Nothing shiny and fun here. No name dropping of new books or anything of the sort. The point about this post is it’s my way of trying to process a lot of recent events. You know the events, you were probably as shocked as I was when you heard about Robin Williams.
After the initial, “It’s got to be a hoax!” I got to thinking that maybe it wasn’t. Sure, for some celebs I might have that animalistic glee that I want to see them fall from grace. This wasn’t a reality star though, this was somebody who has touched generations of people in a positive way. The kind of guy that makes you feel you’re a better person just because you knew who he was, even if you never had the chance to meet him.
I could see the possibility. The act of using humor to mask pain. We all do it in some fashion. It gets us through and is more than just a coping mechanism, it helps us find something positive to redirect our attention on. I had no idea that Robin suffered from depression or was battling addictions – I’m blissfully ignorant of most celebrity gossip and news stories. That made sense too when I heard about it, and for the same reasons.
Now, in the aftermath, I’m seeing more and more postings on social media about depression and studies citing links to creativity. I’m a creative guy, should I be worried? Is the shadow of doubt and depression going to come knocking some day? My wife tells me I can be moody at times, is it a precursor?
Knowing I have family and friends that read this – don’t worry. I’m not. Sure, I have my moments but don’t we all? I’m not bipolar or even given to fits of dark despair. Lagging book sales can ruin my day, as do surprise bills while I’m trying to save up to buy a house. I’m as susceptible to bad news as anyone is. I tend to think long term a lot and that may have me act like I’m brooding, but that’s about the worst of it.
The point is I can understand all of that. I’m creative, but there are people a lot more creative than me out there. As a creative person I understand the thirst for adventure and thrill. We like excitement and maybe even danger. Risk and reward. For me every book is a gamble. Every crazy stunt I’ve tried to pull over the years as business ventures is a risk (so far none have paid off either). Without that thrill of trying something new I’d have to find something else to keep me from getting bored.
Is that what happened to Robin Williams? Did he become successful enough that he ran out of thrills? I can imagine him being disgusted with himself for falling back on addictions, and if that happens it can lead to depression. Of course what I can imagine and what he went through probably have nothing in common. We’ve all got our personal demons. Calling him cowardly for his chosen exit strategy would only show a gross lack of understanding. It’s easy to argue that he fell on an emotional grenade just as destructive as one filled with ball bearings thrown by terrorists into a crowd.
I’m thankful that we have so many movies and shows to remember him by. Media that I can show my children as they grow up and enrich their lives with, much as he enriched mine. I’m about as far from a religious person as can be found but I had an odd thought earlier today— Some very impressive rain storms covered most of the United States the other day. For example, Detroit (where I live) suffered record flooding. That was the same day that Robin Williams died. Was it, perhaps, tears from the heavens at his passing?
Those who know me would be confused by that title. Or at least that title coming from my lips (or fingers). Why? Because I don’t believe in such things. I call it nonsense, in fact. Which part? Both.
Writer’s block, to me, is the same thing as a placebo effect. The mind is a powerful tool, but it’s a tool like a sword. It has edges on both sides and it can cut both ways. If you believe something will happen, the odds of it happen increase. This can be used positively in the case of such things as daily affirmations or just working hard towards goals you establish. Or it can work against you in the case of being too pessimistic and fearful of failure. Writer’s block would be one of those negative things.
Studies have shown how people can emulate symptoms in relation to conditions they think they have or as expected results from medications they are taking. The symptoms are real, to a certain extent, but that doesn’t mean they are suffering from the adverse condition. They just think they are. This also explains how the health and sports supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar industry – they tell people their products work and, to a limited degree, people believe them and experience partial results from them.
I write every day. Sometimes a chapter, sometimes several. Some days I don’t feel like writing, but I have the time and opportunity so I do it anyhow. Sometimes my characters aren’t talking to me, but that’s no reason not to write. I write because I’m a writer. That’s my goal. My ambition. My desire. It won’t happen if I don’t do it. So writer’s block, to me, doesn’t exist.
