I’m 51—a number I can’t even begin to fathom—and for the first time in my life, I honestly like who I am and where I am and the possibilities for the future. I’ve always had a sort of quiet self-loathing so few people ever see. I’ve always said something like, “Nobody loves Jeff Brown the way Jeff Brown loves Jeff Brown.” It’s a true statement, but maybe not in the way I present it. I do love me, but I’m not really sure I ever liked me. It’s like being my own relative. You can’t choose your relatives and you can’t choose the person you’re born as. You love your relatives, you just may not like them very much. That’s where I’ve spent most of my life, loving me, but not liking me.
Until this year, I never really tried to work on me. I never really tried to make myself a priority. There were other things far more important than my own well-being. I worked hard at everything because I hated the idea of failing—not necessarily actually failing, but the very idea of it. I hated it so much that I failed a LOT. So, I worked harder and I failed more spectacularly. I pushed myself to the point of physically hurting myself, then refusing to let me body heal, claiming, “I’m a man, I got this.” Okay, that’s a bullshit mindset. I don’t care if you’re a man. You still have to allow your body to heal or you will deal with it much later in life when your body is breaking down due to your bullshit mindset.
I dealt with physical pain on an everyday basis because of injuries I didn’t allow to heal properly. Broken bone in my foot? No problem. I’ll walk it off. Blown out knee? I got this. I’ll just limp for the rest of my life because, I don’t know, I’m a damn man. Torn up shoulder? It’s okay. Just a little pain. Yup. I’m a man for sure—a dumb one.
Back to my point: until this year I didn’t really work on me, mentally, physically or emotionally. And I never really liked myself, partially because, well, I’m a man and expressing you have limitations or flaws just isn’t allowed. Hold on, I need to sneeze. Ahh … ahhh … ahhhbullshitchoo.
Excuse me. Sorry. That one was building up for a while.
Back in February I left publishing for what I thought would be for good but came back with a different mindset a few months later. I took all the pressure off that I had put on me. No one else put this pressure on me. I did it to myself. And when I left, I felt like I had spent nearly 30 years on something I failed at.
I did a few things during that break that I should have done and kept doing for all these years: I focused on me. I put myself first for a change. I started looking at who I was and all the things I didn’t like about the person I was, who I claimed to love so much. I began working out, eating less junk food, writing for me and no one else. I got rid of several social media accounts and the ones I kept, I culled the friends’ lists and follows’ lists. I got rid of Twitter all together. On Facebook (my primary social media presence) I cut my friends’ list from around 2800 to just over 600. I slowly began removing people from my life who were a negative influence. I got rid of a lot of toxic people (and yes, some of those people had a positive mindset I found to be toxic).
One of the biggest things I did, outside of the ones mentioned above, is I stopped making excuses. You know what I’m talking about. You probably do it, too. I said things like, ‘If this would have happened …’ or ‘If I would have done this, then my life would be different,’ or ‘If I had a better job …’ or ‘If people would buy my books …’ or ‘I don’t have time to do this,’ (Ooooo, that one got a few of you, didn’t it?) or ‘I don’t know how’ (Ouch … got a few more of you, didn’t I?).
When I stopped making excuses, I started seeing a change in my attitude, my mindset, my physical well-being. When I stopped making excuses, I attacked my workouts with everything I had, even on days I didn’t want to. I changed how I viewed writing and publishing. I started smiling more.
I never look in mirrors except to comb my hair. I’m not a bad looking dude, but I’ve never liked what I saw in the mirror. I walked by a mirror in Target last night, glanced at it, took a couple of steps, then stopped. I took those couple of steps back to the mirror and looked again. I only looked at myself for maybe five seconds. I smiled and thought, ‘Damn, that’s me,’ then, ‘Damn, I look good.’ I walked away, a smile on my face, my head held a little higher.
Physically, I’m in the best shape I’ve been in in over 20 years. Mentally, I’m in the best place I think I’ve ever been. Emotionally, I’m also in the best place I’ve ever been. By prioritizing myself for the first time in my life, I’ve found a balance that works for me, that has helped me get to a place of actually liking myself, of liking who I am and where I am in life.
