A Writer Looks at Fifty

(With apologies to Jimmy Buffet for paraphrasing the title of one of his hit songs.)

So …

Birthday today. Fifty years. Half a century on this ball of mud, and I kicked around a good part of in my time as a military brat and military member. In those decades and travels, I’ve learned a few things here and there.

Muse: Anything that helps you write better?

I’d like to think so.

I posted ten years ago (on my fortieth birthday) on this very same blog about something I had never admitted to anyone up to that point: that after my first year in college, I came very close to dropping out, going to art school to learn to draw comics, and trying to break into that industry. I ultimately didn’t, of course, and that generated a lot of internal disappointment, because I did the “safe” and “responsible” thing, rather than take a chance on something that—at the time—I really, really wanted to do.

In reality, it probably worked out for the best. I’ve tried several times over the years to hone my skills as an artist, most recently (and seriously) about five years ago. I never quite got the hang of it. I can draw a little but I don’t feel the passion for it I thought I would. That, in turn, hampered my ability to sink the necessary time into getting better. But I’ve maintained my passion for writing.

I love writing and have most of my life. I really started making a legitimate effort about fifteen years ago, when my wife Lisa (God bless her) told me that if I was serious, I really needed to fish or cut bait—to poo or get off the pot—since time waits for no one.

How right she was.

I wrote short stories for many years before starting novels. Lisa was after me for years to move to books and again, she was correct right from the beginning. I now have five books out—

Muse: You do?

Yeah. I know how few people realize that. It will get more amusing by the end of the calendar year, when I should have two more out, and plan to heave either nine or ten total published by the end of 2023, and by then how few people will know that. I also know not many folks care.

Muse: Hey, I didn’t mean—

I know you didn’t. Back to my point. I do love writing and telling stories. It’s something that really sings to me. I am in a position where I have time to sink into it and I honestly believe that even if I never sell another book, I’ll keep doing it, because it’s fulfilling.

That’s not to say I don’t go through dark periods where I wonder if it’s worth it. Of course I do. I think every creative person does, and I had a pretty good bout of it lately. It’s almost painful to see someone who loves and rates highly every book they read … and then say, “Meh,” to one of mine. (In fairness, I have had one or two readers who grade everyone tough and still gave me favorable marks, so these things balance out.) I go through it sometimes when I read a self-published book, feel very unimpressed, and learn it’s sold thousands of copies when mine don’t. That leads to questioning my writing skill, talent, ability to tell a story, etc. The feelings of rejection, obscurity, and futility (perceived or real) loom large, threatening to overshadow anything I achieve.

Once I get past the self-pity (which is really all it is), I genuinely have to take a step back. My life, overall, is pretty good. People are dealing with a lot of crap these days and I … really don’t have much of that. I have a loving spouse who supports me, good family, my health, and financial stability. I live remotely and if I stay off news sites, even the worst things in the world don’t affect my mood as much. I had Covid last year and kicked its ass. Hell, in a clan full of bald men, I should be happy that at fifty I still have a full head of thick hair. About the only part of my life with day-to-day angst and stress is my writing career.

That’s not just tolerable. I’m coming around to the point that it’s pretty enviable.

Sure, in the moment, it sucks. While selling so many tomes that I could live off my writing would be stellar, I really just want folks to experience the tales I have in my head, and it’s tough to realize that not only do some readers not want to, that modifier of “some” may actually be “most.” As a writer, sometimes it’s hard to get your head around the idea that many readers just don’t like your stuff.

But the longer I think about it, the more okay I am with that. The more I just smile and move on. In the greater scheme of things, being an unknown author with a tiny fanbase isn’t the worst thing in the world.

And there are good things. I am on my way out to meet with a local library to donate a set of The Holly Sisters for their shelves and to discuss an author signing event. I met a local fan this last weekend who loved everything I’ve written. There are positives and that’s what I want o focus on.

Does that mean I won’t still have down moments? No. Will it bother me as much? I don’t think it will. My goal going forward is to never complain about my writing again, in public or private. Instead, I just want to hit the high points and enjoy the positives.

I might have thirty years of good life left. At this pace, I can still push out another thirty novels before the end. Will I? Who knows. The world might descend into Mad Max-style anarchy before then. But do I have stories to tell? Yes, so I will.

If anyone listens … well, that will just be a bonus.

Cheers to you all and thanks for reading!

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