Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I would suspect that this blog, like many others written by professionally published authors, draws a certain amount of aspiring authors, perhaps looking for advice or insight concerning the in-roads to breaking into the business. I know I've been asked a couple times in my career if I have any advice for folks just starting out. Well, as it turns out, I do. I could go on about the benefits of being open, honest, polite, and friendly to absolutely everyone you meet. Not only is that just a good thing to do in your every day life, it can also benefit you in strange ways in your career as you never know who might be in a position to help you one day--and they will most assuredly remember if you were a jerk or not.

I could give other advice about honing your talent and staying true to your story. Both are sound, practical advice.

But, perhaps the best piece of advice I can give you is something that I learned from a small child that I taught one year many years ago at a Vacation Bible School at my church. We had a small group of, I believe, pre-schoolers and we had them for the evening. It was tough going trying to come up with something to keep them all occupied and interested for the time allotted, but one thing we did was hand out mazes. We passed them out and the kids went to work, trying to get from Start to Finish. They took some wrong turns and a few probably even made it through. But my attention was focused on one little boy. I watched with mild amusement, at first, as he took the crayon in his chubby hand, stabbed the Start line, then drew a straight line, cutting through obstacles, to the Finish line. Blank-faced, as though he wasn't even aware that what he'd done was the total opposite of every child, he calmly handed the maze back to me, without a word, to show me he was finished.

For long seconds I stared at that page and, I kid you not, I had an epiphany. The heavens parted, light shone down, and the scales fell from my eyes. I remember looking at that maze with one simple line drawn from Start to Finish and thinking "Exactly".

It has become an attitude I have adopted in all areas of my life, and especially my writing. There are so many people in this business who will set before you hoops to jump through. They'll tell you you have to get an agent, or go to writers' conferences, or get a certain publisher, or be a New York Times Bestseller, or this, or that. Everyone seems to have a different level they want you to reach before they accept you. Before they deem you "Finished". To that, I say "bah". Set your mind on your goal--what you want to do--regardless if anyone believes in you or not. Then, like that boy in my VBS class, shoot for that goal, never minding the obstacles in your path, never minding the accepted "rules" of "how it's done". Yes, you're going to make mistakes along the way. Maybe you'll have to retrace your steps and try again to find your way through the maze. But don't be afraid to be unconventional. Don't be afraid to blaze new terrain. Be yourself. If I've learned anything, no two writers come to the Finish Line the same way. We all take different paths, some we planned, others we didn't. But know where you're at right now in your life. Then identify your goal.

Then draw a straight line. Don't hold back.

That's probably the best advice I can give you.

To the other authors out there, what's some of the best advice you've received about writing and/or life?


Bruce Hennigan said...

Best advice I ever got for writing came from a personal conversation with John Maxwell while he was waiting for the driver to take him from my conference to the airport. There are two kinds of people in life. First are dreamers. But, dreamers have a different dream every day. They never DO anything about it. The second person is the person who makes his DREAM come true. Focus on that dream, put everything into it, finish it. At that time in my life, I had at least 20 books in various stages of development. I went home, prayed about it and God showed me one book I should begin and finish. That book, "The 13th Demon" was released by Realms three weeks ago. Thanks for the post!

Andrea Kuhn Boeshaar said...

Great post, Greg!

Beth Shriver said...

Very encouraging! You made some good points and made me step back and think. Thanks for the post!

Jillian Kent said...

Love that straight line, Greg. I'll remember this one. One of my favorite writing quotes is from Mark Twain. I try to remember it.:)

The people in the story (characters) shall be alive, except in the case of the corpses, and the reader should be able to tell the corpses from the others. :)