By prioritizing yourself, you’re not being selfish. You’re not saying that nothing else matters in your life. You’re saying, ‘I matter,’ and when you start believing you matter, you change. You don’t become selfish. You don’t become arrogant. You become a better person, because the more you change for the better, the more you benefit. Those around you will notice, and if they try to drag you down or talk shit about what you’re doing, you know who to remove from your life. You begin to surround yourself with people who will lift you up, not tear you down. Why? Because you matter to yourself, and at the end of the day, you go to bed with yourself and you have to like who you are in order to truly experience this beautiful thing we call life.
So, hear I am, deeper than ever, maybe even truly happy with who I am for the first time in my life. So, I say this to you: prioritize yourself. It may be the missing link between who you are and who you wish to be.
(This is a rather long post, one where I talk about some of my writing and how I feel about some of those things. However, this isn’t just about writing. It’s about everything you do in life that brings you joy, which leads to happiness.)
I wrote a book a couple of years ago titled, Simply Put. It’s my thoughts on writing, on the craft, on telling stories, and on the things they don’t tell you coming into this business. They are, simply put, my opinions. It is not a how to book. Sure, there are some tips about writing, things I’ve learned along the way, but it’s not a book that teaches writing stories. I’m not a professor at a college who teaches writing and all its little nuances, so I don’t really feel I am qualified to say, ‘hey, do it this way or it’s wrong.’ Besides, I don’t believe in ‘do it this way or it’s wrong.’
Simply Put was set to come out mid-2020, but when the world went into shutdown mode, I decided to push it, and three other books back to 2021. As I sit here today typing this, I’m not so certain Simply Put is ready to be released. Don’t get me wrong. It’s been edited sixteen times. It’s gone through massive overhauls and rewrites. I’ve even taken a lot of snark out because I don’t think the sarcasm and snark are warranted in many places or will serve a purpose.
Though a year ago I believed Simply Put was ready, now … now I don’t know if it will ever be ready. I’m not sure how I am going to explain this but let me try.
When I decided to get published—or attempted to—I thought I was a good writer. I was wrong. I had several people tell me I was. They were wrong. Those same people said, ‘you should try to get published.’ They meant well and they stroked my ego by suggesting that. Before I continue, I want you to understand something about writing: don’t listen to people you trust when it comes to publishing. Most of those people say you are a good writer because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. They are lying to you, just as they lied to me. They suggest things like ‘you should get published’ knowing fully you probably won’t pursue that avenue. Unless, of course, you do, and by then it’s too late for them to say, ‘oh, by the way, you really suck.’
Though I was wrong about being a good writer, I wasn’t wrong about being a good storyteller. That I have always been good at. When I really want to tell a story, I can do so with flare and humor and I don’t need the written word to do it. I could have been a comedian and told funny stories to crowds of eight or fewer at open mic night at whatever local bar was open at the time. I could have entertained with the oral word (get your minds out of the gutter …).
I may not have been an even halfway decent writer when I started out—I don’t think anyone is—but one element about it was also what pushed me to try and get published. I enjoyed it. The act of writing was fun and exciting. I could visualize things on the silver screen in my head as I typed or handwrote the words. I could watch events unfold for the first time and have the excitement of it all play out before me. Reaching the end of the story and signing my initials and dating the story always brought me great satisfaction. The accomplishment made me happy, but the process of writing brought me joy.
Publishing was the logical next step, even if others hadn’t suggested it. Again, I believed I was good enough to get published. For the record, you should never be ‘good enough.’ Never. Ever. You should always be good, great, awesome, amazing, brilliant, but not ‘enough.’ Enough is like being second place in a two person contest. I know that sounds harsh, but ‘enough’ is not really good. It’s barely getting by, it’s meeting the minimum to not fail. So, first lesson to this post: Never be just ‘enough.’ Never be average when you can be amazing. Oh, and don’t ask ‘what’s wrong with average?’ or say ‘this is who I am.’ Those are excuses to not try.
So, I was an average writer wanting to be an above average author who really didn’t know what I was doing and who didn’t take the time to or put in the effort to become a better writer. I was just good enough.
For several years I couldn’t get published. I was rejected time and time again until a now defunct webzine published one of my stories. It was called, Diane’s A Whore and Simeon’s Payback. It was truly atrocious. The title alone makes me cringe now. Ah, but getting that story published made me happy, got me excited. It was like a drug and I wanted more of that euphoric high.