Don’t get me wrong, it used to, but then I realized one day I didn’t have to let it bother me. I could find ways around it. If I got stuck, it meant I needed to backtrack or start over or try rewriting the scene. Or maybe I should write the next chapter / scene instead and then come back. Or maybe I should write a blog post instead to get my creative juices primed. There are countless tools to get the job done.
So to all my writing friends now and in the future (meaning everyone struggling to get into writing), let me tell you to just keep working at it. Before you know it the struggles will be behind you. Or ahead of you, waiting on the next book. They can be trying, but I promise, there’s no greater feeling than knowing you triumphed over them.
Case in point, I’m hard at work on my current dystopian sci-fi masterpiece and I was really worried it was going to evolve into something massive and impossible. I kept working at it though, trying to blend in orphaned kids maturing into adults with giant robots and intrastellar space travel. Each step of the way paving the path I soon stumbled across inspiration to explain where that path was going. Now I’m nearing the end. Maybe another four or five chapters remain on this first book. Then I’ll look for my next challenge, which is probably going to take me back to the realms of fantasy. That’ll pose a lot of opportunities to trip myself up – I’m going to try to do a one book merge of my Voidhawk setting with my Blades of Leander / Order of the Dragon setting.
There’s epic levels of fun to be had! Especially once you realize, as a writer, that the only person stopping you from telling your story is yourself. Getting people to read it, on the other hand, is another battle worthy of the Norse Gods. But that’s another blog post that I’ll be happy to share once I figure it out.
Near the end of January I decided to get back in shape. I never stopped lifting, but it had been a long time since I’d lifted with the kind of dedication to be serious about it. So I got back in and hit the weights religiously. That and some dietary changes (no more soda or junk food, limiting carbs) has me, after about 8 weeks, down from 241.5 to 225 pounds. Cool, right? Well there’s more to it – I’m stronger now than I was then too, including a recent 615lb rack pull and repping 300lbs 4 times while bench pressing.
But I’m not hungry for food. I’m hungry for success. I’m seriously considering competing in power lifting again (dead lift only, my bench is shot after tearing my pec off my arm in 2009 and requiring surgery to reattach it). I’m hungry for success in other venues too though. More on that in a bit.
And that brings me to a different kind of hunger. The Hunger Games (spoiler alert coming). I re-watched HG 1 this weekend and I admit, I enjoyed it more than the lukewarm reception I gave it the first time I saw it in the theater. Then I watched Catching Fire (or as I prefer to call it, the story about a girl with a magical quiver that regenerates arrows in every scene). It’s at this point I have to ask some questions from anyone who read the books: Is Catching Fire really the same story as book 1 like the movie portrays? And does it end without ending?
So I’m disgruntled about The Hunger Games, but it got me thinking about stories and success. I’ve flirted with success with a few of my books (Wanted and Vitalis, in particular), but they never fully took off. I’ve written a lot of books, but I keep finding fun things to write about that end up being niche markets versus mainstream. Granted, I had some great runs in the fantasy genre with some fairly mainstream fantasy books, but I can’t seem to find my way into the really big pond.
But I’m trying. I’ve got a new idea that I can’t stop thinking about. It’s coming together while I finish up Marshall, my 4th Wanted book. I’ve been analyzing what makes traditional stories successful and so far my new idea seems to be hitting all those points. It’s exciting and, I hope, will finally take me to a happy place. So far my books are teasing me with being on the edge of success.
Speaking of books, Devils Rising, book 2 of the Fallen Angels series co-written with J. Knight Bybee, will be out very soon! The other good news is that Marshall will be hot on the heels of it (I’ve got 2 – 3 chapters left to write, then editing and cover art). Then I’ll launch into my new dystopian story that I’m hoping will be a game changer. Wish me luck…or better yet, buy the books and rave about how awesome it is to everyone you know!
Charlie Sheen made the word, “Winning” famous, but I’m not sure he actually won anything when he did so. Controversy and outrage, sure, but though his victory may have been a personal success I think it fell short of the financial and moral mark. Fortunately, I’m not here to write about Charlie Sheen! Instead let’s talk about success in general. Not necessarily in a self help kind of way, but littered with examples. I don’t think of it as success or winning, but rather hard work.
