Most writing is not a special gift or talent. Writing is a skill that can be taught. It can be likened to bricklaying; you can learn it one brick at a time, and you get better the more bricks you lay.
If you talk to those who work in hospices, they’ll tell you what lessons their dying patients bestow upon them. One word keeps coming up again and again: regret.
When faced with death, people look back over their lives. All the missed opportunities, the misplaced priorities, the things that weren’t done. Only a handful of people focus on what they did do and are content. These people have negotiated the five emotional steps of change, which are Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of Death & Dying. The last stage is acceptance. Kubler-Ross found that only 5% of those who were told they had a terminal illness were able to negotiate those five stages. (Nanowrimo Survival Kit)
That number strikes a cord. Because in my Write It Forward book and program, I refer to the 5% rule for internally motivated change. I’ve taught writing for decades and have always been shocked at how few writers actually changed anything in their writing. I am no longer shocked. I have acceptance that I cannot change anyone but me. I can assist others if they desire it. This is based on my experiences and, more importantly, what I’ve learned from other writers, books, shows, and life.
78% of Americans believe they can write a book. I’d be willing to bet 77% of them will die regretting they never did. It’s not about getting published. It’s about creating and acting instead of reacting, often, too late.
You have only one thing stopping you from writing the best book you are capable of. You.
I call my book on the craft of writing a Toolkit because no tool is wrong. If I need to fasten two pieces of wood together and instead of picking up a hammer and nail, but rather pick up a saw, it is not the tool’s fault. It is mine.
In subsequent blogs, I am going to lay out numerous writing tools that will help you develop your craft as a writer. However, becoming an artist is up to you.
Point of view is the most critical style element in writing. It is also important in following the way I teach writing. I’ve been making a living writing for well over two decades and with each year and every new manuscript come new lessons learned. Over that time period I’ve taught writing novels and getting published at various workshops and for numerous organizations. I’ve attended many workshops and listened to other authors present. I’ve read many books and watched many movies and shows, constantly analyzing the writing, to learn new ways of creating. I’ve seen numerous ideas, stories and manuscripts in the course of teaching, helping other writers, and judging contests. I’ve been published by six different American publishers, many foreign publishers, worked with over a two-dozen editors, and have had four primary agents. I’ve been traditionally published by the Big Six in New York, and non-traditionally published through my own imprint. I’ve had hardcover, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, print on demand, and eBooks across the range of possible platforms published.
Too many people lament the state of publishing and the “crap” that fills the shelves in the local bookstore. My goal is not to complain but to explain; to tell you about the craft and art of writing so you can accomplish your goals.
The world of writing is a very diverse one and there is a place in it for just about everything and everyone. Things are changing rapidly, faster than ever, and I think it’s an exciting time to be an author, with more opportunities than ever before.
The bottom line is I write because I enjoy it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. The one commonality I have seen in every successful writer I’ve met is that they work very, very hard. There is a large degree of craftsmanship required to write a novel. It’s not magic; it’s hard work combined with the ability to constantly accept being critiqued and to critique one’s self.
Lately, I’ve focused on what it takes to be a successful author, not just in terms of the writing, but in terms of not only surviving, but thriving in the world of publishing.
The bottom line is the book. I love books. I love reading them and I love writing them.
“I am always doing that which I cannot do in order to learn how to do it.” Pablo Picasso.
So why do you write?
Phillip Franklin, White Star Line vice-president, 1912
Titanic is a classic example of systematic cascade events, many unrelated to each other, any of which if corrected, would have averted the final event.
The Titanic sank in the early morning of 15 April 1912 after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic. The official death toll is 1,517 making it #5 on the all time fatality list for shipwrecks. What makes this sinking notable is that the Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time of its maiden voyage and was declared ‘unsinkable’ by its builders.
Hubris is the father of tragedy and catastrophe.
Roughly 1,000 BC: Snow falls on Greenland, which will eventually become the iceberg the Titanic strikes.
31 July 1908: Plans for Number 400 (Olympic) are presented to the White Star Line and approved. Number 401 (Titanic) is also approved.
31 March 1909: Construction begins on Titanic.
1909: The fatal iceberg calves off a glacier on the west coast of Greenland.
31 May 1911: Number 401 slides on 22 tons of soap and tallow into the water. It is not christened or formally named, keeping with White Star tradition.
2 April 1912: First sea trials of Titanic.
10 April 1912: Titanic sets out on her first, and last, voyage.
14 April 1912; 11:40 pm: Titanic strikes an iceberg.
15 April 1912; 2:20 am: Titanic sinks.
DEFINITION: Cascade Event: An event prior to a catastrophe that contributes to the actual catastrophe, but by itself, is not catastrophic.
Cascade Two Rivets were of inferior material, some put in by inexperienced welders, causing more damage during the collision than should have occurred.
While many believe the hole ripped into the Titanic by the iceberg was huge, there were actually six small gashes, totaling just about one square meter. That is an incredibly small group of holes for such a large ship, totaling an area less than the size of your dining room table. But the six holes were stretched out along the side of the ship pouring water into six of sixteen watertight compartments: if four flooded, the ship was doomed. Additionally, the ‘watertight’ compartments were only that in terms of bottom and horizontal. They were open on the top.
If only the metal hide of the mighty ship had been able to block just three of those small punctures? But there were two major reasons why it couldn’t.
The iron rivets were class 3 (best) instead of 4 (best-best). If one is building the greatest ship of the time, one should be using the highest quality material.
As shear forces were brought to bear when the hull plates hit the iceberg, the rivets broke. In fact, the Cunard Line, which built the Lusitania, had been using steel rivets for several years. The company in charge of building the Titanic, used some steel rivets on the Titanic, but only in the core of the ship, not the bow and side where the collision would take place.
Why were inferior rivets, the glue that holds a ship together, used? Because of insufficient supply. While constructing Titanic, the builder was simultaneously building its sister ships, Olympia and Britannica. Ambitious plans automatically bring greater risk.
Building the three largest ships ever, all at the same time, in the same shipyard, stretched not only supply of material beyond safety limits, but the availability of skilled workers. At every meeting held by the company up to the completion of the ship, the lack of skilled welders was brought up as a problem. Welding by hand is an art form, and there is no doubt that some of those extra workers hired to do this critical job lacked the necessary experience. Given the way ships were constructed at the time, welders were absolutely essential for proper and safe construction.
For decades after the sinking, the builder fought the accusation that the bolts were substandard. But now, examination of rivets brought up from the wreckage prove that they contained four times as much slag than they should have, making them fragile. In essence, the ship was already doomed before it even touched water. On top of that, the cold water made the inferior metal even more brittle.
Lesson Set realistic goals and don’t skimp on the cost of construction. Class 4 rivets should have been used at the very least, if not steel. Even more key was over-reaching in construction. Building the world’s three largest ships at the same time inevitably caused shortages of material and skilled labor. Yet, this did not deter the company from doing it. They set a goal, which exceeded safe capacity and many paid the price for it.
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We often look at narrow escapes or near misses as ‘fortunate’ events where disaster was averted; indeed, we get to the point where we normalize near misses. Instead, we need to look at these ‘fortunate’ events as cascade events where we came close to catastrophe and were simply fortunate that we didn’t hit the final event. Relying on luck is a very dangerous mindset yet we immerse ourselves in it on a daily basis. We often call it ‘dodging the bullet’ forgetting that when a bullet hits, the results are catastrophic to the target.
We need to focus on cascade events, see their negative potential, and reduce their occurrence. A cascade event that doesn’t lead to a final event we will label a delusion event. A cascade event and delusion event are exactly the same: the only difference is that a delusion event doesn’t result in a final event.
Delusion events lead us into delusional thinking: that we will continue to dodge the bullet by doing nothing. In fact, a delusion event, where something goes wrong, but doesn’t lead to the final event, reinforces our complacency to do nothing about correcting a delusion event and increases our risk of a final event, a catastrophe. We take the delusion event as the status quo, not an aberration. Delusion events lead to the normalization of unacceptable risk. For a very simple example, the further you drive with the check engine light on in your car, the more you think it’s normal for that light to be on. This is called normalization by Diane Vaughan in her book The Challenger Launch Decision.(1) We’ll discuss this catastrophe as one of our seven in the second book in this series, focusing on organizational thinking about delusion events.
How many times have you been in a hotel or restaurant or store and the fire alarm goes off? How many times did you hurry to the exit? Rather, didn’t you, and everyone around you, with no smoke or fire noted, stand around, and wait for someone to actually announce what’s going on? We’ve been desensitized by false alarms to the point where the alarm serves little purpose any more.
The Harvard Business Review did a study in 2011 (2) and found that delusion events (multiple near misses) preceded every disaster and business crisis they studied over a seven-year period. Besides delusional thinking leading to normalization, the other problem is outcome bias. If you flip a coin six times and it come up heads six times, even though statistically rare (1 chance in 64 attempts), you will tend to start focusing on the result, believing all coin tosses end up heads. While we know this isn’t true, we tend to base our probabilities of future occurrences not on the statistics of reality but on our experiences.
This is called heuristics and is at the root of many disasters. Hueristics is experience-based techniques for learning and problem solving that give a solution which isn’t necessarily optimal. We generalize based on the things we value most: our own experience and information related to us from sources we trust. Think how many ‘truths’ you have heard that turn out to be nothing more than an urban legend or a superstition. Yet we base many of our daily and emergency actions around these.
A small example from The Green Beret Survival Guide: every so often there is a news article about someone in a desperate survival situation who claims drinking their urine helped them make it through. That’s absolutely the wrong thing to do. But it’s one of those stories that gets repeated enough, until we believe it to be true. Because we only hear from survivors, who lived in spite of doing the wrong thing.
It is human nature that we focus on successful outcomes much more than negative ones. It’s irrational, but that’s part of being human. In the same way, managers and leaders are taught to plan for success, not failure, since it’s believed planning for failure is negative thinking. In fact, I would submit that many people are part of a cult of positive thinking that often excludes reality.
The good news is we tend to be predictably irrational and understanding our tendency to make a cascade event a delusion event, is the first step in correcting this problem.
“In wartime, truth is so precious she must be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Winston Churchill.
Who polices the world of covert operations? That was the idea from which this book sprung forth.
The Cellar: Bodyguard of Lies is the Daily Deal today on Kindle. It’s the first book in the Cellar series (Lost Girls is book 2) and then the Cellar series merges with the 2nd book of my Nightstalker series, The Book of Truths.
When Bodyguard of Lies first came out there was a lot of Hollywood interest in it, with one director believing it should be the next Mission Impossible movie. Alas, those of you who know Hollywood, know its amazing anything gets made.
My grand plan, 25 years in the making, of merging various series is coming to fruition. Hannah & Neeley from the Cellar are with Scout and Moms and the rest of the Nightstalkers. And early next year, the Nightstalker run into the Time Patrol which is dealing with the concepts from my Atlantis series and meet Amelia Earhart, Dane and the concepts of parallel worlds and time travel and a Big Bad that’s trying to screw with our time line.
Well, it sounds good to say that was the grand plan; actually it’s something I became aware of about a year or so ago. It occurred to me that since all these books came out of my warped mind, there had to be common links. And there are. I blogged about my four pillars of story back in January and these books all touch on those:
Write what you know (yep, done a lot of time travel). Actually the military angle is there.
Write what you want to know: myths and legends! I have valkyries and kraken and more in Atlantis and now in Nightstalkers. Oh my.
Write what interests you: History. Bodyguard of Lies is based on history.
Write what is your passion: The power of the mind is key. In Bodyguard, the mental manipulations, in essence almost gaslighting, that various characters employ are central to the plot.
So today, for only $1.99, the Kindle Daily Deal is Bodyguard of Lies!