Category: writing advice

It’s Often Not about the Performance. It’s about the Competition.

I’ve been watching the Olympics since they started last week, and I was very excited to see Shaun White’s gold medal run last night in the half pipe, as I was to see Chloe Kim’s gold. We let Tomas and DC stay up late last night to see the final runs, and it was pretty riveting stuff.

As I was watching, I compared my investment in the event with the amount I was invested in the female halfpipe a couple of days ago. It was markedly different, and I wondered why that was. Kim and White both have compelling stories. There were strong reasons to root for both of them, but for Kim’s runs, I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, eyes glued to see what would happen.

The difference, of course, is the competition. In Kim’s event, she was in the lead the whole time. She seemed like she had the rest of the field simply outclassed. Her first run was a 93.75, which put her in first place by almost eight points. The second round, someone came within four points of her, but by the third round, everyone knew she’d already won.

With White, his first run was a 94.25, only a bit above Kim’s. But there was someone in second place with a 92. Already, he seemed more vulnerable. That score didn’t feel as ironclad. Like Kim, White fell during his second run. But for White, someone stepped up and took first place. Suddenly, he was losing by a point. So when he went down for his final run, everyone knew he’d have to do better. Everything was on the line. Kim ended up with the higher score, but White ended up with the better story.

In writing, this is something that can be easy to forget at times. I’ll be working on a novel and trying to get the main character just right. I want them to be relatable and realistic. I want my readers to be invested in what happens to them. But often the solution to unlocking that isn’t found in the character at all. It’s found in the circumstances around that character. Who he or she is up against. The odds they’re facing.

Generally speaking, if you want the climax to be memorable, you don’t do it by adding more pyrotechnics to the scene. You don’t get it by having the main character be even more awesome. You do it by raising the stakes. Making the opponents stronger and more fearsome. Increasing the odds. The Miracle on Ice isn’t remembered because the favorites won. It’s remembered because the underdogs pulled off the upset.

And there’s your bit of writing advice for the day.


Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $7/month so far. Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out.

Taking the First Step

Just a brief thought for you today. (At least, I think it’ll be brief.) I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about the creative process, and we were discussing how hard it can be sometimes to take that first step. To actually begin working on whatever it is you’re working on.

This morning, I saw the same feeling arise in the construction process, as we try to decide how to proceed actually building the front steps. (So now we’re talking about the first step quite literally.) I’ve been looking at pictures of houses. Studying front steps as we drive by other homes. Watching videos. Reading articles. And at times, it all seems so clear. I’ll go outside and expect I’ll know just what to do.

Except when I go outside and look at where I want the front steps to go, suddenly there are a slew of questions and doubts. How deep do I need to dig? How wide should the stairs actually be? What will I really make them out of? Because when everything’s theoretical, it’s perfect. It’s this Platonic ideal of “steps” in my mind.

Taking things from that theoretical plane into the actual world is really tricky. You need to make actual decisions. Commit real money. And (what’s worse) make tangible mistakes.

I think that’s what causes me to hesitate more than anything. The fear of Doing It Wrong. And that’s true in the creative process as much as it is in the construction process. Doing something the first time is almost always the easiest. Fixing something done wrong can be really difficult, not to mention embarrassing. Because you’re spending more time fixing something you already spent a whole lot of time doing in the first place.

Of course, I don’t think about all the time I’ve wasted in that hesitation before I begin. That doesn’t seem to count, somehow. And so it’s easy to wait. To plan some more. To think things through yet again.

But sooner or later, you have to pick up that shovel and start digging. And if you make a mistake, you make a mistake. Those stairs aren’t going to build themselves.

Searching for Success

I’ve written this blog pretty much every weekday for about ten years now, give or take. (Actually I just went and checked. My ten year anniversary will be January 17th. Coming right up!) And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in that time, it’s that there’s no way to know ahead of time when a post will be successful or not. I can spend an hour on a post. Pour out my feelings on the page and really put in a ton of effort. The resulting post might be fantastic in my opinion, but the moment I hit “publish”, it’s out of my hands as to whether people read it or not.

Oh, there are some things I can do to try and boost its visibility. I’ve posted some things to Reddit. Reposted things to Facebook later in the day if I feel like a post isn’t getting the traffic it deserves. But the sad truth is that even that isn’t enough to get things read.

Ten years doing this, and I still haven’t gotten it figured out. Yesterday’s quick “Come on, Mitt” post was my most popular post in months, easily. No one reposted it. No one retweeted it. But somehow it managed to find its way to an audience. Other posts end up being more of the “slow and steady wins the race” variety. For example, the one I wrote almost 3 years ago about getting into BYU continues to rack up the views each week. A little here, a little there, but it’s now the 6th most popular post I’ve ever written. It’s the second most popular post people have read this year. The second most popular post people have read this quarter. The second most popular post people have read this month. The third most popular post they’ve read this week.

You get the picture.

I don’t do anything to promote that post now. (Well, until this entry, I guess.) But people find it.

