Jeff’s Pep Talk: Learning to Let Go

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Learning to Let Go

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

To tell you the truth, I never wanted to be a writer. So many authors–successful and unsuccessful alike–seem to have been aware of a certain literary calling from an early age. Stephen King began telling stories as a kid and never stopped. One of my personal favorites, Frank Herbert, creator of the Dune series, told his parents when he was little, “I want to be a author.” Adorably so, I’m sure, even if in basic syntactic error.

I had precious few moments like that. At the age of eight, I began an ambitious Star Wars fan fiction novel in which Luke Skywalker was forced to confront an evil dark Jedi clone of his poor dead Uncle Owen. I never got off the fourth page. When I was a teenager, I wrote about seven chapters of a complex space opera. But even though I showed clear aptitude, the process was long and boring, and I had better things to do, like playing music with my friends and spending hours on the couch in front of my PlayStation.

I didn’t decide to devote myself to writing until I hit my mid-twenties, by which time the life of a coffee-house-playing singer/songwriter had lost its appeal. Nobody listened to me when I performed. They were too intent on their dark roasts and shallow hipster conversations. I reasoned that even if I someday made it as a musician, I’d have to spend all my time on the road touring, and I’d just gotten engaged to a wonderful woman and had future plans to start a family with her. It made sense at that time to go after a new dream, and I’d always liked telling stories, even if I’d never demonstrated the necessary discipline to actually finish them.

Like so many young hopefuls, I was convinced literary success and stardom would be just around the corner. Ehem, they were not. What can I say? If you’ve been at this thing for any length of time, you know well the real hard work comes in the form of keeping your head down, applying butt to chair, and pounding out thousands of unsuccessful words before a single one catches the eye of an editor or an agent. Maybe you’re just starting out, in which case you might be wondering what the long-term odds of your success are.

Sad to say, but instant recognition is pretty rare. I know some very talented but also very lucky writers who hit it big their first time out. Ultimately, their jobs and their lives haven’t been made any easier. Sometimes the work is actually harder for them, because big success comes with big pressure. Each morning, they still have to make that basic choice: to write, or not to write. And that isn’t easy. Nothing about this job is. Anyone who tells you otherwise … actually, I seriously doubt someone with experience will tell you otherwise.

If you’re like me, your first stabs at storytelling were bad. Like really, really bad. I wrote at least thirty short stories before I snagged a single decent pub credit. I had a couple things working against me, and so did you. First off, I had to learn to write. And I don’t mean in the general sense; writing a blog post like this and writing a fully realized novel are two incredibly different beasts. That probably goes without saying, too.

Secondly, most of us have to build a name for ourselves slowly and over time. Many of your favorite authors didn’t get anywhere near success until they’d generated an incredible amount of published content (that’s published content; the unpublished stuff doesn’t count). The difficulty curve inherent to all this is enough to derail the majority of us. Everybody wants to write a book at some point in their life, but actually finishing one, submitting it through the proper channels, and receiving scads of rejection letters … well, may I just say, fresh meat, welcome to the great literary meat grinder.

At this point you may be asking, “What gives, Jeff? I thought you were going to give us a pep talk. This is more like trash talk.” Well, yeah, I guess it is. But it does no good to approach creative writing as a profession with anything less than a level head. You’ve got to know the odds. Or at least, I feel you should know the odds. The truth is–and this may seem counterintuitive–recognizing your likelihood of failure is just as important as having your writing dream in the first place.

I’m a dreamer by nature. Most creative types are. When I close my eyes at night, I’m just as likely to see book signings and red carpet movie premieres as blank white pages with blinking, unfulfilled cursors … taunting me, taunting me … the horror, the horror. Just because I recognized a long time ago instant success would never be mine doesn’t mean I no longer do what I can when I can to get there. Actually, and this is the important part, the slow and steady nature of my career thus far has allowed me to let go my prodigious and unproductive white-knuckle grip, helping me at last to relinquish just enough control so I could, say, have a life outside of my stories.

