Half Full

There’s an old, old question that gets asked a lot – is the glass half full or half empty? A rather intellectual joke offers an interesting solution to that question. The joke goes: Question – What did the engineer say when he was asked if the glass is half full or half empty? Answer: Your glass is the wrong size. Thereafter is a long and involved explanation of why the engineer would answer in such a fashion.

At the time I heard it I was nonplussed. There was truth to the statement, but funny? Eh. But at odd times I would find myself thinking about the joke, like there was something that I wasn’t understanding. Eventually it dawned on me the engineer was right. But in order to understand the answer, first you have to understand the question.

Is the glass half full or half empty? Theoretically an optimist would say it’s half full, a pessimist the opposite. Generally, I tend to say it’s halfway. But that really doesn’t answer the most basic question – glass of what? Psychologically speaking it’s a glass of everything. To put it more simply, let’s consider it a measure of what we have versus what we expect to get.

If the glass is half full, is that really expecting too much? Shouldn’t we have goals and be reaching past what we already have to bigger and better heights? Yes. Absolutely. We should have goals, and be reaching beyond ourselves to new things.

At the same time, if we expect to double everything we already have, maybe we’re setting the bar a little high. And in doing so we’re setting ourselves up for assured disappointment, never quite reaching that miracle mark. We might be able to double our current situation, but it’s never going to happen in a single step. Thus we’re doomed to have a black cloud looming over us constantly.

This is what I found worked for me – I changed the size of the glass. Little steps. I went from wanting to have X number of books under my belt, to simply doing the best I can on the one I’m working on. I went from a standard of blogging once a week, to finding something I wanted to blog about. And now my glass is three quarters full, and I’m much happier for it.

Sometimes my wishes do get carried away, and I find my glass getting bigger. As a consequence the level starts dropping. I get carried away with the things that it would be nice to have. When I do I have to remind myself – little steps.

 

The Top Five Misconceptions of (Fiction) Writing

This post was originally intended for a different site, Since they never got back to me, I’m going to go ahead and post it here….

Which left me with another problem – what to blog? As a fan of science fiction I grew up with stories of time travel. When I was younger there were a lot of daydreams of going back in time and telling my younger self everything that I had learned. Now that I’m older I can see a lot of younger selves all around me, in the form of people traveling the same road I’ve already been down. So what would I tell me younger selves, if I had the opportunity? I would tell them about the misconceptions that I had when I was in their shoes.

1) Writing is a good way to make money. There’s something I still think is humorous. One book out and some of my co-workers at my day job are asking me when I’m going to quit. It would be nice if it were that easy. It’s been a long road to gain the necessary skill to get that first book published, and now I realize that I’m just starting out. The road is even longer than I had imagined.

When someone names all the authors they can think of, what they’re really naming is what I call the One Percent Club. The OPC’s are so dedicated and so good at their craft that their names are known commodities. They are the one percent who’s made it. For every name that can be listed, there are hundreds who will barely survive on what they make from writing; thousands who will have a day job their entire career, and hundreds of thousands who will never get that far.

2) Authors are artists. Here’s a misconception that should be obvious, but to a lot of people it’s not. Authors are not artists, they don’t get to wait for their muse to whisper in their ear. The author who waits for lightening to strike is going to wait himself out of a job.

A true writer gets up and he writes. Instead of going to visit his friends, he writes. Instead of going to the bar, he writes. When he goes to bed at night, he’s thinking about what he’s going to write the next day. I’ve even taken to carrying my notebook with me everywhere I go, so that when I’m waiting for the doctor, or mechanic, or whoever – I write. Sometimes, the next day, I throw it all away. And then I write some more.

If a writer isn’t an artist, what is he? He’s a craftsman, he makes things. Instead of using nuts, bolts, and cogs, a writer uses nouns, verbs, and concepts. He builds a story from the ground up, using a framework, and layering on POV and internalization. And then he sands it down until there’s no sliver for the audience to trip on. Then he polishes it some more, until it fairly glows.

Don’t get me wrong, someday somebody might call the work a piece of art, but a true craftsman knows better. There are supports, cogs and braces to make a sound structure. There’s trim to hide unsightly joints, there’s glitter to catch the eye, but not too much. In the end the structure must be usable. Too complex and it fades from memory, too simple and it’s boring.

3) I can educate the audience through my work. It would be nice to say what you write will mark the readers, will change the world, but I really can’t. Authors are part of the entertainment industry – those gallant people who seek to distract the common citizen from their daily life. We may well touch a person’s emotions, we might give them pause for thought, but most of the time, once the book is closed an individual will forget the sights, sounds and lessons within.

Again, don’t misunderstand me – I’ve read some wonderful books, even learned a few things from them. But the number of books I’ve read far outweighs the times I’ve kept some memory of them. And what a reader takes away from a story is often not what the author intended.

As a prime example, someone who read my book started talking about themes, hidden meanings, and deep thoughts. I finally had to stop him and explain – what I wrote was meant to be enjoyed, and it sounds like that was accomplished. Anything more came from them, not me.

Has a book ever changed the world? Yes, books have changed many aspects of the way we do things. But in almost every case, the book was never intended to change anything at all, it simply did its job so well that it started people to thinking.

In short, if the author is writing to change the world, the best thing he can do is put down his pen. A particular topic can make a wonderful backdrop for a story. Theoretically, as the characters learn more, so does the reader. What happens most often is the reader forgets such details as fast as he reads them.

4) My books are different. I think every author has a soft spot in his heart for his own work. After all, it is a purer voice than anything else he’s read. The timing is perfect, the structure just right. It is the best story he’s ever found. That only makes sense, it’s his work.

The author may not realize until he’s holding his book in his hands that it’s like all the others on the shelves. Whenever it is, at some point he realizes that they’re not going to jump off the shelves, they’re not nuggets of gold among piles of coal.

That is the moment he realizes he is one among many. The only difference in his work is that this time he knows the story from fist person, instead of third.

5) All I have to do is write a good book. Once upon a time that might have been a true statement. Unfortunately, in the modern age, with booksellers not putting up the advertising capital they were once willing to, a writer has to do more. At the end of the day, quality still counts. An author must be good at his craft. But he must do a lot of his own advertising as well.

When that buyer walks into the store, is perusing online, or whatever, he has to have a reason to pick up that book. A good cover helps, but the ideal target is to have the author’s name already planted in the mind of the reader. That’s where branding comes in. But that’s a topic that will have to wait for another day. For the present, suffice it to say that the modern author must be good at his craft, advertising agent, online guru, and so much more.