Most People Care More About Things Than People. And You Might Be One Of Them!

We live in a strange world.

I think we’re all aware of it, somewhere deep down in our gut, but we generally try not to think about it. We do our best to distract ourselves with Netflix binges (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was amazing) and video games (who doesn’t love Mario Kart) and March Madness (see: How Villanova ruined my life/bracket). We see this strangeness, this obsession with material oddities, and at one point or another all of us feel this soft pang of guilt.

“Why should I care?” it says.

Consider my work friend Colin (not his real name). A wonderful guy, has three kids and a wife, but recently he lost his job to a series of unfortunate events outside of his control. Colin is a great friend of mine, but when we discuss these events, I can’t help but want to change the subject. For some reason, something inside me just wants to pretend Colin has a job. That he’s going to be just fine. And that I shouldn’t worry too much about it. Maybe I’m heartless. Maybe that’s the problem.

Or maybe I’m not. A week prior to the unfortunate incidents coming to a head, Colin told me that he was considering dropping cable. Things were getting tight, financially, and I had about a half a heart-attack.

“Dropping cable? How are you going to see how bad I beat you in our March Madness bracket?” (P.S. I didn’t. See: How Villanova ruined my life/bracket)

After hearing he was switching to Netflix, I gladly offered Colin a place on my couch for any subsequent basketball or soccer game (not football because that guy is a cold-blooded Packer Fan and I am 100% Minnesotan).

My point remains. I saw a material problem Colin was having and I had an easy solution — so I offered it. A week later, I saw an emotional problem that another human being was having tacked on a physical issue of finance — and feeling I was not capable of solving both I had trouble even helping on one front.

I came around, eventually. But it stunned me that this action required “coming around” at all.

But again. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m just a huge jerk.

Or maybe it’s all of us.

Consider the following:

We live in a world where a guy can raise over $55,000 to make potato salad. It was a prank. A giant prank. And yet it netted $55,000. That’s more than a lot of people make in a year.

Yet when I search GoFundMe for people who need help with medical expenses in my OWN zip code ALONE, I find 21,000 results. And aside from a VERY select few, all of these results combined still doesn’t net what one guy made in cold hard cash for a joke involving potato salad. Heck, many of these medical expense issues have had little or no money donated to them.

And that’s local to me. Just me.

The message I get from this is that people care more about potato salad than people.

“But Brian, it’s a risk thing. You see, I don’t know these people or their situation. And maybe they’re just preying on my feeble heartstrings to take my hard-earned money.”

Do you know what Potato Salad guy used his money for? Neither do I. But I certainly know what he didn’t use it for — charity. He said so. He didn’t donate a dime because that was his “hard earned cash.”

So its okay to donate money when we know it’s a joke, but when we’re not certain if it’s real, we’re afraid? Afraid of what exactly? Afraid of being wrong? Afraid our two dollar donation will fund a Porsche?

**Takes a deep breath**

This isn’t about criticizing humanity. I’m a part of it (and as previously stated, I am possibly a horrible human being).

This is about a girl named Nikki.

I first met Nikki online. In fact, I’ve never actually met Nikki in person, but I know a heck of a lot about her.

I played in a band and she supported me. She bought my albums. She commented on my Facebook page, my Twitter page, my Myspace page, my Bandspace page — basically if I had a page she was commenting on it.

She joined video chats with the band on a weekly basis. She laughed with us as we performed shows and aired band practices and she told everyone she knew about us. And I mean everyone. If you knew Nikki and somehow managed to not hear about us, well you should just go out right now and buy a lottery ticket because trust me — it’s a winner.

Nikki was one of our first fans. She was more than a fan to us. She became our friend. Nikki is always compassionate. She is always loving. She is always thinking about everyone else in the world but herself.

And my friend Nikki needs a kidney.

She’s had chronic kidney disease since she was an infant. It started with a stomach virus when she was 18 months old, and that’s when the doctors first realized she had serious kidney problems. They’d overflow and she’d get infection after infection.

