I was at my son’s school recently. No, school hasn’t started back, yet, but it’s about to. It was open house and to say it was a mad house is an understatement. There were people everywhere and it was difficult to move around. Even with all that, one of my son’s friends’ mothers stopped me in the hall.
And that was no easy task.
I had passed her, not knowing she was there. Again, it was a mad house. I thought I heard my name—no, not my first name, but my last name, and there was a Mr. In front of it. I looked back to see one of my son’s closest friends and her brother and mother. I gave the little girl a hug and said hey to her brother and mother. That’s when all sorts of coolness ensued.
Through all the noise, her mom said to me, ‘I read your story online the other day, and I really liked it. Is there more to it?’
For a second or four I was confused. Did I have a story published online recently that I didn’t remember?
Then she asked, ‘Where do I find the rest of the story? I want to read it from the beginning?’
‘Ahh…’ It dawned on me.
‘You mean Dredging Up Memories?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ she responded, ‘It’s really good. I want to read it from the beginning. Where do I find the rest of it?’
Okay, stop, collaborate and listen…(Doh! Did I just write that? ::Looking at previous line:: Yup, I guess I did.) This was a great moment for me. Let me break this down for you:
- ‘It’s really good.’ Every writer wants to hear this from people. The fact that one of my boy’s friends’ mothers liked it and told me she liked it, felt really good.
- ‘I want to read it from the beginning.’ Dredging Up Memories is a zombie series. No, it’s not like The Walking Dead at all, other than the fact that it has a bunch of shambling zombies trying to eat the main character and any other living person. She had read chapter XVIII of the series. She liked it enough to want to read the story of Hank Walker from the beginning. Awesomeness.
- ‘Where do I find the rest?’ This goes with point number 2 above, but it is also it’s own little note. Why? Simple: She asked where could she find the rest. She wanted to know and she asked. So often folks will read something by someone and say, ‘hey, I wonder if that person has written anything else?’ but then they never search out the answer to the question. She sought the answer, and I am thrilled she did.
These types of things make a writer feel good; it makes a writer feel as if he/she is doing something right.
Remember this for later.
I like flea markets. I like yard sales. For the most part, I peruse items on tables or on the ground or on chairs or even on an old ironing board (yes, for real and for true). Sometimes I find something I like at a price I like. Most times that doesn’t happen. Most times, there is nothing that interest me.
But sometimes while at a yard sale or flea market I run into people I haven’t seen in a while. Yeah, I know that can happen pretty much anywhere, like, I don’t know, the mall or a restaurant or the kids’ school. Stick with me here. There’s a reason for this.
There used to be a gentleman who worked at the post office right down from where I work. He was the nicest guy, always had a smile on his face, and always asked how you were doing. He went out of his way to help customers as best as he could. He was a great guy and when I saw him at the counter we always talked for probably longer than we should have.
After not seeing him for several years I ran into him three times in one day recently. The third time I saw him was at the flea market. Cate just happened to see him and pointed him out to me. I laughed. He did, too, when I walked up to him and told him I was stalking him. Since he was talking to two other people, I chose not to interrupt, but to wait patiently until he was done—or at least until he took a breath. While I waited, he said something that, to me, holds so much truth in it:
‘I always tell my sons if you give people your best and treat people with respect and kindness, then those people will always remember you and respect you and want to be around you.’
There’s so much truth in those words.
Stick with me just a little while longer. There is a point to all of this.
Back in October of 2013 the place I work at lost a giant of a man. He was well respected and dedicated to his work and his family and his faith. When he died it sent shockwaves, not just through the office, but also throughout the nation. A huge void was left in many lives when he passed.
When everything settled down and life started moving on at the office, I was charged with getting things in order, boxing things up, and cleaning out his office. I admit, it wasn’t something I wanted to do. This man had treated me so well, even when a lot of his peers looked down their noses at me. It took the rest of the year and on into the first month or so of 2014 to complete the task. I learned more about him just from going through everything and getting his office and conference room and library and storage rooms cleaned out than I ever did having worked for him for years.
I came across a little plastic plaque in his office. I had seen it before, and many of you have probably seen something like it as well. It read:
Quality is giving your best every time with a personal touch.
Let that sink in. Go ahead.
