Aspiring Upward, not Sideways


The tree is getting ready to bloom

The arrival of spring in Washington, DC is kind of a strange thing.  It’s like it’s pressing up against winter–c’mon, c’mon, c’mon–and then it’ll explode all once.  Almost overnight, we’ll have green and flowers everywhere.  The first step is the cherry blossoms and dogwoods.  Those are already blooming.

 

One of the things that caught me really off guard once I joined writing communities online in the Gold Rush days of the internet is how many writers aspire sideways.

Aspiring sideways is…

…When all the craft advice the writer is getting is from other people at their level.

…When a writer puts down best selling writers as not knowing what they are doing.

…When a writer consciously or unconsciously tells other writers not to try to be better.

That last one seems kind of shocking, considering all the writers who go online and to writing groups and ask for critiques.

Sometimes what we hear is hard to comprehend.  When I went to the first ThrillerFest, I attended a workshop with best-selling writer James Rollins.  He’s a wonderfully funny speaker.  One of the things he said was to “Be specific” in your details.

It sounds easy, and yet, it wasn’t.  At the time, I thought I understood what he was talking about and I didn’t, not at all.  It took me years and years to grasp it, which included at least five workshops that pushed at me to do it more than I was.

He wanted to help, for the people who wanted to listen.

And then there were the others I’ve run across.  Some pass along information they got sideways…another writer telling them to do something or to not do something.

Or a writer being influenced by his own biases and didn’t realize it, like one who didn’t like description.  Therefore all description was bad and should be avoided.  One writer had this top ten list, and almost everything on his do not list was probably keeping him–and others who followed it–from being published.

Then there’s one writer who was  on one of the writing message boards I used to visit.  He’d been rejected a lot and was bitter about it.  So he actively worked at keeping writers from aspiring up.  If they had come on and talked about James Rollins, he would have said, “He’s a big name writer.  He can get away with that.  You can’t, so don’t even bother to try.”

“Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.”  — Jim Rohn

The dynamic changes drastically when we start looking upwards, at who’s successful and see what they do.  People in business do it all the time, studying a CEO or a manager they think does it right.  This seems elusive for some writers.

But that leap off into the unknown can be terrifying.

Penguins leaping off into the sea

Everyone goes into writing thinking, “My book is going to be a best seller.”

But it’s very hard to attain that kind of goal by veering sideways, instead of looking upwards at the writers who are best sellers.

One of the best things is finding writing advice from a writer that you realize you’ve read and enjoyed.  I recently picked up a copy of David Gerrold’s Worlds of Wonder.  I found it originally at the library and when I read it, I felt like he treated me as if I was an adult.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but he assumed that because readers picked up his book, they aspired higher.

It’s so much being better with the eagles.  Who is a writer you aspire upwards to be like?

American Bald Eagle in flight

 

4 thoughts on “Aspiring Upward, not Sideways

    1. But it’s a surprisingly hard skill. It isn’t just changing “Dog” to “Golden Retriever” (James Rollins is a veterinarian also and used dogs as an example). I think that was why it was so hard for me to do. It’s also getting down into the character’s opinions about what they experience about the setting. That’s where the specifics start getting really hard.

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