of course, but I'm expanding his idea to all content creators, which perhaps includes YOU, the wannabe self published author. Yes, there are self-published books that suck, some that are "meh" and some that are brilliant. And I daresay the ratio is about the same as those that have been vetted by the gatekeepers of agents and publishers.

The message that I take away from Mr. Oswalt's letters is that it is up to the creative artist to create their own success. I suppose it's always been true, but technology has made it especially true, now, to bypass the gatekeepers. All it takes is talent and determination. How do you get talent if you aren't "born" with it? You work at it. You make that work a priority. And you don't give up.

If you are in the "sucks" category right now, fine. Just keep at it until you are brilliant, or at least "un-sucky" to enough people to enable you keep going and keep improving. It's my opinion that quality is pretty relative anyway. For every Academy Award winner, there is a box office blockbuster that is critically panned. For every naysayer of Author X, there are many thousands of Author X's fans who devour every word.

I've been writing for as long as I can remember. I've had dry spells. I've had bursts of inspiration. I have tons of manuscripts "in a drawer." I have rejection slips. I've written many scripts and "finished" a few. I've been to conferences, writer groups and seminars by experts. All of those things help. But the secret... are you ready? Here it is:

Write. Write as much as possible. Finish what you write. Even if it sucks. Finish the story. Don't have the time? Then write shorter stories. Now listen, I'm no expert. I have no credentials to advise anybody other than one thing. All the best things I've learned about writing, either directly or indirectly have come from writing more. The last few months, I've pounded out draft after draft of a screenplay. Certain things that I "learned" in classes years ago became clear because I was writing so much right now. Things that I read about in a book truly made sense because I was actually doing it so much now. Writing isn't just an art form, it's a business and can be a career.

So listen to this one thing: If you want to lovingly caress every word and painstakingly agonize over every page and take years to write your novel, that's fine. But if you want to make your writing a career, you better just forget the agonizing and write. Write and finish. Then write the next one and finish that. Keep learning, but keep writing. At some point you will write something that people like. Then you are on your way as long as you don't quit.

In conclusion, as Mr. Oswalt points out, there are no gates. That is a glorious thing, and means it is up to YOU. You take the risk and the reward, and take the credit and the blame. All you need to do is the work. When your work is writing, you are a writer. Just do the work. That's the secret.

Okay, end of long editorial. Next time I'll have a behind the scenes update of Gold Rush :)

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