That’s kind of the point. Failure teaches us more than success. Failure hurts, no doubt about it, but it also heals. Failure is not a four-letter word. Count ‘em, seven letters, not even close. Nor is it some cosmic slight. Don’t be afraid to fail. In the grand scheme of things, there’s no difference between the careers of a thirty-year vet who hit the mark right out of the gate and a thirty-year vet who had to slowly build an audience with each successive work. In other words, it isn’t the destination, it’s the journey.

Here is your pep talk in four simple words: learn to let go. Seriously, that’s it. Let go of your need for recognition, for validation. Let go the desire for royalty checks the size of the annual Defense Department budget. Letting go doesn’t mean giving up. Far from it, in fact. Some very big writers love to spoil it for newbies. Gleefully, they hand out advice like, “If you can quit, you should,” implying of course this job sucks so bad you shouldn’t even bother.

I’m not that guy. I like to build people up. Learning to let go of your expectations, your insecurities and personal timetables, it’s actually a cure-all for life. The day-to-day of a writer really can be challenging. There are just so many lows, sometimes more than there are highs. You’ll have days you want to give up. Heck, you may have entire years or decades you don’t write a single word. So I find it’s better for the mind and the soul to consider writing a lifelong journey rather than a pass/fail vocation. Do you know what happens when you let go? You actually start enjoying what you do. Some time-tested philosophies think of this as living in the now, embracing the flow of life, or choosing to let the stream carry you rather than fighting its currents. It’s a healthy attitude to cultivate, especially when you’re in a creative industry that hands out disappointment like local discount car wash flyers.

Don’t give up. Don’t do it. And don’t let anyone, including yourself, tell you that you should. If you find you’re getting frustrated with your progress, take a break. That old chestnut, writers write, applies only to very unhappy people and very well-adjusted robots. Writers are just average folks, and like every other warm body on this planet, you need a life that’s fulfilling on more than one level. You know what you can do instead of pounding out words until you tear your hair out? Fall in love. Go see a movie. Have kids. Start a stamp collection. When you let go of the desperation, the incessant need to be somebody, you can be anybody, and that, my friends, is freedom itself.

You know who you are. You know you love to write. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here on this blog. So why not trust yourself? Trust life. Tell a story for the joy of it. One moment, one second, one word at a time. If you worry too much about the future, the next rejection, the next failure, if you obsess over the past and all the ugly moments still living there, you’re doomed to forever hate right now.

It’s okay to admit you’re no superstar. At least not yet. Trust me, it won’t hinder your ability to create awesome stuff. I’ve met some big name talent. Many of them feel imprisoned by their careers. The grass is always greener, right? So while you’re busy fuming with jealousy over their magnificent sales figures, they’re busy resenting you for what they perceive as your complete and total freedom. The joy of writing is in discovering what’s just around the corner. Imagine if a new entry in your favorite book series telegraphed its epic ending on page one. Wouldn’t that be disappointing? Life, like any story worth reading, works best when you don’t know what comes next.

So don’t try to predict the future. Live free, focus on today. And that’s your pep talk for the month, folks. Read ‘em and weep! Just don’t weep too hard.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Black Static, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Video Games – Music – Entertainment – Fun!


Welcome Jeff Bowles to “Writing to be Read”

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Last week we had our first guest post from the newest addition to the Writing to be Read team, author Jeff Bowles, who will be sharing his Pep Talk to keep writers inspired and motivated, the first Wednesday of every month. I’m excited to have him join my team, and I think you readers will be too, after you learn a little about him.
I had the good fortune to attend the same graduate program with Jeff, and I have to tell you, he is an extremely talented young man. His stories different and often don’t fit neatly into a particular genre, although I think most that I’ve read can be called speculative fiction.
For his thesis, Jeff came up with an epic idea for an Armageddon story, where a gigantic God and Satan have a  physical battle and destroy most of Earth in the process. His thesis proposal was probably an inch thick, and the story outline was very complex. All of his cohorts said, “It will be really hard to pull off, but if anyone can do it, you can, Jeff.” I heard this time and time again. Hey did pull it off, and he ended up with an awesome novel.
Since then I’ve gotten to know Jeff and I learned that he’s a madman when it comes to writing, and you never know what he’ll come up with next. But, whatever he writes, you can be assured that he will put you in the story, and even if his characters are lightning bolts, he will suspend your disbelief and make you care what happens to them.
In addition to his M.F.A. in Creative Writing, Jeff has publishing credits for many short stories, including a collection of short stories, Godling and Other Paint Stories, which he published himself. His second short story collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, will be released on March 28, keep an eye out here for a review). In addition to his Pep Talk here, Jeff’s wisdom and talent can be found on his own blog, God Complex. (You can also find some of Jeff’s opinions on the publishing industry in my interview with Jeff for my publishing series, The Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing.) But, the best way to get to know about Jeff is to ask questions. So that’s just what I did. I hope you enjoy the resulting interview, below.

Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Jeff: I’ve kind of only ever had two passions in my life, music and writing. I wrote my first story when I was about ten years old, which also happens to be the age I wrote my first song. When I got older and met my wife, I realized being a musician wouldn’t be conducive to family life, what with touring and recording and the general pressures of the business. So at that time I decided to settle on my writing, and I haven’t looked back since. Good choice. You can write a song any old time you want. Short story tales are forever.

Kaye: What is the one thing in your writing career that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?

Jeff: Let’s see … Probably the couple of comic scripts I sold to English comic book press FutureQuake. I’ve written everything from short stories, novelettes and novellas, to full-length novels, screenplays, newspaper articles, nonfiction, a bit of ghost writing, you name it. I found being diverse and far-reaching was way better than narrowing in on one small niche. At this point I could take a stab at anything, any time. Very helpful if you actually want to make a little money, and who doesn’t?

Kaye: You seem to have a bit of a preoccupation with God, which has certainly shown up in a lot of your writing. Can you tell us what that is all about?

Jeff: Ha ha, well I think I just found it to be the largest, most expansive concept in existence, right? I mean, I try to tackle topics and themes that are gargantuan in relation to small, fragile beings like you and I. That sort of thing has always appealed to me, so God was a natural extension, one most people have a strong gut reaction to in one way or another. My newer work–including my latest short story collection, dropping on March 28–has very little to do with God or gods or anything of that nature. I was also on a personal quest for God for many years, I suppose. I was raised agnostic, so my whole life I was searching for a reason to believe and worship, and corny as that might sound. Writing about Him always seemed like a good outlet for my spiritual curiosity.

Kaye: How many of your stories have been based on God to some extent, or featured God?

Jeff: Quite a few, actually. If not the Almighty Himself, I’ve tinkered with super beings, celestials, demigods, and everything in between. Most writers are timid about concepts. I go for the biggest, largest, hugest.

Kaye: Your thesis novel involves God, and Satan, too. Would you like to tell us a little about your novel?

Jeff: Sure. Body of Heaven, Body of Darkness is a contemporary horror fantasy. Harold Math watches in terror as God and Satan, each ten miles tall, beat each other to death in the rural desert of Nevada. Booze and anxiety become his life, until a strange, supernatural boy in a red cape causes a terrible car wreck that kills his fiancé and unborn son. The world slips into chaos as the deaths of the two immense beings herald national disasters and the destruction of the city of Los Angeles. A horrifying hell-beast emerges in the chaos and begins terrorizing the country, even as Harold reunites with an old flame and tries to put back together the shattered pieces of his life. At last, the boy in the cape reveals himself to Harold as the all-knowing Will of the Universe. He’s chosen him and three others to destroy this contamination before it spreads.

 

Kaye: In addition to being a very talented writer, you are an artist, as well? You did the cover for Godling, right?

Jeff: I did. Just sort of produced it on the fly. I don’t have any training or know-how really. Plenty of talent to spare though, I guess. This is my humble face. Can’t you tell? 😀
Kaye: Your stories are very unusual, your descriptions vivid. How do ideas and images develop into stories for you?
 Jeff: Well they don’t just come, that’s for sure. Most of the time I have to kind of open myself up to the universe, if you will. If I’m actively looking for ideas, working to make it happen, they often occur to me. Thing about really unique story ideas is that first blush versions of them are usually tame and have the potential of having been done before. I like to take a concept and cook it a while before I ever hit the page with it. A lot of the unusual nature of my work has come from a need to be myself. Twists and turns develop in the actual plotting. It’s hard work trying to sell stuff no one’s ever seen before, but so worth it when you do.