Three major surgeries later, things seemed to be looking up, until her senior year of high school (2008). She was in and out of the hospital every two weeks with another infection and the complications that came with it.

In 2010 her kidney function dropped to 10-15% of a normal kidney, so she had to have surgery on her arm to prepare for dialysis. It was coming time to get on the list for a new kidney. Once dialysis started, Nikki got a part time job to try to help out and made it about 5 months before the extra wear and tear on her body risked another infection and she had to quit.

Medical expenses are mostly covered by insurance, but there are some things they don’t cover.

For one, Nikki’s transplant surgery would happen in Atlanta (3 hours round trip from her). She’d stay there for an extended period after the operation, and then need to go into that hospital three times a week post-op for dialysis and to ensure no complications occurred. When possible, her mom and her stay in a hotel room to skip the drive.

Travel is not covered by medical insurance and she may have to do this for quite some time post-op.

And then there’s the anti-rejection medication. You’d think medication would be covered by insurance, and you’d be partly right. Her insurance covers it for 36 months after the operation, but that’s it. Unfortunately, she’ll need to take it the rest of her life, and it’s a few thousand dollars per month.

There are grants she can (hopefully) get to help with this cost but there are no guarantees.

For now, her and her family need a phone call, a new kidney, and a little financial support to cover the trips that will begin in a flurry the moment they get the call. So far they’ve been waiting over 4 years for that call.

My friend Nikki — she needs a helping hand.

I think the real test of humanity is what we do when we have an opportunity to help. After all, 20,000 plus people were willing to donate a dollar for a guy to make potato salad. And how much does a retweet cost? How about an email? How much does a post on facebook cost? Or a personal message to a friend?

How difficult is it to skip a McDonalds happy meal and donate $5 to a girl who just wants to make it to dialysis three times a week?

Just so she can keep her kidneys working.

Just so she can feel like garbage.

Just so she can fight back against something that’s been trying to crush her from the day she was born.

Or am I right? Is Potato Salad more important than people?

http://www.gofundme.com/7601jg

Do me a favor. Click the link above. Donate. If not, at least share it. Help Nikki.

Prove me wrong.

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Human

An elderly lady idled in the turn lane waiting for the red arrow to change. Her old beat-up oldsmobile puttered along like a glorified golf cart. Her knuckles, worn and wrinkled like they were perpetually held underwater, squeezed too tightly on the steering wheel. Her sunglasses were so big that I wondered if beneath them she had multiple pairs of glasses just to see the road.

Next to her, also in the turn lane, was a recently-washed minivan. It wasn’t new or expensive, just an average middle-class red caravan. A mother was inside fiddling with something in the center console, a teenager next to her engrossed in his cell phone. In back there was a carseat.

And that’s when I noticed it — a special bumper sticker.

You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it.

It says “Baby on Board” with a big yield diamond.

thCAG2EHD0

I’m not opposed to babies, nor the idea that they are ‘on board’ and thus precious (and not just because they are on board), but in that moment this sentiment rubbed me very much the wrong way.

Consider the meaning –

“Please be careful not to hit my car, because I have a precious life on board.”

Innocuous. Innocent. Simple.

Yet, when I looked at that elderly woman with hair so white it was practically see-through — I couldn’t help but notice that there was no caution sticker on the back of her car. I glanced back and forth between the minivan and the oldsmobile — as if distilling one half from the other would somehow settle the foulness stirring in my stomach.

This foulness had nothing to do with a new and precious life. But it had everything to do with the idea that we needed to protect this life via caution stickers — that in the crudest sense we needed to be reminded —

“Be careful. There’s another human in this car.”

A human.

Forget the age of the human for a moment, and just recognize that simple fact. Between the mother and the teenager and the old lady and the baby and myself, only one demanded consideration. Only one was the focus of the caution.

It’s a condition.

A piss-poor condition that we the human race have adopted somewhere along the line. That other cars carrying other humans are not people, but in fact traffic cones preventing us from getting to our destination. That old ladies in oldsmobiles who take to long to turn deserve a honk and a nudge or a revocation of their license.

