Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Writers: Sacrifice For Success?

Confessions of a Workaholic
 By Mark Young
 This article has very little to say about cops, crime or mystery writing. It has everything to say about living, sacrifice and success. Writers: What price are you willing to pay for success? How much are you willing to sacrifice to become a successful writer?

Although this article focuses on the publishing game, anyone who must balance the conflicts of life may find themselves peering into this same mirror that I am holding up for writers. A mirror that everyone—myself as well as the bloke down the street—must confront at some point in their life. How much are you willing to sacrifice for success?

Here is another way to come at this issue: What does success means to you?

Two articles about sacrifice and success in the publishing world caught my attention a couple weeks ago. Both authors claimed that writers need to sacrifice in order to become successful. At first blush, I agreed with their reasoning. Writers must become disciplined in their efforts to become a good writer, and a certain amount of sacrifice is required to become a successful writer. Here, I would generally define success as having developed as a writer while achieving a readership following and a certain amount of monetary gain.

Then, I saw how much these writers were willing to sacrifice. For me, the price was too steep.

Among the sacrifices they listed—television, movies, and sleep—they pointed to family relationships and time with their children as part of the price one must pay. They claimed that success requires a single-minded commitment and that truly dedicated writers needed to devote practically every waking hour to writing and trying to figure out how to sell more books. Success—to these writers—meant higher books sales and greater royalties.

One of these writers I have been following closely for some time because of the useful information he shares about the publishing industry. This particular writer really sacrificed over the years, and this sacrifice has paid off for him in the number of books he sells each month. I assume the success he gained was worth the sacrifice he paid.

Another successful writer discussed the grueling schedule he keeps in order to make success happen. Buried among his comments was a reference that really disturbed me. He mentioned this drive for success cost him severed family relationships.

My questions upon reading this: What price did these family members pay for this man’s success? Was the cost worth it? Apparently not to those family members. It appears they moved on without him. I felt sad for him and his family. Success can be an alluring god that sucks the very soul out of us.

In the giddiness of the eBook and digital publishing phenomenon, writers are looking at the possibilities of an emerging reading market never tapped before—much like the Israelites of old staggering out of the wilderness wasteland and viewing the promised land just beyond the Jordan River. These struggling writers see other self-published writers realizing hundred of thousands of sales each month. They see the possibility—if they work hard, long and sacrificially—of grabbing a little of that golden ring for themselves.

All part of the dream, right?

I can relate to their thirst for success. Let us be honest. As writers, we all want our hard work to pay off someday in dollars and cents, and a growing readership that lines up for the next novel we produce, and recognition from others that we have become an established writer. But each of us must ask ourselves:  Will the cost of success be worth it?

At one point in my own life, I felt that success was worth this cost. I always thought that as a father and a husband, it was my job to go out into this cold, cruel world, and wage that economic war of survival. I wanted to provide for my family, and I would do whatever it took to become successful. As a workaholic, sacrifice came easy for me because it became my reason for living. Career advancement and monetary gain became the standard by which one measured success. After all, I was doing it for my family.

I am not saying that we must not work hard and make sacrifices to achieve these goals. There are seasons in our lives, and some seasons require that we put the job ahead of other considerations—even family—for short periods of time in order to meet deadlines or certain non-negotiable demands at work.

But be careful! Try to remember what is really important in life and try to keep life in balance.

In the movie Hook—starring Robin Williams as the aging Peter Pan, Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook, and Charlie Korsmo as William’s young son, Jack—there is a reoccurring conflict between father and son. Willaim’s aging Pan has become a cut-throat merger and acquisition attorney, whose business life dominates everything. In one scene, the young Jack is allowed by Captain Hook to take a hammer and smash all the clocks in a room. Hook wants the young boy to act out all the frustrations held in side about his father. Here are some of the boy’s statements:

            Jack:    “This is for … never letting me blow bubbles in my chocolate milk!” (The boy smashed a clock with a hammer).

            Jack: “This for never doing anything with me.”

            Hook: “For a father who is never there, Jack? Jack, for a father who didn’t save you on                          the ship?”

