Good morning. I’m throwing a bit of a wrench into our work with query letters because something has come up recently and it needs to be addressed before we get back to work. So, for a minute or two, put down your manuscripts, listen up and stay with me on this ride. Ready?
We write, we produce, we create, we make things out of passion. Yes, you’re going to say that’s imagination. You’re going to say that it’s an intense want to make a statement. You’re going to say that it’s an effort to generate an audience and satisfy some creative itch, maybe for bags of cash or not. I’m going to say that’s all passion.
It’s passion that puts the words in your head so that you can put them on the page. It’s passion that fuels us forward. It’s passion that makes us want to do this crazy craft in the first place. The storyteller is the one in the group of hunter gatherers with the awesome task of telling the gatherers what’s up. The storyteller is the teacher, empowering and awakening minds to join the group and from that fertile mental soil, the next leaders and storytellers are born. We are the sum of our teachers before us, the good and the bad, and we mark the good ones by their infectious passion, and tag the bad ones by their bitterness, their frustrations and the decay of their own passions.
Passion is not something pulled from an exterior source. You won’t find it at the bottom of a bottle. You won’t find it in a packet of foil. You won’t find it in a bag of chips or cake or kale or coffee. It’s not even in the praise of a friend, peer or lover. Your passion is in you, always. The wellspring of “I want to make a thing, I will complete the task of making it” is always in your soul, and the more you chase passion like it’s an external fuel tank that needs external replenishment, you’ll find a long and twisty route of frustration, procrastination and otherwise unspirited work.
Passion is forged in basal want and tempered out of risk. It’s a risk to write a thing, to send it off to official people and await their assessment. It’s a risk to make a game, to see if people can have fun doing something. It’s risk that compels the actor on the stage to go to those emotional places and educe those concentrated feelings into a point of clarity and then broadcast it. As in so many other things, the great rewards follow great risk, when there’s nothing else to lose, when you exhaust all the ephemeral methods of effort, that’s when the purity of what you say hits the page. You put your heart into every word, every paragraph, every chapter, every book and you will be rewarded. That reward might start with simple praise or a sale, but when you continue, when you re-invest in it and keep going, and keep risking and keep putting everything on the line in new and explorative and scary ways, the reward grows. Audiences. Attention. Opportunities. All are the offspring of risk.
Now maybe you’re sitting there, looking at those 500 or so words and saying, “Who are you John, to tell me this? You’re just a guy. You’re not a publishing expert. You’re not listed in this index or that. Your readership is tiny and your blog lacks all the flash and awards and sigils and earmarks that other editor-blogs do. Who are you and how can you presume to tell me what I need?”
I’m just a guy. I’m just a guy who spent his adult life trying and failing and running from risk. I’m just a guy who had his heart broken and who has lost a lot time and again. I’m just a guy who has a talent and an ability to help others do things with words they didn’t think possible. I believe so fundamentally in the power of words and the power of creatives and the power of passion that I’m not doing this to point to a shelf of awards or degrees or fancy blog traffic or rehashing the same eight pieces of advice only to sycophantically fellated by an audience that will yes-John me until I’m older and grayer and spent. You want to call me unprofessional, fine. You want to say I’m not like the others and mean that in a derisive way, great. But you cannot question my passion. And if you really took a look at things, I’m not sure you can question my talent either. But many people won’t get that far. They’ll see a tiny blog and big prices and assume that I’m either stupid or a boy playing pretend. I don’t feel particularly stupid most days. And regrettably, I haven’t been a boy in over twenty years. And thank you for doing more to point out your assumptions and fears and feelings far more than you pointed out mine.
Because that’s what happens when you roll up to someone and make blanket statements. Judgments on what someone is or what they are doing or how some field operates under rules you might not have bothered to fully learn or adapt to. The misinformation and assumptions that you reinforce by not risking, by not being willing to try and see new horizons and in new ways affects you far more than it does anyone on the receiving end of your remarks. You won’t risk? Then you won’t see the reward.
It’s scary, I know. You can prop yourself up under shields of excuses all you like: you don’t have time; publishers are fickle; people will steal my ideas; you don’t know how to get started. What’s under them? Are you afraid of failing? Afraid of succeeding? Scared about step 6 when you’re on step 2? Projecting ahead? Get under the excuses, pry them up and find the heart of them.
Then take that heart, and bludgeon it with passion. Or come to terms with not doing that and all that entails and be willing to jettison the successful outcome you wanted.
Because if you can’t summon the passion to create, then lens it through discipline into craft, then you’re squandering imagination and your abilities. You’re not wasting time, because time’s bigger than you, but you’re taking the good potential of really making a thing and doing a thing and tossing it away. The roads from “I’ve never done this” to “I’m good at doing this” are lined with a thousand billion husks of jettisoned efforts, because fear leeched in and stalled creation. Fear is a motherfucker, and it wants to poison and consume passion for a meal.
This isn’t a call to strangle fear, this is a call to be passionate. To be the burst of sunlight that sends shadows running. To be the craftsman/woman/person who has the finished idea in their head and knows it the way they know their own breathing and can draw it from the resources. It’s not a focus on the reward, it’s a focus on the effort. You’re either going to write, or you’re not. You’re either going to create, or you won’t. Yes, it would be phenomenal to write for this company or make a thing like someone else did. And you’re either going to have the passion and discipline to shelf your excuses and your fear, or you’re not. And it’s not up to a blog post to throw that switch in your head. I can call you a coward all day and thrice on the weekends, and I can write hyperbole and vitriol to disgust or motivate or shock until stars die, but that’s all external to your passion. That’s all outside. Where’s your spark? Where’s your drive? Where’s that gut-burning knowledge and surety and want and hunger to grab the page and produce art? Not on my demand. Not on a publisher’s. Yours. Always yours. Forever yours.
So, go, make art. Tell stories. Produce works. Do things and come back and tell the rest of your clan or tribe or cluster or house or pack or team or people about it. Be the voice that creates and kindles other voices to do the same. Risk everything, as much as you can, put yourself on the line and put all your cards and chips on the table and see what happens. It’s scary, but be brave, take heart, focus on your efforts and your end goal, not the rewards or expectations. Get the statue out of the block of marble. Write the story that blooms in your head. Make the game that stirs your guts. Art hard. Then art harder.