In a way, this is really frustrating. I write my posts so that people will read them. All of them. They’re all important to me (well, most of them, at least.) And if I could figure out a way to have them all get the attention they deserve, I’d do it. But in another way, it’s comforting. Because the same thing happens with everything out there. The books I write, for one thing.

I’ve finished 15 novels now. Two of them are professionally published. 2 are bouncing around editors’ desks, still trying to find a home. 1 is about to go out. But for all of them, once I’ve written them, much of their success is out of my hands. I can write blog posts. Do book signings. School visits. Conferences. But in the end, so much of their success is dependent on things other than me. I can move the needle only so much.

In a way, that’s depressing. But in a larger way, it’s freeing. It’s a big relief to know that if a book doesn’t do well, it’s not all on me.

And that’s my deep thought for today.

Heavy Meta: Interview with Bryce Moore

Suffering from election fatigue? Have I got you covered! Listen to me talk about anything *but* the election for once. It’s a recording of this week’s edition of my radio show!

Granted, it’s sort of a podcast where I’m a special guest on my own podcast, but I didn’t ask the questions (and I didn’t know what they’d be ahead of time), so it’s not like this was staged or anything. Just a good old fashioned 20 minute discussion about my thoughts on writing. I thought it turned out pretty well, though perhaps I’m biased.

As a bonus, there’s a top 10 list of movies about writers and writing, made up by yours truly. Tell me how badly I messed it up.

(And go vote if you haven’t already!)

The Myth of Success

So Tomas has created his own YouTube channel, attracted by dreams of all the money he’ll make through advertising. I’m not a guy to rain on someone’s parade, so I went ahead and set him up with my old Adsense account. Technically I guess I make the money, but I’ve told him I’ll pass on all the earnings to him. And after five days, he bounded in to tell me he’d made 57 cents so far.

I was floored, actually, because that’s much more than I thought he’d make. Like, 100 times more at least. If this was how much money YouTube ads brought in, no wonder so many people were doing it. Back when I used to do ads on my site, I made something like $100 after 2 years of running the ads. That’s one of the main reasons I ended up just ditching them altogether. (Though I do consider bringing them back now and then.) It’s just a lot of trouble for not a whole lot of return.

But I was doing some quick math in my head based on Tomas’s success. If he could get 57 cents from just having 20 views of a couple of videos . . .

I’m in the wrong business.

So I went into my adsense account to check and see what these earnings were coming from. And it turns out . . . he’s actually made 57 cents (assuming YouTube’s estimates end up being accurate. Maybe they overinflate them? Time will tell. But for now, I’ve delved into some different articles online to find out more about this mysterious YouTube ad money.

And of course, the bottom line seems to be the same bottom line that comes up everywhere: there are a few outliers, but by and large you don’t end up making a whole ton of money through ads on YouTube. Or, more accurately stated, not enough to live on.

All of this research ran into a different train of thought I’ve been having. A friend mentioned on a podcast the other day how frustrating it could be to have people congratulate him on “living the dream,” when in reality, he didn’t feel like he was in much of a dream at all.  (I might be misinterpreting what he said. Sorry if so, but it serves as a good intro into my own train of thought.)

I see the same thing happen with writing and publishing. To someone who isn’t published, getting published is the dream. Once you make it there, then it all becomes smooth sailing. To people who are published, getting read is the dream. What does it matter if you are published if no one reads your book?

The problem is that “the dream” ends up being pretty tenuous. I think for most people (people who write, at least) the dream is being able to wake up each morning, write in their pajamas, and answer fan mail in the afternoon if they’re feeling up to it. In other words, the dream is the popular perception of an author’s life. It’s the way it’s portrayed in movies.

But my experience has been that the dream doesn’t exist. (Hate to be all stompy on it, but there you have it.) No matter what you go into, in the end, it involves work to make money. The trick (if there is a trick) is to get paid to do something you like to do anyway. Even then, there will be times when you don’t particularly want to do that thing, whatever it is. And there will be aspects to that thing that you don’t particularly enjoy, but you have to do them anyway in order to be able to keep doing the things you do enjoy.

Unless the dream is being independently wealthy and getting money for doing nothing. In that case, it looks like you have to keep playing the lottery or else inherit money.

I’m good friends with a very successful writer. Million dollar contracts level of success. And I’ve seen firsthand how hard he works. Yes, I suppose he could back off some now that he’s got it made, but that’s the exact point I’m trying to make: he “has it made” because he loves working hard at writing. It’s who he is. He wouldn’t want to back off, because he’d be writing even if he didn’t get paid to do it.

So I guess when it comes to my son’s dreams of YouTube success, the advice is the same: love doing it for the process. That doesn’t guarantee you’ll ever be paid enough to do just that one thing for the rest of your life. (Or be able to just stop needing to worry about money ever), but it will hopefully help you avoid running after a dream that ends up being nothing more than a mirage once you get there.

And on that cheery note, why not subscribe to a twelve-year-old’s YouTube channel? He’d love a few likes . . . Here’s his latest video:

%d bloggers like this: