Today I woke up to an email from a writer/wordsmith/teacher in the world of fiction.
In it she said this about me:
“Michael B. is, simultaneously, the most focused person I know and the most easily distracted person I know.”
That might be the most true thing ever said about me.
If you go to my website right now (MikeShreeve.com) you’ll find fiction tips, marketing tips, and a whole slew of other random thoughts and tidbits.
I’ve quit copywriting (twice), started multiple pen names in multiple genres, and have more than a dozen failed businesses under my belt.
From the outside looking in, I am a hot mess.
And yet somehow, I’ve survived (and dare say, thrived) as a writer of words in a world flush with “writers” and ever decreasing payouts.
How have I done it?
By staying focused on being distracted.
I do my best (most profitable) writing when I show up to the blank page having lived fully.
If your life is boring, so will be your writing.
If your experiences are limited, your characters will reflect that.
If you’ve only felt happiness and comfort, then your stories will be flat.
I look for every opportunity to make mistakes. Experience both sides of the emotional spectrum. To fail and triumph. To learn new things everyday.
My job as a writer is to record the human emotional experience. I can’t do that unless I become an expert in that field. By experiencing as much as possible.
From the outside that looks like distraction. And I’ve been called on it many times.
Recently, a very good friend told me that I needed to slow down and focus on making art. To stop being so busy, trying new things, and just sit locked in a room writing my thoughts all day.
He’s been writing for nearly 3 years and still hasn’t sold more than 100 copies of his work.
To me, life is art. The blank page is just the mode of capture.
When I sit down to write, it comes easily. Not because I have a secret formula for extracting ideas, but because I write honestly from my own experiences.
The emotions in my stories are real emotions I’ve experienced.
My characters are real people I’ve met.
I don’t really “make stuff up” when I write. I simply record what I’ve already experienced.
I use the tools of story telling craft to make those experiences more vivid for the reader.
So much easier.
This might sound like a lot of new-age fancy stuff, but it isn’t.
I learned it all from this book >>> Becoming A Writer
If there is a better book on how to write well and easily, I haven’t found it yet.
And I’ve looked.
But just in case you don’t buy it, let me show you a real life example as it relates to this challenge:
I’ve been struggling to decide on what genre to write in with this challenge.
Most people would have made a pros and cons list to determine which genre was best.
Others might have bought up a stack of books from Amazon or watched a few hours of TV.
All of these are great tools, but they miss the core of what makes good writing great.
Instead of doing all of that, I took my family to Sisters, Oregon and lived there for almost 3 weeks.
Because I’ve been thinking about writing a modern western/mystery/crime, like something you might read from Craig Johnson or CJ Box.
So, I went to where my stories would potentially take place. I met with my characters. I saw my stories unfolding with my own eyes.
I spent time in the little grocery store (the only one in town) talking to the clerks. I found my murder victim and one of my suspects.
We went to the local museums (if you’re ever in Bend, Oregon PLEASE stop by the High Desert Museum. AH-MAZING!) and met with the curators/volunteers. Found one of my law enforcement officials and a good piece of backstory from a local historical event.
I stopped by the ranger station and asked weird questions like, “What’s some of the weirdest stuff you’ve seen around here?” Found another suspect and potentially my main character/hero/detective. Also, learned way too much about decomposing llama carcasses.
I smelled the air. Felt the pine needles crunch under my shoes. Took a hike with my son and found the perfect place to hide a body. Got the red volcanic sand all over my clothes. Ate a cheesburger at the local (and only) hamburger stand in town. Listened to people’s conversations.
Right now, I have a 3/4 finished story in my head ready to come out.
It’s vibrant, full of detail, and emotionally raw.
The best part is, I won’t have to make anything up really. All I have to do is close my eyes and see my characters in real life. Listen to them talk. Watch them move around their world.
Then I just have to record it on the blank screen.
This is why I focus on being distracted in life. For the material.
Playing it safe in life = no material.
If you’re finding yourself stuck, or if you’ve written a few books without getting that Amazon algorithm traction you’ve been hoping for…
… loosen up a little. Get distracted. Explore the world.
Then write about it.
To your next writing adventure,
Mike “The High Plains Wanderer” Shreeve
P.S. Would love some feedback on these emails. I want to try and balance teaching moments and journal entry type work recaps (like DWS does with his daily wordcounts).
Let me know what you want to see in these emails by hitting reply and letting me know!