That if you’re going to take a life by slamming your car into a minivan, don’t let it be the baby. The teenager, sure. The mom, why not. But not the baby. As if that makes it less sad. As if a family isn’t destroyed by the loss of any life, old or young.

This sticker that wasn’t ever created to offend anyone, proposed an idea. The idea that life is only precious when it is young, when it is untainted — that cars and those inside them are not worthy of consideration. This is the cultural message we seem to be getting.

Treat whoever you please like human garbage —

But draw the line at babies.

Caution. Baby on board.

 

It was a rotten feeling.

A conviction.

And it led me to a whole mess of questions about myself and my own life. 

 

I don’t mean to bum you out this morning. I don’t mean to make you feel bad — or make anyone feel bad for that matter other than myself. I don’t think that soccer mom, or any mom is wrong for putting a bumper sticker on their car. I’m not trying to incite riots against yellow stickers.

But I do blame myself. I blame myself for attaching worth to age. I blame myself for deciding that some people are too far gone to make amends. I blame myself for trying to make up for the kids in high school that I laughed at by volunteering with high school kids and making them feel included. Because younger life is more precious. Because helping young people somehow makes up for all the kids I let eat lunch alone in high school, or the ones I watched get bullied. They’re too old now, too far gone, wouldn’t remember if I reached out and apologized to them for not saying something sooner. It’s been too long.

I blame myself for not reaching out to old friends who have fallen into addiction. For distancing myself from another human life because that life was  all used up. Because I let myself believe that people, the older they get, can’t change. That they don’t want to change. That they are beyond redemption.

This sentiment is a reflection of myself more than anyoen else. It belongs here in public form because it is a habit & trait that I exibit. One that needs to be cut down and thrown to the fire. This statement belongs here because I may not be the only one who feels this way. Because today I will remind myself of a few simple things, in hopes that somewhere deep in my mind — it sticks.

Life is precious. Not because it’s young.

Life is precious because it’s human.

And you don’t outgrow being human.

How to Get Others to Believe in Your Dreams.

The Problem

My wife and I have this great idea. We want to build a free concert series as an outreach to hurting people. We’ll sing a bunch of songs, some on the radio and some obscure, but the purpose will be to get people in touch with their emotions or their spirituality or their love for one another and do so for free — as a service to our community.

We don’t want to preach our views on stage or force people into our mindset or way of thinking — we just want to bring people together for a free show and create an environment where people can speak openly and build community.

Yesterday, we were sharing this idea with a friend of ours. I discussed the idea, and the meaning behind it and how I envisioned it would work while we drank coffee in this wonderful new coffee shop in Bloomington, MN. I answered his questions and left the conversation feeling that he was responsive. I properly illustrated my passion and he responded with a smaller degree of passion.

In my experience, this is natural. To my wife, she found this to be unfulfilling. She made a comment on the way back home.

“Do you think people are really behind us in this?”

And I couldn’t help but think she nailed it. 

She keenly detected this difference in level of passion. We had more of it, and our friend had less of it. She felt unsatisfied because she wanted to share a passion with a friend and have them respond with even more passion than she had.

And there’s a reason he didn’t respond that way.

 

The Reason

Some days I think there are only two types of people in the world.

People like me, who overanalyze everything. (bad)

And people who are too busy doing and living and being to really even realize (or care for that matter) about what others are thinking. (good)

The truth, I’m sure, is more complicated than this — but there’s something to be learned in this black-and-white polarized view of the world.

Generally speaking — people who barrel ahead generally get further in life than those who inch forward, analyze, redirect, inch again. And we like to make fun of the barrelers, don’t we? We like to look at those dream-chasers as ignorant, silly people. You know who I’m talking about — the ones who quit their jobs on a whim to open a business, or who move to another city/state/country with literally zero prospects or job leads or apparent reasons.

And yet, even when those who barrel come back home with a life in shambles, we still feel jaded that they did something.

I’m all for analyzing and planning and preparing. But at some point, these things become a crutch — an excuse to not move forward and implement the plan. At some point, you just have to barrel.