I wrote more bad stories and got published by more bad webzines looking for content they didn’t have to pay much for. Each time I received an acceptance it fed my addiction to get published again and again and again. Hearing someone wanted to publish one of my stories, then seeing it on the computer screen on a webzine intensified that euphoria.
I continued to write, but this time, I didn’t just write a handful of stories a year. For those who didn’t know me in the early 2000s you might find this hard to believe but From 2006-2009 I wrote an average of 126 short stories a year. That’s not including poems, haiku, songs, limericks, novels, blog posts and all the things I didn’t finish. That’s just short stories. Of those 504 stories, maybe a hundred were good. Maybe half that number were good enough. The rest? Slop.
Though probably 350 or so of those stories weren’t that great, the process of writing and writing so much in such a short period of time was immensely satisfying. I found great joy in the process of creating characters and putting them in crappy situations to see how they managed to survive if they survived.
I want you to remember one word in that last paragraph for just a little later. JOY. Forget everything else. Okay, well, don’t forget everything else. Just remember JOY.
In 2010, I changed my entire concept—the very idea—of how I was writing. I wrote less stories, but they were longer and fleshed out and the characters were believable. My enJOYment of writing grew, even as I wrote fewer pieces.
In January of 2012, my first book, Along the Splintered Path, was published by Dark Continents Publishing. I was excited. I was ecstatic. A publisher wanted to put out a book written by me. Sign me up, buttercup.
In November and December of 2011 and on into early 2012, I had a serious bout of pneumonia. It was bad. Really, really bad. Though I was so sick I would cough until I threw up, and I couldn’t lay down in my bed for nearly two months, I worked on the edits to ATSP and got them back to my editor as quickly as I could.
The book came out, the reviews were good, the sales were decent, and I was happy. I did interviews to promote the book and things were looking up. Then someone asked me if I planned to put out anything else. More importantly, they said, ‘In order to stay relevant in this business, you need to constantly have new books for the readers to get their hands on.’
What? Relevant? You mean one very good book isn’t going to catapult me to fame and fortune?
In October of 2012, I released Southern Bones, a collection of 11 short stories. It was the first time I put out a book myself. The process of putting the stories together, editing and getting cover art and learning to format and upload the ebook, then the print version was exhilarating. I was excited and happy with what I had done. With my second book out there, I thought, ‘hey, I’ll get more readers and things will be even better than they are right now.’
That didn’t happen. I did a handful of interviews, but the book didn’t do that well in either sells or reviews. My happiness waned. ‘It’s a good book,’ I lamented. ‘Why aren’t people buying it?’
‘You need a novel,’ someone answered.
‘Yeah, that’s the ticket,’ I thought. I already had several novels written, but one in particular, stood out. Cory’s Way came out in December of 2014, just in time for Christmas. It did well. It still does well. It is our best-selling book to date.
I have put out quite a few books since then, some of which you may have read. Each time a book went out, I was happy. Happy. Happy.
Happy is a fleeting feeling. You accomplish something and you become happy for a minute, then you have to accomplish something else to keep that happiness. You say to yourself, ‘If I only had more money or a better job or a spouse, I will be happy.’ Then you get a better job and it pays you more money and you meet the man or woman of your dreams while working there and get married. You’re happy for a while. Then it wanes. You don’t like the job as much as you used to, you want a raise, and maybe the things you overlooked while dating the man or woman of your dreams you have a hard time overlooking now. Happiness is such a fleeting feeling.
Do you remember that word I mentioned a few paragraphs up? If not, scroll up and you will find it. I will wait.
Do you have the word? Okay. Say it with me: JOY.
Joy and being Happy are similar but are two different things.
Happy is feeling or showing pleasure, contentment, according to the Oxford Languages dictionary. A lot of times happy comes after getting something you want or accomplishing something or even marrying someone. It is also fleeting.
Joy is slightly different: A feeling of pleasure and happiness. What brings you joy? Your job? What is it about your job that brings you that joy? Money? What is it about money that brings you that joy? Your spouse? What is it about your spouse that brings you joy?
Do you follow me so far? Okay, let’s take this a step further.
Enjoyment is the state or process in taking pleasure in something. Right smack dab in the middle of the word enjoyment is the word JOY. Joy is active during the process of doing something. It is called enjoyment for a reason. What do you enjoy doing? What is it that brings you joy?
