Monday, June 3

Dean Wesley Smith On What Makes Writing Fun

I love Dean Wesley Smith's posts--especially the mini series he did as he wrote a 70,000 word book in 10 days--but I have a feeling this one is going to be my all-time favorite: Success, Failure, and Caring: A Personal Note.

Ignore The Bad Reviews, The Rejections

In Success, Failure and Caring Dean talks about what makes writing fun for him and how he can ignore the bad reviews and the rejections. Dean writes:
So as a way of helping readers of this blog understand the type of person I am, why I can take the risks, ignore the bad reviews and rejections, and fight through the down times, I want to tell you a short, but personal story that few know. I think it is illustrative of how the ability to just not fear failure is part of my nature, a nature that has allowed me to keep taking chances with writing and publishing.

And how that ability, my very nature, colors everything I write here.
I've heard of students putting themselves through college by waitressing, or working at a supermarket--one student I knew paid for her tuition by being a mail carrier.

Dean, though, put himself through college by playing poker. That's right, by being a professional gambler!

This is what Dean says in one of the comments:
[M]y attitude from a very early age (and I have no idea where it came from) was that I could never see a reason to do any kind of job I didn’t like. Of course, I was broke many times over my life, and homeless a couple of times, but strangely enough, I never once put together a resume for a job. (I wouldn’t begin to know how to do that.) I just always had the attitude that if it wasn’t fun or worthwhile or educational, why bother.

Now, this attitude will cause friends and family no end of grief, especially early on when they think you are wasting your life and your (evil word) potential. And it drove a couple of wives nuts along the way as well. (grin) Kris now, after twenty-seven years, just laughs and says, “That’s just Dean.” The reason we are still together after 27 years I suspect. (grin)

Do I think other people in the real world should be like me. Oh, heavens, No! But do I think writers should learn how to let go of the fears with their own writing, focus on learning to be better writers, focus on having fun with their writing. Oh, heavens, Yes!
I've sort of jumped the gun by putting Dean's comment up there, before you hear his story, but it was too good to bury.

Dean's Story

Here's Dean's story:
So I ... caught a ride with three great guys heading for Lovelock, Nevada, in an old Volkswagon van.  When they dropped me in Lovelock, (south of Winnemucca) it was about two in the morning.  I went into the only open hotel and casino on the main street of town and asked how much a room was. I really, really wanted a shower and some sleep. But rooms cost $45.00 and I couldn’t talk the guy down into giving me one for $20 for just a few hours.

So I wondered over into the small casino, bought myself a candy bar and a soda with the change I had, leaving me with $22.00. Then I stood against a pole and watched the only blackjack table going. A single-deck game with a sloppy dealer who didn’t shuffle well and only one drunk customer playing dollar chips sitting in the last chair.

The pit boss came over and talked to me after a bit. Friendly guy, so we talked about me headed back to school and that I had gotten road weary and needed a break. (I never told him I was hitchhiking. I let him think I was driving.) I seem to remember he had a kid going to college in Reno. It was that kind of conversation and he didn’t seem to mind me standing there. He was facing a long, boring night, and I was a distraction.

All the while we were talking, I was watching the table and the cards. And when the deck turned in the player’s favor after a bad shuffle and the drunk taking some of the bad cards off the top of the new shuffle, I shrugged at the pit boss, said I might as well spend something, before heading back out onto the road. I got out my last twenty bucks and sat down.

At that point the deck had gone to a dreamed-of level where I had about a 60% advantage on the house, which meant, in reality, I would win 6 out of 10 hands under normal conditions, played over a million hands. The dealer changed my last twenty into chips and I put five bucks on the line.

I lost the first hand, put out another five. The deck was even better now. (That means it was filled to the brim with face cards and aces.)

I won the next five or six hands in a row, doubling up on some of my bets and all the time laughing with the pit boss and talking about his kid. He had no clue I was counting the deck. When I had exactly seventy bucks and the dealer went to shuffle again, I pulled my winnings. “Oh second thought, I’m too tired to go any farther. I think I’ll get a room and get a few hours sleep before heading on.”

The pit boss laughed and told me that was a good and smart idea, gave me a chit that cut ten bucks off my room. I tipped him five, paid for the room, slept until eight, had a great breakfast and hit the road again, making it to my mom’s house outside of Boise by dark. And with more money then when I had left Reno.

I could have just as easily have lost $15 of that twenty, spent a cold night on the street, bought a light breakfast with the remaining money. That was the risk I took. But I had a skill and I understood the chances and the risks and I was willing to take the chance and the risk for the reward of a hotel room and a shower.
Now that's a great story!

Don't Worry About Failure, Just Write What You Love

You might be wondering what it has to do with writing. Dean continues:
[O]nce I finally applied that same attitude to my writing in 1982, after really understanding Heinlein’s Rules, I have had little or no problems. Sure, my career has crashed a couple of times, but I’ve also had fantastic years, one year alone I published fourteen novels. Sure, I’ve had books tank and bad reviews, but I’ve also had wonderful reviews and have sold over eight million copies of my books to wonderful readers. Sure, I’ve been rejected more times than I care to think about or count, but I’ve sold more stuff than I can almost count as well. [Emphasis mine]
.  .  .  .
When you step back and look at everything, the risk with this writing business is little, the choices are many, and the fun is great. I will write some great stories and some stinkers, I’m sure, as time goes on. But what does that matter? The readers will let me know one way or another. For me, now, what is important is having fun with the writing.
.  .  .  .
And why do you think I remember that incident way back in the early 1970s? Because even though I was risking a cold night on the street, I was having fun with the risk.

Just as I have fun every time I type in a new title and start a new story that I have no idea where it is going or if it will work.

I always do the best I can and failure is always an option. The key is to train yourself with your writing to just not care.

Enjoy the hand, enjoy the play.
THAT's the attitude to have.

Life's not a stage, it's a poker game. (grin)

Dean's article is well worth the read.

Photo credit: "behold the mask" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

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