I’ve mentioned in recent articles how I was reading the book, Total Recall, by Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s not the movie, it’s a book about his life and his successes (and opportunities for improvement). I finished it and was moved and amused by the ending, where he gives 10 tips for success in life. I found that I already use all of them and figured them out on my own, so yay me!
The moving part, to me, was a picture where he and his son, Patrick, visit Graz, Germany for the unveiling of a bronze statue of him in his glory days of bodybuilding. The look captured on his face as he reached out to touch it is what got me. Can you imagine having a statue built to commemorate you for the positive things you’ve done? You can see that he’s deeply affected by it in the picture and I can’t say I blame him. How awesome would that be?
His other secrets to success? Reaching for the stars, applying humor to everything possible, and understanding that nothing just happens for the sake of happening (or as he puts it, reps, reps, reps). Those of us in the weight lifting field understand reps to mean you have to do something over and over to improve. Want a heavier bench? Do lots of reps bench pressing. Want better shoulders? Lots of reps at shoulder pressing. Better legs or butt? Reps at squatting. By now you see the pattern. Each rep brings you closer to the goals you set for yourself, but reps applies in other ways as well.
In Arnold’s book he talks about acting and preparing for scenes, especially scenes with stunts. They practice the stunts over and over to make sure they get them right and nobody gets hurt. More reps. His speeches he gave during his term as Governor of California and for other press conferences he practices over and over. Reps. Learning to be a good skier (even though he once broke his leg while skiing) requires practice and reps. Everything you want to be good at, whether you enjoy it or not, requires reps.
I can appreciate that. Not just because I lift weights myself, but because that’s what I do. I’ve published 30+ books, that’s a lot of reps of writing, editing, re-writing, re-editing, and so on and so forth. I’m getting pretty good at it, so good that my most recent finished rough draft of a full novel (Soulmates, book 3 in my Dark Earth series) took me 8 days to write, start to finish. It was a fun story but I don’t expect them all to be that quick. I also recently obtained my Security+ computer certification. In order to prepare for that test I did some studying and then lots of reps taking practice tests. My daughter has to read books every night for school and do other homework with math problems. Reps for her.
So clearly practice is what makes perfect, although perfection in anything is a goal we can never reach.
The other thing I took away from the book, aside from being educated, entertained, and impressed was that it’s only his side of the story. There are a lot of other stories that are untold. How did the Governator’s close friend, Franco Columbo, feel being in Arnold’s shadow his entire life (both because he almost always placed behind Arnold and because Arnold is so much taller than him)? What about the people he villainized in his pursuit of climbing to the top? The women he admits he treated unfairly in his earlier days of acting when he didn’t know any better? What about Maria Shriver, and the pain and humiliation she must live with every day for his admittedly foolish betrayal of her and their marriage vows? In his climb to the top he stepped on a lot of people.
Is winning worth the price? Can it be washed away by looking back and saying, “I’m sorry?” I certainly don’t want to cast a negative light on the guy. Heck, I’ve looked up to him since I was a little kid that stumbled across a TV version of Conan the Barbarian. I’d argue that his transgressions and offenses over the years aren’t that bad. He’s made mistakes, we all have. The only really big one, in my opinion, is the infidelity. Everything else comes with being human.
Or, as Nathan Fillion once said as Captain Malcolm Reynolds in an episode of Firefly (Jaynestown), “It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of a son of a bitch or another.”
I’m happy to be a writer. People buy books based on what they like. If they like my books more than somebody else’s then they’ll buy mine first. If they don’t then they’ll buy the other book first, but when they finish it they’ll come back and look at mine. Either way it’s a winning situation and nobody gets hurt, stepped on, or screwed over. I love helping other writers with whatever suggestions or tips I can too. It’s my way of trying to give back or give forward, depending on the situation.
Writing reminds me of lifting weights in many ways. It’s not a competition against other people. It’s a competition against myself. I want to write better every time, just like I want each workout to be better than the last. The difference is that with writing I can keep improving year after year. With lifting there will come a time when the gains will become less about putting more weight on and more about taking less weight off. The goal is to be healthy and as strong as I can be though, and the competition is against myself not against anyone else.
I don’t care if I’m the best. My records aren’t about beating anyone other than myself. As long as I can hold my head high and support myself and my family I’m winning. That’s good enough for me.