These people, these barrelers, they understand something about the world that us analyzers don’t. They get that people are never going to see what they see — so rather than trying to justify or explain or reason with people who are at best going to mildly agree — they do what it is they want and deal with the consequences as it happens.

 

The Way

People are never going to be as passionate about your dreams as you are. It’s like a mathmatical law of the universe.

You have the vision. You have the dream. To you, it’s crystal clear.

But everyone else can only catch a glimpse of it until it’s finished. And even when its finished, they might not be able to fully appreciate it.

Think about a form of art that you have literally zero capacity to perform. For me, any type of drawing or painting.

If a painter came up to me and desribed their vision for this wonderful serene realist work and how it was going to change the way that realist art is performed or viewed — my response would be something like this:

“That’s cool! Do it!”

In their head, they see a vision. In mine, I’m seeing some mix of Rembrant and Picasso, and then realizing that Picasso was an impressionist, and then thinking about just how little I know about art in general.

So the trick — the real trick — is distinguishing this difference. Because even when this friend of mine shows me this earth-shattering world-shaking painting, the true meaning of it might still be lost on me.

And that’s not because the painting isn’t earth-shattering. That’s because I’m art-stupid.

Hear me on this.

No one will ever be as passionate about your dreams as you.

It won’t happen. Ever.

And that’s not a problem with you or what you accomplished.

Make art, music, films, novels, poems because you want to create — because you have something to say and you need to get it out. Dream big, not so people will get behind you. Dream big and press forward and by natural consequence people will BE behind you.

Be passionate about your work and others will be passionate about it too.

And if you feel yourself wondering “Does anyone else really think I can do this?” I’d like you to shut that voice up. Call your mom, call that uber-supportive friend. Let them calm your nerves by telling you that you’ll change the world.

Or just ignore that stupid voice entirely, because what does it know anyways?

And barrel confidently forward.

 

On sharing, #amwriting, and cereal (or is it serial)

I’ve been told that sharing is an important part of any artists process.

After all, we don’t create in a vacuum. At some point, one must make the leap between thinking an idea and creating that idea. Invariably then, one must also make the leap between completing their creation and sharing it. Even if its only being shared with your mom, and even if that still feels scary.

So this week, I’ve decided to share the first 500 words of my WIP — a YA Mystery with some magical realism laced throughout. I generally am opposed to “meets” but I can’t argue with their usefulness. My new novel – Monstrous Things – is Veronica Mars meets the X-Files.

Lastly, before I sit at the typewriter and bleed before you all, I wanted to get some thoughts on serials. I know prior to The Martian being published, it was serialized via blog with great success. I also know, despite blogs being very well suited to serialization, for some reason authors haven’t exactly used it to platform their writing. What are your thoughts on serialization? Do you think it is underused? What’s your theory on why it hasn’t really taken flight in (keyword) genre fiction?

Also, I did buy a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch last week. It was delicious.

 

Without further ado – the first 500(ish) words of my new novel! Feel free to comment below!

 

1 – Gordon’s Bag (Present Day)

 

Nineteen-year-old Stanley Gordon Windfall sat in a room holding a pen – handcuffed to a table.

An FBI agent and two local cops from Nowheresville, Minnesota exited the doorway toward the hall, letting a cool draft into the oven-hot enclosure.

                “We’ll give you some time to think about it,” the FBI agent laughed as the door started to shut.

Gordon mumbled in response. The local cops disappeared from view, but the FBI agent paused.

“What’s that?”

“I said you’re a know-nothing.” Gordon’s voice came back stronger, “You’re just a know-nothing parading around like you know something.”

The FBI agent slammed the big metal door.

Gordon leaned back in his chair with a painful groan and twirled his pen around his finger. Four cities in four years with four violent crimes, heck, he was starting to believe he HAD killed them. Truth be told, he might have. Stranger things had happened.

He looked at the paper again.

A confession. Start to finish, a swelling vilification. The good detective and his posse of police from all over the US had written it. They just needed Gordon’s signature, and he could live out his days peacefully behind bars.

