How to Get My Secrets - aka, The Art of Dipwad
"How did you make it?" "What's your secret?" "How can I break in?"
I hear all these questions at conferences and symposia, and I get them as emails. So let's just shove the cat out of the bag and then beat it to death with the power of words*:
Those. Questions. Are. Offensive.
I don't mean that the person behind them is offensive, or means to offend -- there is a difference. But imagine that you're walking along, and come upon a world-class weightlifter. He grunts eight bijillionty-three pounds into the air, maybe poops himself a bit from the effort. The weights crash to (and through!) the ground, making one of those Looney-Toons-Style cutouts in the earth in the shape of a barbell.
As he waddles toward the bathroom, huge grin on his face from beating the interspace weight record, you get between him and blessed cleanliness. "What's your secret?" you ask. "I mean, it's incredible, and I just want to know -- ack."
The "ack" is because he has taken you within his meaty grip, and is now squeezing your head like a zit on prom night.
The last words you hear are, "What do you think, dipwad?** Then there is a sound somewhere between a soap bubble popping and a Hefty bag full of stew hitting the ground after being dropped from the Empire State Building, and all goes blessedly dark -– but not fast enough for you to realize he's right: you are a dipwad.
(Also, you're probably going to Hell for that thing with the old lady, the lawn chairs, and all that Cheez Whip, but we're not addressing that right now.)
You would never ask something like that of someone like him. Not merely out of fear that a poop-giant would claim your life, but because... the answer is obvious, and the question is rude.
The weightlifter triumphed by lifting more, harder, and longer than anyone else. Dedication and perspiration, inseparable, going together hand-in-hand like zits and prom night. That is how you succeed, and the only path people can reasonably hope to achieve extraordinary results.
Are there exceptions? People who luck or lie their way onto the top? Sure -- but most fields aren't acting or politics. Most fields require knowledge, which is gained through hard work. Most fields require results, which are only gained through practice, practice, practice. Working harder and longer than anyone else is your ticket to success.
If you ask me, "Tell me the story of your first produced screenplay," (I wrote a script; it got produced) or "How many cons do you attend a year" (more than my wife fully likes) or "How many zits did you get on prom night" (ha! joke's on you; no one would say yes so I didn't go), then I can answer those. Proof: I just did.
But asking, "What's your secret?" implies that I got there by a cheat, or worse, by luck.*** If I got there by cheating, you think I'm going to tell you? If I got there by luck -- well, that's the equivalent of asking a hobo who won the lottery what his secret to financial success is so you can be rich, too.
Either way, you're implying I didn't earn it, and you in that moment you are, to quote an amazing though slightly incontinent weightlifter, "a dipwad."
Every successful person travels a different road to success. Every successful person in the same field travels a different road to success. I've said this many times: you put a hundred writers against a wall and ask them what they did to succeed, you'll get a hundred different answers.
For me, I karate-chopped my way into a screenplay (seriously; I'll tell you sometime), and I practiced writing for thirty years -- hard -- before I wrote something people liked enough to pay for. Only one of these is likely to work for you.
Even as to the details of the "working hard" route, I'm a bit fuzzy on exactly what part of it worked. I have guesses about the marketing processes that made it sell, but ultimately I don't know. I did a bunch of things, but I don't know if one of them worked, or all of them worked, or if maybe the book just fell off a garbage truck and into the hands of the most influential reviewer of all time.
And you know what? It doesn't really matter. In the real world, the thing that works is the "I did a bunch of things" strategy. And lotteries aside, even what we call "luck" is usually just code for "one of the million different things I've been working myself to the bone over finally paid off." Luck in the real world is just buttloads of hard work until enough people notice your hard work that you graduate, or get a promotion, or have people buy your book.
If you haven't "made it" yet, it either means you're not working hard enough, or long enough, or both. People who work longer and harder than anyone... they almost always lift that weight in the end. But remember the moral of the story: even after that successful lift, there's still a lot of crap to deal with. What do you think our weightlifter does the next day? Maybe he parties, and invites you over because he's got the Cheez Wiz if you bring the old lady and the lawn chairs. Maybe. (Hopefully?)
But the day after? He slaps eight bijillionty-four pounds on that barbell, puts on an extra pair of Depends... and gets back to work.
Me? A few months ago I took my first real vacation in fifteen years... and the only way I agreed to that was because my wife and best friend conspired to fly me to Hawaii - not the kind of thing you turn down so you can write a blog entry (besides, I took my computer with me).
So don't ask yourself, "What's his secret?" or "What did she do?"
Ask yourself: "What more can I do to make my dreams come true?"
** Yes, I watch Super Why. Don't judge me, I have kids, and as long as the 12-year-old enjoys that cartoon, I'm going to watch him with it, darnit!
** My weightlifter is a demure soul. As such, though he might winepress your head, he refuses to cuss.
*** Luck is worse than cheating because at least cheating requires a little bit of effort and skill.
Michaelbrent Collings is an internationally-bestselling novelist, multiple Bram Stoker Award nominee, and one of the top indie horror authors in the U.S. He is also a produced screenwriter. Find him at michaelbrentcollings.com or at facebook.com/MichaelbrentCollings or on Twitter @mbcollings. And if you want a great discount on his online writing course,Story and the Art and Craft of Writing, go to michaelbrentcollings.com/AllWrite.html or click here.
Michaelbrent Collings is an internationally bestselling novelist and screenwriter. You can find him on Facebook at facebook.com/MichaelbrentCollings, on Twitter @mbcollings, or you can sign up for his mailing list here.