Here’s the point I’m trying to make:
Too often we don’t put our very best effort forward. Too often we don’t give it that personal touch. Instead, we rush through things to get them done and off our plates, and when someone slows us down we don’t add that personal touch, but we get grumpy and angry, and so many times we take it out on the person we should be giving our best effort to. Too often we don’t treat people with respect and kindness. Oh, they remember us when that happens, but not for the right reasons.
We see it everyday. Customer service at a fast food joint or the DMV or even at our own jobs. Most of us are guilty of not giving our best effort with every opportunity. We see it in our homes, as well. This world is no longer about respect and kindness, but more about what is in it for me.
We see it a lot in the publishing world. Just listen to anyone talking about the Amazon/Hachette feud. Just listen to any writer who is unhappy that they aren’t getting published and making money and someone they feel is inferior to them is being published left and right. We live in the all about me world.
This takes me back to the beginning of this post. You know that woman at the beginning, my son’s friend’s mom? Yeah. She’s an avid reader. And she likes my work. Why? The quality of it. If it were no good, then she wouldn’t have mentioned it to me. Quite possibly, she would have probably been a little uncomfortable around me. She may have even been thinking, ‘please, don’t ask me if I read the story and if I liked it.’ She certainly wouldn’t have asked me how she could find more.
With ebooks and self-publishing anyone can write something and throw it out to the world. Anyone can say he or she is a published author. Anyone. But they don’t have to work hours and hours on it—again, it can be slapped up on Amazon at any time and voila, published author. I talked about those people in my last blog, so I want get into that now.
What I will get into is something I have come to strongly believe in. Quality is not necessarily doing what everyone else is doing. Quality is about taking the time to do something that you can truly believe in, and at the end of the day you can hang your hat on it and say, ‘I gave it my very best.’ Quality isn’t just slapping something together and putting it out there and saying, ‘Yay, I’m going to be rich.’ For most of us, it doesn’t work that way.
This is why I do things the way I do them, especially when it comes to writing. When I first started out to get published at the end of 2003 I didn’t know any better. I thought everyone would love my work and that I could just write and the masses would come calling. What an idiot I was. I put sub par work out there, but not intentionally. I truly thought the work was good. It had to be right? Someone was willing to publish it, so it had to be good, right? Not necessarily. I have almost 200 short story publications, and if I could take some of them back, I would. In. A. Heartbeat.
Then I realized a truth that stung.
No. Really. I sucked.
When I realized this, I could have been defiant and continued to suck. Or I could have just quit and said, ‘this is too much work.’
After I realized how bad I S.U.C.K.E.D. I started paying close attention to what people were saying. I would pick out things in my own stories and focus on those things for several months. Then I would move on to something else and focus on it. And so on.
That’s when I came to realize, that for me to be the writer I wanted to be I couldn’t be like everyone else. I couldn’t be all cookie cutter. I had to write the way I wanted to, the way I enjoyed writing. For me, finding myself, my voice, was the beginning of finding quality in the writing/publishing world.
Believe me, there have been a multitude of times I wondered if the effort was really worth it. Go back to the beginning of this post and ask yourself, ‘was it worth it?’
I’ve gone very longwinded today, and for that I apologize. If you have stuck with me until now, stick around for another minute or two and I promise I’ll wrap things up.
To create anything of quality you have to put forth the effort. You have to be determined. If the first ten times you fail to create what you want to create, do it an eleventh time. Nothing truly gained is done so without effort.
As a writer, I don’t want you to read crap. I especially don’t want you to read crap written by me. I want you to enjoy what you read. I want to tell you a story. I don’t want to just entertain you, but I want to give you an experience you can remember. It’s not quite like Disney World or a giant roller coaster or running with bulls, but I want you, Faithful Readers, to experience my stories. I want you to come away saying, ‘that was cool,’ or ‘that was awesome.’ If you go looking for other things I’ve written after reading one of my stories, then that tells me your experience with me was a good one. As a writer, that’s what I want: to give you my best with a personal touch and leave you with a good experience when I am done.
I hope your experience with me is always a good one. With that, I leave you with a quote from Aristotle:
‘Quality is not an act, it is a habit.’
Until we meet again, my friends…