He set his pen to the line, letting the ink of the ballpoint drain into a murky puddle. Signing it, the easy way out.

He looked up at the mirror where no doubt they watched, or more likely cheered – awaiting one swift black stroke to end this charade.

Gordon chuckled, swearing and shaking his head. He flipped them the bird and then he flipped over the page.

He wrote down six words and he held it up.

*The truth is in the bag.*

An irreverent thing to say – given the morbid double meaning.

The FBI agent stormed back into the room. Without warning he reared a hand and slapped his suspect across the face, cursing. Gordon spit red crimson onto the floor and looked back at the agent with a smile. His scarred and bruised knees, battered side and wounded scalp raw with the memory of previous abuse. All wounds collected in the course of justice – but every injury served to strengthen his resolve.

                “You can’t help it, can you?” The FBI agent scoffed, looking at Gordon like he was less than human.

                “If I’m gonna sign a confession, It’ll at least be one I wrote,” Gordon grinned.

                “Maybe another night in this room will change your mind. I don’t care how long it takes. What you did to those people… those kids…” The FBI agent spit on the floor, sliding his chair hard into the corner before he whipped around, prepared to devour Gordon like a jungle cat. His voice was low and even now, “I’m gonna get that confession, kid. You better believe I will. Whatever it takes, I’m gonna get you to say the words.”

                Gordon smirked, “You said it yourself, right? I’m just a *kid*. What do I know?”

The FBI agent kicked the chair again, storming towards the door and swinging it open, ablaze with anger.

                “Find the bag, detective. Find the bag and you’ll find the truth.”

And then the door slammed for the night.

 

 

On #PitMad, Genre, Style, and post-apocalyptic dystopian YA zombie/vampire novels

Normally I only post one blog entry per week, but for some odd reason (maybe it’s all this wonderful sunshine) I needed to get something off my chest.


Last winter, I joined the ranks of my fellow writers in Brenda Drake’s AMAZING #PitMad tweet-a-thon. I followed the rules, crafted a wonderful set of tweets, downloaded tweet deck and varied the times of my tweets by 30 minutes and went at those agents with everything I had.


Now today, some three months later, I participated for the sake of moral support (and happily retweeted my fellow writer friends).


Today, after the twelve hours of #PitMad was over, I did some rough (and I mean very rough) calculations. I surveyed a random half hour period across three random times in the morning/afternoon/evening and I found out that something like 1 out of every 450 tweets ended up getting an agent favorite.


Stick with me here. Because things are gonna get bleak, and when they do I don’t want you to run off and wallow; my point isn’t to preach despair, but to preach hope.


So, that would mean about half of 1% of people were feeling good about their shiny yellow stars. Now these figures aren’t even remotely accurate, as they don’t account for re-tweets or multiple book submissions or people who don’t follow the rules and spam the feed ect, but the point is, those who garnered interest may be feeling like special unicorns.


Statistics were on your side. Or maybe it was those fickle Fates.


Further digging into the trenches of statistics, I started reading things on agent blogs that seemed to indicate (and again we’re dealing in faux numbers here just to get a general sense of a thing) that agents will get around 30,000 queries in a year.


Let’s be generous and say they read every query and request 2,000 partial manuscripts from that pool. That means to get from query to partial, you are in the top 6%. Of partials, they may reach out for (again being generous) 100 full requests.  Now we’re in the 1/3 of 1% range.


And of these full requests, some agents will sign a grand total of zero new clients in a year. If we’re lucky, let’s say they sign two. So from query to signing, we’re looking at a VERY rough estimate of 1 in 15,000 people.  That’s six-ten-thousandths of one percent. And that’s just to get in the door.


When you keep tumbling down this rabbit hole, you find out that very few agented authors are making their living purely from their writing. I won’t bore anyone with more fictional numbers, but even for these lucky authors — there’s a planet-sized gap between the top and the bottom of the pile with a whole lot of people not making crazy money in the middle.


Remember when I said things were going to get bleak? I promise, I’m getting to the good stuff.


By the numbers – us writers aren’t looking so hot.


In fact, if a doctor gave you equal odds on living after acquiring some sort of flesh-eating virus as authors have of becoming the next John Greene, our friend the doctor would probably just round up to less than zero percent and hand you a gun to let you down easy.


The statistics say we’re screwed.


But let’s say you don’t believe in statistics. Say you’re a fate person.  You believe you can see through the garbage and tell what’s coming next. You think the statistics don’t matter because the stars and the moon are aligning and you’re a special butterfly, or a Virgo, or part Lumberjack (and everyone knows Lumberjacks are damn near indestructible).


So you see the recent trend in the Twilight era, the Hunger Games craze, and you love The Walking Dead, so you decide to do something unique. You combine all of those genres into one epic trilogy. Your main character fights Zombies and then Vampires and then the apocalypse destroys the world but s/he survives to build a new society which ends up being a dystopia after all and viva la revolution!


What could go wrong with that?


But then the market dries up, because everyone and their mother had the exact same idea you had – and they all started creating the same type of book. Sure, the characters are different and the plot isn’t quite the same, but that’s not what an editor sees. An editor hears the mere mention of something vampire-like and goes running. So those wonderful literary agents follow suit as the market wanes, and they start avoiding anything with a dystopia or a zombie or an apocalypse or vampires or trilogies, and your book is literally all of these things.


And here’s where we pause.


Today I had to remind myself that my blog – this thing that is supposed to contain habits and traits I am trying to embody and share to work towards my own success and help others with theirs – was pretty worthless  if I wasn’t going to apply it.


It’s not called Statistics & Fates.


It’s not about the numbers or about the stars.


You see, by definition, when we look at the bestselling novelists or the award-winning musicians of the world, we’re looking at the exception – not the rule.


For them, the statistics didn’t matter. They overcame them. They made their own luck and they made it count. They didn’t give a crap about current trends because when you pay attention to trends, at best you’re chasing ghosts. Because when a book hits the shelves, it was in an editors hands two years prior and maybe even written two years before that.


So when the statistics say we’ll lose, why should we listen?


If we don’t believe we are the exception… well then we might as well let the numbers run us into the ground. To be successful, you have to believe you ARE the exception. You have to say “Sure, it looks bad, but you know what – screw it. I don’t care. I’m better than that.”


Because the best that we can do — the very best — is put ourselves in the best possible position to succeed and throw caution to the wind.


Great agents, great authors, and great editors all resound on this topic in a heavenly chorus. You can literally hear them for miles. They say things like:


Go write the best book you can write.
Great voice trumps everything else.
Don’t rush. Submitting your novel too early is bad.
Great books will always be needed.


And you know why they all agree on these things? Because a good book isn’t written as a response to genre trends, style trends, because the stars have all lined up and Mars and the Moon are perfectly in sync or because statistically you have a high chance of success if you do (a) (b) and (c).


None of that makes for a good book.


I guess my long-winded point of the night is this – if you’re anything like me and you question whether or not you’re writing the right genre or with the right voice or in the right market at the right time — just stop yourself.


If writing to you is the same as gambling, then go to a casino.


But if you’re with me? Slap yourself in order. Tie your shoes and walk outside with your laptop in hand and enjoy some sunshine while you do what you were born to do — write the best (insert genre mashup) book the world has ever seen.


Because you don’t ask to be the exception to the rule — you just are.


So go be exceptional.


And go write the next greatest book the world has ever seen.


On Whiplash, Hemingway, Capote, and Being the Best

Every year my wife and I watch the award ceremonies.

Generally, we’re only concerned with the Oscars, Emmys and the Academy Awards, which I always find strange because we’re both musicians and both love broadway musicals… but I try not to question such things.

Each year, after the awards are announced, we take it upon ourselves to watch most or all of the films that win (and many that are nominated) simply to soak in what is considered “the best”.

For yesterday, that meant watching Whiplash.

Now, if you haven’t seen the movie, i’m not here to critique it or to spoil it for you, so don’t worry. The basic premise is this: Andrew Nieman (played by Miles Teller) goes to Shaffer Conservatory of Music with dreams of being the greatest jazz drummer in the world, and he realizes that (in part by J.K. Simmons character Terrance Fletcher throwing chairs at his head) being good at things is really really hard.

There’s one particular line in the film that keeps running around in my mind. It was in the previews for the film and it undoubetly was a big reason that J.K. Simmons won best supporting actor. 

There are no two more damaging words in the English language than ‘good job’

Simmons makes the point in this simplified fashion by telling a story about another famous Jazz musician who was humiliated and subsequently went home to practice with the intent of never being laughed at again. But the compelling part of his argument touches on a subject I have been preachinig from the rooftops for the past ten years (first in music and now in writing).

Being good at something – and I mean being very good – doesn’t requre being somehow brilliant or a genius. It does not require a high IQ or a quick learner or perfect pitch or an eye for space. Because things like this can be learned, and there are a whole heck of a lot of people out there in the world with perfect pitch or perfect tempo who are doing what I’m doing — watching Whiplash on the couch. And even drive, which many business professionals and CEO’s will tell you is the most important quality — isn’t really what makes someone good at something. Sure, they do a LOT of things… but not well. There are plenty of driven people in the world who are just plain bad at what they do.

Being good at something is easy – it means doing exactly what you want to do, exactly when you want to do it.

Accuracy + Intention

I heard a quote from Hemingway once – “When you’re in a room — act like you’re the best damn writer in that room. Unless, of course, I’m in that room as well — in which case — I’m the best damn writer in the room.”

I have no idea if the quote is real, but the concept is solid. Hemingway was a champion for not just his brand of overbearing suffocating confidence, but for accuracy and intention. He picked a word because that was the RIGHT word — not because he sort of liked it, and not because it seemed to kind of fit in that spot, and not because he couldn’t think of a better one. It was as if he picked each word he wrote out of a hat after analyzing every other possible word in the English language and going “Yes, this is the correct word.” And that’s what he did when he walked into a room as well. He walked into a room because he wanted to — not aimlessly and not without purpose. He did so with every intention of proving something.

That type of accuracy, that level of exactitude, that style of specificity — that is what it means to be good at any form of art.

Someone else told me once that when Truman Capote wrote “In Cold Blood”, he actually put every word of every chapter on an index card, and one by one he ordered them in their proper way. He would switch cards around until he found just the right arrangement. Again, no idea if its true, but it’s an inspiring thing to consider.

There are lots of reasons the “greats” have etched their name in history. There’s a lot of inherent talent there (we like to remind ourselves) but many times we fail to consider the fact that hard work beats out lazy talent every day of the week.

So yes, working hard, being driven, being confident — these are all good things that successful people do. But these things do not make them the best. Because in all of art, in every facet and every form of creative media, the one thing that always holds true is this:

Those who are the best do exactly what they intend to do, exactly when they intend to do it.

And that kind of determination doesn’t come cheap. There are no tips or tricks to make you better at something — just a mountain of hard work, a complete immersion in your particular craft and an iron will that decides why something is good and why it is not.

Personally, as I fumble through editing my own novel, I find myself considering what “level” of exactness I want to acheive. It’s not hard to look at many of the great literary minds and see the time they spent on their work as justified when considering exactness to this magnitude. It certainly makes me look at my own book in a different way.

To me, what I take away from all of this is having an answer to a question. The question is always “Why?” and the answer is always “Because…” followed by a whole lot of previous ideas. The answer is never “I don’t know.”

If Hemingway or Capote wrote a book with a main character named Steve, you better believe they’d have about a hundred reasons why that was the best name to choose. When Beethoven wrote a Bb in the key of E major, you better believe he had a flippin reason, and you better believe he did it because that was the best way to get across what he was trying to show.

So the next time you write a line, or compose a chord progression, or choose charcoal over oil paint, or cast an unknown actor, or pick out an outfit, or even walk into a room — do it with purpose.

Whatever your craft, do it accurately, do it intentionally, and you will be good at it.

My Story

My eyes have always been bigger than my stomach.