For me, for the longest time, it was writing and telling stories. The act of telling a story still excites me. However … let’s go back to another thing I said earlier. ‘In order to stay relevant in this business, you need to constantly have new books for the readers to get their hands on.’
Talk about putting pressure on yourself. I took that to heart when it was told to me. I would get antsy if I went too long without a new release. I got frustrated when the books weren’t selling, or the reviews weren’t coming. I kept asking ‘why?’ and not having any logical answers. I promoted the works and even started promoting months in advance. I checked my Amazon numbers obsessively. I checked to see if there were new reviews daily. I questioned myself on whether the books I released were any good. I revamped my social media pages and turned my blog into a full-blown website, all in hopes of driving people to my various pages and upping the sells of books.
The happiness of a new release was no longer there. It was replaced with ‘I hope this one does better.’ The addictive euphoria was gone. Still, one thing hadn’t really changed: the joy of the process of writing a new story and creating a new book. It waned some and there was a time or six I thought it had died. It didn’t, but it was on life support.
Happiness is fleeting, but joy is always there, even if we don’t realize it, even if we push it out the way because our pursuits and our goals changed.
I put pressure on myself to create stories people would want to read, to put out books that would be good and do well. I put pressure on myself to get readers and reviews and create posts about books on social media and create marketing materials. A lot of writers do. A lot of writers buy into being relevant. A lot of writers buy into the idea of publishing, so much so, they lose the enjoyment of why they write in the first place.
Why? Why do we do this? My only answers are money, success and … validation. Yes, validation. Writers need publishers and readers and reviews to validate that they are worth a damn at putting words together. It’s not enough to know we are good at this. We need to be told. And that’s the most damning thing of it all. Validation outside of our own minds is the driving force behind so many writers.
I love writing. I love telling stories. I love the process of putting word after word after word to create sentences that form paragraphs that lead to worlds being opened in my mind and characters being created. I love the act of writing, the process of writing. It is what I enjoy doing. That never fails for me.
I do not love publishing. I do not love marketing. I do not enjoy the obsession of reviews and hoping readers will find me.
Creating … creating brings me massive enjoyment. No, it’s not a euphoric high like publishing used to be for me. But it brings me such satisfaction that I want the world to read my stories.
Recently on Facebook I posted part of a review for my dark collection of stories, Voices. The review was from Scream Magazine and it was extremely good—one of the best reviews I have ever received. Yet sells and more than a handful of reviews didn’t happen for Voices. I was frustrated that one of the best collections I’ve put together had done so poorly. It took the words of a long-time friend and someone I admire to set my mind where it needed to be, to make me think about what I was doing and why I was doing it. Here is what my friend, Frank, said:
‘I say that is an excellent review and you shouldn’t overthink it. Unless, of course, what you lust after most in your authorial life is to write for “everyone.”’ And then, ‘Provided you’re content with the quality of what you’ve done … The review you posted flat out confirms you were right about the collection, no ifs ands or buts. The rest is just a crapshoot outside of your control.’
The idea of publishing is grand, and everyone now has the capability of doing it themselves if they choose not to go through a publisher. The idea of publishing so often leads to the need of validation from publishers, readers and other authors who can give us blurbs and help us push our books. The idea of publishing has also ruined the dreams of many writers. Outside of the actual writing and publishing, everything is a crapshoot outside of your control. As writers we overthink things and so many of us small press writers are left scratching our heads and asking ‘why?’
After writing the last 2600 words I no longer believe Simply Put is ready to be released. There needs to be an understanding that you should never let publishing a book or lack of sells and reviews hinder the enjoyment of writing and telling the story. But this isn’t just about writing. It’s about life. Don’t let anything hinder what you enjoy doing. Joy is an active thing. You can actively be joyful and when you are, happiness follows and tends to last longer. And isn’t that what we all want in life? Joy and happiness?
I am writing some of the best stories I have ever written. That joy of writing had been on life support, but now it’s off the respirator and getting its strength back. The joy of creating a book is back and there are several in the works with titles such as The Color of Sorrow and Grim as well as a possible three book set down the road. I still enjoy the process—I’m probably more excited than I have been in a while to create books, then release them. I think you’re going to like what’s coming, starting with Five Deaths on January 12th. I also think everything outside of writing the story is a crapshoot.