To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.
Back around 2004 I held the match used to light a fire under my own ass a little to close. I haven’t been able to put the flames out since. No, there’s no burning sensation when I go to the bathroom, it’s all about motivation and self-discipline.
I received a Christmas present from my wife and kids that seems a little funny. It was a book. A giant hardcover book. I write books, what do I need to read one for? Not only that, but I’m a huge proponent of ebooks, what’s this boat anchor doing on my desk? First and foremost, a writer that does not read is a writer doomed to obscurity. Secondly, it’s no simple task to get somebody else an ebook for a gift. Oh sure, it can be done, but I think that Amazon needs to come up with a way to make it a simpler process.
So what book was it and how does this have anything to do with my pants being on fire? The book is Total Recall. It has nothing to do with freeing Mars from an oppressive regime (nor does it involve Colin Farrell). Total Recall is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography. So far I’m only about a third of a way into it, but that’s due to lack of opportunity, not lack of interest.
I grew up in rural Michigan. No, not on a farm. Yes, I grew up learning to shoot guns and we ate the larger furry critters for dinner when we could. We had electricity and modern conveniences, though I was eternally upset that we couldn’t get cable TV and in those days a satellite dish was outrageous. So I read and watched movies and found ways to go outside and entertain myself (see the aforementioned “shooting things”). About the age of 8 I stumbled across a movie on network television called Conan the Barbarian that my dad was watching. I was instantly mesmerized. As soon as I could I had him rent the unedited version on VHS tape (it may have been a few years until VHS was available, come to think of it). Then sometime later I bought the tape and watched it again and again, as well as the sequel, Conan the Destroyer.
I loved fantasy, so that wasn’t surprising that I’d take to those movies. It was more than that though for me. I felt the story and I connected with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I had it good compared to him, but I didn’t know that. I was a stupid kid who thought he lived a miserable life. Nevertheless, I was sucked in and eventually ended up owning all of his movies on VHS that were available. These days I still have several of them, but they’re on DVD. And yes, there are couple of real stinkers in the group, but you take the good with the bad.
I read up on the guy over the years and followed him as best I could. What a story he had, it was something the best of fiction writers couldn’t make up. Or, if they did, nobody would dare to believe it. A poor Austrian kid that managed to rise to the highest level of athletics, international stardom, and even land the position as the governor of California? Who does that? Whether you agree with his beliefs or like him or not, I think everybody alive has to respect his accomplishments.
And now, reading his autobiography, I feel a lot of things clicking for me. Of course the book is a matter of hindsight and I’m sure he’s remembering and portraying only the more positive things in his life. He mentions a few mistakes here and there, but this guy is a salesman – he knows how to put a spin on things. Even so, the drive and the way in which he set goals and worked towards them leaves me with warm fuzzy feelings. If he accomplished all that he did using his methods, it makes me excited about my own future. I woke up in 2004, so to speak, and stopped being lazy. I went back to school not because I wanted to, but because I needed to in order to accomplish the goals I set for myself. I got back into working out and not only improved my health, but I won some powerlifting contests and set a few state records (that have since been beaten). I took my writing seriously and was picked up by a small publisher, then I launched out on my own and started my own publishing company with the help of a friend. My books are doing better than ever these days and I hope one day down the road they’ll hit the point that I can make writing my one and only profession.
I have no interest in politics or acting, but I have a lot of things left I want to accomplish. Reading Total Recall is reaffirming my drive and letting me know that somehow I may have stumbled across the path to success. I compare it to working out – no matter what the routine is or who the trainer is, each weightlifter is different. Each body is different, and only by discovering for yourself what works and what doesn’t can the optimal growth be achieved. I still lift some pretty damn heavy weights even though I don’t compete anymore because I know that’s what my body needs. I know it’s the same level of hard work and dedication that’s necessary some times to write through a tough part in a book or to get through learning the next technology I need to master in order to finish my next project at my day job. It’s about setting goals, working hard, and not making or accepting excuses.
And maybe, one day, I’ll be able to write a book like Total Recall that people will be interested in. I doubt it – I have no interest in celebritizing myself, but I learned long ago to never turn away from an opportunity!
To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.