A number of years ago, I was sitting in the audience when Jack Whyte gave the Saturday night keynote speech at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference.
Dressed in his regimental colours (of the Calgary Highlanders), Jack asked us, “What are the three hardest words in the English Language?”
“I love you,” the audience said in unison.
“No,” Jack replied. “The three hardest words are, ‘Some Assembly Required.’”
He went on to explain that (and I’m paraphrasing here), that some people, most people, are not willing to work for things anymore. When things get difficult or inconvenient, whether it be storytelling, or writing, or love, the most common response is to give the inconvenient thing the toss and go do something else.
I have been thinking a lot about those three words, lately, and now they apply to me – how they apply to my writing life, especially.
2014 was a hard year for me. I lost my dearest, oldest and closest friend: my Dad. I got rejected, a lot, both in my law enforcement career and my writing career. And while I had some successes, I was very much focused on my defeats and losses.
I have good friends, and they encouraged me to look at the bright side of life and focus on the good things, not the bad. But I was locked in a bit of a funk and roundly ignored any good advice I was given, choosing, instead to focus on everything I had lost (or not quite achieved). I kept telling myself, “Tomorrow I’ll get some work done,” or “next week I’ll set aside some serious writing time.” I think the main crux of my issue was that I’d lost belief in myself; when I kept hearing “No” all the time, I got to a point where I didn’t believe that anyone would ever say “Yes.” I grew convinced that I was destined to never get anything that I wanted, ever again.
I had a bit of a wakeup call when, at work, I was sitting in my boss, Mike’s office, lamenting about all the things that I hadn’t achieved. My act must have been getting a bit old, because Mike was slumped in his chair, and had an expression on his face that suggested he might want to plug his ears, when he leaned forward and fixed me with a glare.
“You gotta stop being so fucking dramatic, man,” he said. I sat, my mouth hanging open, his unexpected exasperation completely interrupting my litany of complaints.
“This shit’ll happen,” he continued. “You just gotta keep working at it. No one is going to hand you anything unless you keep going after it. And you’re not going to get after anything if you’re too busy whining.” Then he turned away from me, back to his computer screen.
I slouched my way out of his office, feeling wounded and ill-used. I had originally slunk into Mike’s office for encouragement, and soothing, and maybe a little pat on the back and an “atta-boy”. I had not gone to be criticized or labelled as a whiner.
As the day wore on, I thought more and more about what Mike had said. Was I, in fact, too busy whining to get anything done? Had I become so focused on being pissed off about what I didn’t have that I had forgotten how to work? The only conclusion I could come to was, yes. Yes I had.
There are a few places I go when seeking inspiration, and one of them is Chuck Wendig’s website: www.terribleminds.com. I had a look at one of his recent blogs, entitled: Arting Hard Like An Artful Motherfucker: 25 Ways To Be A Bad-Ass Maker Who Makes Bad-Ass Stuff.
I’d encourage you to read the entire post yourself, but the line that got to me the most was this: Stop praising the future for its opportunity and start seizing the power of the present. Fuck “one day.” You have this day. Do not squander it.
I thought about that line for a fair piece of time. Then I paired it up with my boss’s words. I had come to realize that I really was too busy whining about what hadn’t gone my way to look at the things that had. I was too busy thinking about all the work I would do and the stories I would tell “one day”, to plant my ass at my desk and get busy right now. I was squandering my time and had become terribly fearful of the words, Some Assembly Required.
I was still brooding, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my pseudo-revelation, when a letter, like an actual snail-mail letter, appeared at my house. It was from my publisher, and it was a contract.
I had sent in my second novel, a sequel to “The Watch”, a few months ago, and had been so busy being pissed off about a bunch of other things that I’d forgotten to be hopeful. That hope returned, suddenly, as I read the publishing offer.
The work, the hours of toil, and editing, and wailing and gnashing of teeth had produced a story, and someone liked that story enough that they wanted to give me money for it. I had assembled that bastard and now it was going to be read.
That hope was dented slightly when I realized there was much more work ahead of me. But the time for whining was done, and the time to get after it had arrived. There was no “one day”, there was only this day, and I could not afford to squander it.
No matter what we go after in our lives, we really do have to work at it. Stories don’t magically appear, they have to be built. Some assembly really is required. And it’s time to get to work.
As always, thanks for reading.