            Jack:    (starts to cry) “Who wouldn’t save us … And he didn’t even try. He was there and                       we were there and he wouldn’t try. (pulls his cap down as he cries)

As a parent, I could relate to that scene. At one point in my life I had some of the attributes of Williams’s Peter Pan, justifying my work by telling myself it was for the family. Maybe it was, but I struggled to properly balance my life. The price I paid back then was time away from my family. I would be gone weeks—sometimes months—at a time as I traveled on business.  Later, when I could stay in town, the cost was longer and longer shifts, more and more cases to investigate, until I only went home to change clothes and get some sleep. Some of it was necessary. Some of it—in retrospect—was not. All of it was time that I will never get back.

I got wrapped up in the game of the struggle, and work almost swallowed me whole. Slowly and painfully, I began to learn to put things in perspective, to prioritize my life and spend time where it really counted— with my family.

Now, years later, I thought I'd learned that lesson. My writing career began somewhat slow, writing when I could, reading and learning from others as I tried to improve my craft. After a few years, I began sending queries and manuscripts out to agents and publishers, while continuing to work on the next novel. Rejection after rejection came back. And I continued to write.

Meanwhile, I learned that a writer needs to be more than a writer if they want to succeed in this publishing business. Writers need to do more, like create a social network on the internet,  develop blogs like this one, and cultivate friends and contacts within the industry.  I took to this like a duck to water (sorry for these cheap cliques’, but after all, I am the editor here), layering this social interaction on top of my writing schedule.

And then came the eBook revolution. Oh boy. Could I see the possibilities.

So I published my first eBook earlier this year, planning on writing or re-editing three other novels for release over the next eighteen months. Stunned, I received my first royalty check EVER, and saw several more coming down the pike. I must admit my sales numbers are far below, say, Amanda Hocking or John Locke,  like the distance between earth and the sun—but, hey, a sale is a sale. It has only been a few months, but people are starting to read my novels and some of them even taking the time to give favorable reviews. I found my workaholic nature kicking in once more as I strived to follow the advice of others.

Then, two things happened that stopped me cold.

First, my nine-year-old daughter started complaining about daddy always talking about or working on his books. My wife—who never pulls any punches—glanced over at me with that ‘I told you so’ look. She didn’t have to say anything. I got the message. Out of the mouth of babes and wives.

If that was not enough, I read these two articles I mentioned above and saw the cost these writers paid to become a success. It was like looking into the mirror and I did not like where I was going. I do not want to pay that price at the cost of losing the time I spend with my family, time I will never get back. And for what? So I can sell a few more books?

I know that we are all different, and that we all strive for success in our own ways. For some, they may be able to justify success as any cost. I just can't do that anymore.

As of today, I don’t know whether I will ever reach the number of book sales other writers have reached.  This is a process, a journey, in which that question will be answered over time. But I intend to make sure that whatever sacrifice I must pay to achieve success, that it be on my own terms and at a cost my family can bear.

As I sat down to write this article, the words of another man—who truly knew about sacrifice—came back to me. On the way to the cross, Jesus asked his disciples this question: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” He was speaking of eternal consequences.

I believe our relationships with family and loved ones can have eternal consequences, while selling books does not. I love to write, and I love to write something others want to read. The words we put down on the page often reflect the values we hold in this life. I hope when the last page of my life is penned, that my life would have had more about eternal consequences than becoming a bestseller. And I hope my daughters will remember, unlike Jack, that their father did try his best to be a good father. That I showed up for the job.

So I raise the question once more: How much are you willing to sacrifice to become a successful writer?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thank God He Is Dead, But...

By Mark Young
My first reaction to the news last night about the killing of Osama bin Laden was Thank God He Is Dead. But moments later, a Fox News channel switched their cameras to a jubilant crowd gathering in front of the White House, cheering and flashing hand signs as if it was party time. Is this the face of America we want the world to see? Is this the America we have become?

I don’t think so. This is not who we are.

We do not gloat over taking the life of another human being, even of it is that of a notorious terrorist like bin Laden. We do not clank beers with each other in bars, and try to outdo each other in demonstrative, unbecoming behavior. This killing is not an excuse to have a party. Have we become so desensitized by our culture and media that killing others—even mass murders like bin Laden— has no meaning. If this is what we have become as a country, then I must hang my head in shame. I have to believe that this is not who we have become. We are a greater country that what I saw on the screen. We have much to be proud of. We run deeper than the gloating faces I saw flashed on television last night.