If you’re doing something you used to love and you now longer love it, then you, like me, have probably altered your plans and goals and have forgotten what brings you joy. Be joyful in what you do. It leads to the happiness we all desire, but it also shows in your work. Readers and fans of any type of art can tell when something is forced and when the love of it is gone.
This has been one of the longest post I’ve written, and if you are still here, thank you for indulging me.
Until we meet again my friends, be joyful, kind and happy.
Back in August of 2017, a longtime friend of mine went to the hospital for heart surgery. During surgery, he had a stroke and went into a coma. I saw this on his social media page. His lady friend (my buddy never married) posted about it and then updated everyone on his condition over the course of three days. I contacted her directly, seeing how I had known this guy since I was six-years-old. She and I PM’d back and forth for the next several days with her giving me more detailed information than what she posted on social media.
Three days after my friend had his stroke, he passed away. His lady friend sent me a message before she posted it on social media stating simply, He’s Gone. One of the friends I had had for over forty years of my life was now gone from it forever.
A couple days passed and I contacted the lady, wanting to see how she was, how she was handling the death of our mutual friend. She was struggling, but she said something that has stuck with me: “He said before he went into surgery, ‘If I don’t make it, I had a good life.’”
My friend did have a good life. He did well for himself, having gone into the military and then being successful when he got out of the military. He had a good life. He did the things he wanted to do with his life. He enjoyed his life.
I. Had. A. Good. Life.
Recently, I talked to another friend of mine. I asked him how he was.
“I want a do over,” he said.
“Today’s been that bad?”
“No. I want a do over and go back to high school. I would have paid more attention in class. I wouldn’t have given up on what I wanted to do with my life.”
“What did you want to do with your life?”
“I wanted to be a graphic designer.”
“My friend, just because you are older now doesn’t mean you can’t still be what you want to be.”
He shrugged his shoulders at this. “I wish I had the discipline back then to just pursue it.”
“That was then. Who says you don’t have the discipline now?”
My best friend went to college at forty-five (the same age as the friend I talked to recently) and graduated in October of 2018 with a Masters in Business. I know a woman who went to law school at forty because she wanted a change in careers. She became a very successful attorney.
My friend shrugged several times during our conversation. That has always struck me as the universal sign for ‘I give up,’ or ‘I can’t do that.’ It’s the sign for ‘I don’t want to put the effort into it.’ (Let me state that this is a generalization and this is my observation. You may not see things the same way.)
I relayed the story to him of my deceased friend, going into a little more detail than I have here. I looked him in the eyes and stated, “He had a good life. We have one shot at this game called life. For me, I want no regrets. When I get to the end, I want to say, I had a good life.”
Isn’t that what we all want? To say we had a good life? To say I lived the best I could? To say I experienced life?
I’ve been known to say to people when they say “I can’t do something” the following: “You can’t or you won’t?”
Wait. Before you get offended, understand something. There is a vast difference between can’t and won’t. Some people physically can’t do things. They may want to do something, but it is an impossibility because of a physical or mental limitation. That is not a won’t, but an actual can’t. What I mean is there are folks out there who will say ‘I can’t’ because they don’t want to try or they feel like they won’t succeed, so why bother? Can’t verses Won’t.
Here’s the thing: I’m guilty of this very thing. I’ve said I can’t do something because I thought I would fail at it. So, I didn’t try. I regret those decisions. I don’t want others to regret not trying because they … are afraid they won’t succeed, or maybe they don’t think it is worth the effort. What do you have to lose? An experience you might never forget is one thing. Success at something you never thought you could do, is another.
I’m at the point in my life where I would rather try and fail than wonder if I would have ever succeeded at something I didn’t attempt.
Each person has to live their life according to how they see fit. I don’t fault anyone for being how or who they are. You and I have to do what is best for ourselves. For me, the options are simple and there are really only two of them: you go after life like you want it, or you sit by and watch it pass you by. At the end of life, I want to be one who went after it. What if I got to lose? What do you have to lose?
Go back to school. Chase a dream you let go. Ask that lady or man out that you have had your eye on. Go after life. Go after it and live it and enjoy it.
Until we meet again my friends, have a good life, and be kind to one another.