Kaye: You’ve had quite a few things published, including a comic book. How did that come about? Did you do the artwork for that? Or was it collaboration? Tell us about the process in either case?

Jeff: No, I didn’t do the artwork. I wrote the script and submitted it to the publisher just like you’d do with any short story. They accepted it and paired me with an artist. I got to see his work evolve over the course of several months, and it was always rewarding to check out what true artistic talent could do with my material. I couldn’t draw like that if you paid me. Writing a comic book script, though, it’s something I urge a lot of science fiction and fantasy authors to try out. Very cool, very challenging medium to work in.

Kaye: Other than God, what kinds of things of things influence your writing?
 Jeff: Movies, video games, life in general. I sort of belong to a generation that’s grown up on 24-hour media and all-encompassing entertainment options. It’s no wonder my stories are fast and loaded with concepts. I don’t think I ever intend my work to come out unusual for the sake of being unusual. Maybe it’s an attention deficit thing. I get bored with stories very easily.

 

Kaye: What are your favorite genres to read? To write?

Jeff: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror are my bread and butter. I like to read and write nonfiction and more literary work as well, but my home and my love will always be speculative stuff. It’s what I was raised on, so it’s the most natural thing in the world for me. Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Marvel and DC, all these mega-nerd story types and franchises, I probably dream the stuff at this point.

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge for you when writing short fiction?  Or when tackling a novel-length work? How about when writing comic books?

Jeff: For short fiction there’s always a push and pull between expressing myself fully, telling an engrossing story, and making something concise and fully realized with a limited word count. Novels are tricky because they’re a marathon, a long-haul project, though I find the actual writing to be easier than short form on a day-to-day basis. Comic book scripts are another beast altogether. Kind of the ultimate test of a writer’s mettle when it comes to precision and execution. Highly recommend writers try it out at some point. Probably learn a thing or two in the process. Sometimes it pays to be a mad scientist with your writing. Take no prisoners! Hold nothing back!

 

Kaye: Which is your favorite type of writing? Short fiction? Novels? Comic Books?

 Jeff: I’ve produced way more short fiction than just about anything else, though I find I don’t like reading it all that much. Books and comics, those are my favorite forms of entertainment, though movies and video games are also very important to my storytelling diet.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
 Jeff: No, I don’t think there is. I don’t have any cute tricks or rituals. It’s a simple equation, really: apply ass to seat and type until something’s done. There’s no accounting for hard work, and the writers who make something of themselves rarely do so without a ton of discipline and a healthy work ethic. You’ve got to write on even when you don’t want to. Especially when you don’t want to.
Kaye: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
 Jeff: Game. Did I mention video games? Oh, I did? 😀

 

Kaye: Any advice for aspiring writers?

Jeff: Absolutely. NEVER GIVE UP!

 

You’ll probably find people in your life will try to dissuade you, or in the very least, that they’ll lack enthusiasm for your work, your calling, until you’ve been at it long enough you finally start to see results. You can’t let that get to you. Apply ass to seat and type until something’s done. Writers are a funny breed few people understand, and sometimes we become crotchety and bitter. But the truth is if you’re going to do this thing, you’ve got to stay focused and disciplined. Much like writing a novel, this job is a marathon. Many very famous authors had to work their butts off for years, if not decades, before people finally took them seriously. I will say it again. NEVER GIVE UP! PROMISE!

 

So, now you know a little about Jeff Bowles, which is good, because you should know who is giving you a writing Pep Talk. I hope you’ll join us every first Wednesday to read what morsels of writing wisdom Jeff has to offer. And I hope that now you’re as excited as I am to have him join the Writing to be Read team.

Interested in Jeff’s writing? Check out his latest short story collection, Godling and Other Paint Stories: https://www.amazon.com/Godling-Other-Paint-Stories-Bowles-ebook/dp/B01LDUJYHU

Twitter: @JeffBowlesLives

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jeffryanbowles

Tumblr: http://authorjeffbowles.tumblr.com

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/JeffBowles/e/B01L7GXCU0/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1479453494

YouTube’s Jeff Bowles Central: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6uMxedp3VxxUCS4zn3ulgQ

 

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