Writers Should Aim for the Stars
Teachers Never Stop Teaching
That is a truism you can take to the bank.
I retired from teaching nearly four years ago. Let me re-phrase that….I retired from classroom teaching four years ago. It became very apparent, early on in my “retirement,” that you can take the teacher out of the classroom but you can never take the classroom out of the teacher. Teaching is in my blood. I’m hardwired to impart what knowledge I have. That’s just the way it is.
I received a call from a former student last week. She told me she was thinking of writing a book. She had never tried anything like that before. Always, in the past, she had written short stories, and most of those stories were hidden in her notebooks, collecting dust on her shelves. Anyway, she asked me for advice…any advice….to help her as she embarked on her writing journey.
I asked her what she hoped to accomplish with her book. What was her goal? She told me she hoped to sell a few copies, that it would be nice if she sold enough ebooks to help her pay some of her bills.
What was my loving response?
I told her not to waste her time.
I heard her gasp on the other end of the line, and then she asked me why I thought she was wasting her time.
And so I told her.
Setting Our Sights Too Low
I don’t want to be a writer. I want to be a great writer.
I don’t want to write a novel. I want to write a bestselling novel that will leave you gasping for breath.
I could actually feel my blood pressure rise when I heard my student say that her goal was to sell a few ebooks. What the hell kind of goal is that? That’s like saying my goal in getting up this morning is to breathe in and breathe out. There’s nothing quite like setting our goals so low we’ll trip over them, is there? Of course she’ll sell a few ebooks. If she has family and friends, which she does, she’ll fulfill her goal in one day after publishing. Way to shoot for the moon, girl!
I have my blood pressure back under control now, and I think I’m able to discuss this with the calmness I am known for.
This kind of myopic thinking is not limited to writers. We have an overflow of citizens today seemingly incapable of spreading their wings and daring to fly. It saddens me and yes, it pisses me off. We get one shot at this life thing, unless I’m wrong and we all reincarnate, in which case we are doomed to repeat our previous errors unless we are willing to learn during our second, third, and fourth lives. Yes, that was a run-on sentence and I don’t care. I’m still amped up.
Let’s go with the assumption, though, that this is our only shot at life. We get what, on average, seventy-odd years to live? That’s a fairly serious limitation, so why would we further limit ourselves with ridiculous self-fulfilling prophecies?
I say SCREW THAT!!!!!!!
Let’s Talk Specifics
I’ll use myself as a guinea pig for this lesson, and I apologize to guinea pigs everywhere.
My favorite author of all-time is Harper Lee, the brilliant writer who gave us all “To Kill A Mockingbird.” She is the Gold Standard in my humble opinion. Close behind her is John Steinbeck.
Those are my literary gods, and I want to join them atop the literary Olympus.
I don’t want to be a James Patterson, or a Lawrence Block. I don’t even want to be James Lee Burke, even though I greatly admire his work.
No! I want to be another Harper Lee.
Do I have the talent?
I don’t know, but I do know I’ll never be that good if I sell myself short.
Sell a couple ebooks? Really? I can write an ebook in a week of determined writing, and I can sell a couple of those ebooks in one hour. Mission accomplished but really, what did I accomplish by doing that? Did I become a better writer by producing pablum for the unenlightened and uneducated? Did I increase my chances for greatness by producing yet another example of poor effort?
I want more than that and you should as well.
I’ll bet my former student is sorry she asked me a question.
Stop Embracing Low Expectations
Oh how intoxicating it is, the word “author” or “writer” after your name on a website. How so very cool! Look, everyone, I’m a writer. It says so right after my name, so it must be so, right? Look, everyone, I’m an author. It says so right after my name, so it must be so, right?
Well, technically, yes, it is so. Mission accomplished. Give yourself a pat on the back and best wishes in the future. Snuggle up next to mediocrity and stay warm at night.
And someone in the back of the room raises her hand and asks for permission to speak….yes, young lady, what is your question?
Mr. Holland, I hear what you’re saying, but what if we don’t have the talent to write like Harper Lee? Aren’t we then setting unrealistic expectations and dooming ourselves to failure?
And my response is the same it’s been for decades: of course we don’t all have Harper Lee’s talent, but should that stop us from being the best we can be? Should we cower in a corner, wracked with inferiority and hopelessness, and simply settle for drivel? I have no idea if it is unrealistic for me to try to be the next Harper Lee, but I sure as hell will never find out, if my expectations are so low as to rival a slug’s.
I want more for my former student, and I want more for you.
And that’s what I told her!
And that’s what I’m telling you!
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- William Holland | Helping Writers to Spread Their Wings and Fly
Tips, suggestions and discussions about writing
I’ve Got a Friend
I know, it’s a shocker, isn’t it? Well I do, and she’s writing a book. I’ll leave her name out of this discussion but trust me, she is real.
Her family has never supported her love of writing. She has quietly labored in almost complete obscurity for years, writing short stories only she would read, and the amount of encouragement she has received wouldn’t fit in the proverbial thimble.
So the last few months she has cast aside all that negativity and trudged through the book-writing process. Now it just so happens that her book is a World War 2 novel, which means she has spent an enormous amount of time doing research so that her novel is historically accurate. I am talking months of research….alone….no family support….just her and the internet.
She will finish her novel in the next month and in my mind it will be a masterpiece. When the final word is written it will be the culmination of a year’s worth of time and effort, not to mention the battle she has waged against loneliness and self-doubt.
Move over Harper Lee!
You see, my friend never set, as her goal, to be one of the masters, but that didn’t keep her from putting in the time and effort necessary to write a masterpiece.
I’m proud of her, and I’m proud of any of you who set your sights so high it takes a telescope to see them.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”