Thursday, February 28, 2013

Where Do You Write?

I have often thought that a book about where authors compose their famous works would be interesting.

I’ve been to Key West and visited Hemingway’s home and stood where he wrote some of his novels (A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, among others), where he could peer across the horizon from his second story balcony at lighthouses, beach home roof tops, and the damp ocean fog.  His stories were based on his exciting and well-known experiences, but his ability to get them from his memories and down onto paper and into his no-words-wasted, short-sentence prose was likely aided by the place he chose to do it.  
Okay.  I cannot claim, or possibly even hope, to find the inspiration Hemingway found at his Key West home. But I do know that where I write is important – important in many ways.
Like most aspiring authors, I write not only to someday produce a work that is broadly accepted as good writing, but also because I find comfort in the process.  It’s satisfying – even when it’s frustrating – even when the thoughts aren’t flowing or when the reader feedback isn’t all positive.  And one of the many reasons it’s satisfying is where I write.
I actually have two places where I spend my time writing.  One is a mountain home where I have my desk angled to look out through a wall of windows at a long-range, southwestern view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The view changes with the seasons -- fall the most inspiring.  
I also spend time at our Charlotte home, where after I retired about three years ago, I set up my writing cocoon in our den with my desk facing a wooded hillside in our backyard.  The location and the views can inspire but also can distract at times, like when a red-tailed hawk perches in a nearby tree, or when a herd of deer come to feast on hillside bushes.  I’ll take these distractions any day.   
In addition to the location and view, the other elements within my writing cocoon are equally important.  The most important of these is my 12-year old companion, Deacon, a tri-colored sheltie.  He’s a constant in my life, always nearby, sitting behind my chair or sometimes at my feet, but is never far away. He seems to know when my writing is going well, lying silently, longer than usual, not asking for anything.  When my wife was still working, Deacon’s presence and occasional distractions made the day seem shorter.  He’s getting older and will someday leave my side. I won’t think about that now.

The other key element of my cocoon is a large cup of coffee.  It must be hot (or at least warm), so my coffee pot is only a few steps away.  I probably have my hands on my coffee mug more than on the keyboard, but without it, my thoughts quickly stagnate.

So, there you have it.  This is where I write.  As I’ve said before, it’s not a bad gig.  I’d be interested in where other aspiring authors spend their time coming up with their plots, characters, and ideas for their next books.   Please drop me a note.    

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Does Humility Hurt?

by D.R. Shoultz
In over 30 years in the business world, I found few corporate executives where “humble” would jump out as the first adjective to describe them.  If anything, their egos hit you between your eyes before you even shook their hands.
A couple years ago, I turned to writing as a new avocation. The obvious skill overlap between my prior 30 year career in I/T sales management and my new venture was being able to communicate effectively.  I must have been good at it in my prior job.  I was able to comfortably retire at 55 and pursue other interests -- traveling, writing, reading, sports – the stuff most workers dream about doing.  But I never really attained what many would consider ultimate success in the business world.  I never made it to a “C” level position.  You know, CEO, CFO, CIO, E-I-E-I-O.  I probably lacked several characteristics of today’s corporate executive, but I had always wondered if my down-home humbleness got in the way, keeping me from attaining the highest levels in business.   
Being in sales, you not only had to sell your services and products, you had to sell yourself to your clients.  I felt more comfortable with the former and not so much so with the latter.   Most (clearly not all) people who got a chance to know me seemed to like me, but I found it hard to promote myself to someone on a 30-minute sales call, or for that matter promote myself at all.  If they liked what they saw, then fine.  If not, I never thought that dragging out my high school track medals or bragging about who I played golf  with last weekend was necessary.
Now I know there’s more to self-promotion than bragging.  You need to walk the walk, talk the talk, look and dress the part, and it doesn’t hurt to learn how to effectively compliment and recognize others (i.e. suck up).   I understood, and still understand, all of that.  But it just seemed to me that to be ultimately successful, at least in business, confidence and capabilities weren’t enough.
I wonder if the same is true in writing.  Having only been doing this for a little more than two years and having self-published only two novels, I haven’t achieved anything to be humble about.  But still, I’m not sure that even if I produced a good product, it would go anywhere without good promotion – self-promotion.
Have you ever thought about how many introverted, quietly confident, famous writers there are – those who’ve relied on their skills and product to become successful?  My guess is there are probably more in the last 50 years than there will be in the next 50.  Writing is a competitive field, more today than ever before.  A few great novelists are discovered every day, but many more fight their way through the crowd via blogs, web sites, interviews, press releases, book signings, advertising -- promoting themselves as much as their work.  If you measure success by book sales, I wonder if writing is a vocation for the quietly confident, the humble.       
“Praise can be your most valuable asset as long as you don't aim it at yourself.”
Orlando A. Battista (1917-1995)
Chemist, Author