I did not lose someone close to me on 9/11, or in any of the other acts of terror this man and his thugs perpetrated on the world. Many people did lose a loved one, a friend, at the hands of this killer. I mourn for all his victims, of all colors, all nationalities, of all countries. I mourn for those of our military who gave the ultimate sacrifice in trying to keep us safe in this war on terror.

Yes, I am proud of  our military and intelligence community who relentlessly hunted this man down for ten years until he was dead. I am proud that our country, after 9/11, began systematically tearing apart these terrorist organizations that are seeking to kill Americans here and abroad. Our country, with our staunch allies like Britain, took this fight to where these killers sought to hide, even as many other countries harangue, mocked and passed judgment on our efforts. I am proud of what has been accomplished as we rose from the ashes of 9/11 and learned to adapt to a swiftly-changing world.

We’ve made mistakes, and at times our country has been divided about the best way to fight this new borderless war. In the midst of war—and make no mistake, that is what terrorists have brought to our shores—it is hard to be perfect, to never stumble and fall at times. Day-to-day decisions in war cannot be made from the quiet retreats of board rooms and classrooms, pondering over all the possible scenarios before taking action. In war, failure to act in a timely manner means you die. This is true for our brave military on the ground in the midst of a firefight, and for our military and government leaders calling the shots from thousands of miles away.

Our military and governmental leaders made the right choice when it came to killing bin Laden. I am sure, over the next few weeks or months, we will learn about the imperfect process by which bin Laden was tracked down and killed. We will hear from others who will argue that we should have scooped this killer up and brought him back to this country to stand trial.We may even learn that undue caution was taken—due to jittery political concerns—that could have jeopardized the mission and allowed bin Laden to escape the trap. This happens midst the throes of war. But jubilation and partying does not factor into the equation. No reasonable people give each other a high-five after taking a life.

Ask any military or police officer about taking a life. Are they jubilant? Did they feel like it was time to have a party? I can tell you first hand this is not how it feels.

Many years ago—in another time, in another war—I took a man’s life. It was the life of a man who mortally wounded my friend and put a bullet in my right arm. Before we pulled back, I and fellow marines shot and killed this man. We had no time or inclination to gloat. We were patrolling along the Ho Chi Minh trail in the jungle mountains along Laos, and needed to pull back before light for fear of becoming surrounded. We carried our dead and wounded with us because we never leave them behind. My friend never made it. It took most of the night for my friend to die as we suppressed his screams.

Was I glad that we killed the man who did this?


Did I feel like partying?


Before I left that war, many of those in my platoon would be dead by friendly fire. And I would never be the same again. I grew up that day at the age of eighteen years. I came home much older, trying to figure out what I just lived through. And when I returned, people spit at me and stomped on the flag that my friend fought and died to protect. A waitress dumped a pot of hot coffee in my lap. A couple of good-old-boys tried to run me off the road with their pickup. It was a different, drastically-challenging world back then. Like our own civil war, we became an America that pitted brother against brother, father against son. And for those of us fortunate enough to return from that war, we did not feel like gloating.

When I think of taking a life—any life—I think of that unknown man in the mountains of Vietnam many years ago whose life I ended after he killed my friend. I think of a prison gang member sitting on death row for killing a deputy I worked with many years ago, a prisoner I hope is finally brought to justice by lethal injection. I think of another man who kidnapped, raped and killed a beautiful  little girl, a girl who played with my daughters in my home. Do I want these men dead? Yes. Would I gloat? No.

Contrary to what others may believe, I think our way of life sometimes requires justice to be served by taking the life of another. But America, don’t  gloat and party over that death. That is not who we are. This is not what we represent.

We are a peace-loving country, with blemishes and mistakes in our great history. We are a country that seeks to protect the downtrodden and those who cannot protect themselves. We are a country of laws based upon a constitution, a living document that our forefathers bequeathed to us after they gathered together and took time to pray to almighty God. We are an imperfect system that I believe is the best thing going on this chaos-filled planet.

Yes, I thank God that Osama bin Laden is dead.

Justice has been served. Let us leave it at that and move on.