When you have a birthday in the Schwarz house, it means you get to pick the dinner spot. For me, growing up, the dinner spot was always Perkins. Because just like Ron Swanson, I am a breakfast man. (Let’s share a moment of silence for the recently departed Parks & Recreation. Sad day.)

Every year, I’d order more than I could eat. I love pancakes, waffles, omelets, french toast, scramblers, eggs, bacon, more bacon, (did i mention bacon), and mammoth muffins. My love for crepes came after my first experience at Bob Evans, and still to this day when my wife and I travel, I make it a point to stop there for one.

I’m getting sidetracked.

Breakfast is in my veins, and every time I eat it, I want to eat all of it. This is not an odd behavior for me. My wife calls it my “laser vision”.

I’ll give you a few pictures of this. When I was 13 I learned about novels. I decided I wanted to write one. It was going to be an adventure novel about a bunch of sailors who get shipwrecked on an island. Only the island became an archipelago to account for every climate zone on Earth, the stakes went from survival to preventing a dragon from destroying the world, and instead of one book, it was three books — all with stories taking place in conjunction and all with intertwining plots that ran into one another from time to time. Mind you, this was before I had even read Lord of the Rings (mind blown). I hand-wrote 16 college ruled 120 page notebooks in a year. I nearly broke my hand.

This is laser vision.

When I turned 18 and decided I wanted to make a career for myself in music, I could have started a band and played some local shows at bars and hoped for the best. But no. I dropped out of college. I quit my job and I literally found a way to tour full-time with 8 guys in a van as my 9-5 job, seeing practically the entire Untied States by the time I was 23. For the record, I was not accepting cash payouts from parents or relatives. Playing sets of original music at high schools, colleges, bars, venues, and event centers around the country was my job, and it paid well enough to make ends meet and continue doing it. I played shows with television stars, bands that were on the radio, and we even convinced a high school to bring the entire 8-12th grade into the assembly hall to watch us perform and ask us questions about touring as a business.

I see what I want, and I think of the biggest baddest most awesome way to do it, and that’s where I start.

There’s two reasons I think this way. I believe life is pretty dang short, for one. There are way too many people out there in this world who waste all kinds of time deciding what to do. I figure I’m lucky. I’ve been given the gift of decisiveness. Might as well use it.

But the second reason I think this way is because fearing failure is just plain worthless.

I mean, think about it.

Failure is an idea.

It’s not even a universally accepted idea. Some people see what I did when touring as a complete failure because I failed to earn millions. I see it as a complete success. I did what I set out to do and I did it while many people said I wouldn’t last a week. I worked harder than I’ve ever worked in any corporate America job since, and I had the experience of a lifetime.

We have complete control over how we define failure. We establish a goal and a way to test that goal, and then we either achieve it or we don’t. The goal is up to us — and so what we consider failure is up to us as well.

It’s just silly to fear an idea that we create in our own minds.

I have my goals. I have my plan and my method to achieve them. I know I will achieve them because when plans fail, I make new plans and I don’t compromise the goal. I have big eyes that stare down big problems without being afraid of them, because with enough hard work and persistence and motivation, there is always a way.

So now in this chapter of my life, I choose to call myself a writer. I hadn’t finished a book in 10 years. But in November of 2013 I wrote 120,000 words. And I did my best to edit that book and send it off. And now in 2014 I drafted another book at 70,000 words, and started two more. I’ve joined critique groups. I’ve read more articles about writing and the ever-changing publishing world than I can count. I made a goal for myself to read at least a book every two weeks this year and I’m still going strong. I am not just a writer. I’m an animal lover, a devoted husband, a musician, a coffee addict, and most importantly a dreamer.

I write because there is no way to dream too big in writing. Because programming robots relies on the limitations of the robot, and music relies on the limitation of notes and chords. I write because words are as close to a completely blank slate as you can get, because when you dream up a world – you don’t have to think about set design or what a green screen can do or whether its possible to reverse gravity altogether. I like to dream of new worlds.

I write because in writing, your eyes are never bigger than your stomach.