Like Attracts Like (A Cautionary Tale)

The difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. An amateur has amateur habits. A professional has professional habits. We can never free ourselves from habit. But we can replace bad habits with good ones.

Steven Pressfield
If you want to succeed, go straight to the source and by that, I mean work only with professionals. Avoid the amateurs at all costs. If you want to be perceived as a professional, then act like one. Professionals attract professionals and likewise with amateurs. I’m not saying all start-up ventures are deluded and unreliable, just that most of them are. And even the few that become successful will have a professional mind set and will most probably already have professional contacts, or if not, they soon will, because you know what? Professionals attract professions.

I’ve been guilty of this more than a few times in the past and I never really learned from it until recently when I was told about a budding publishing company which was putting together an anthology of short stories. The company was run through a group on Facebook and seemed to be focused and ambitious with plans for more releases. So, I wrote the best story I could and after careful crafting and feedback I submitted my story. They said they liked it and had only a few reservations as to how it could be better. I was flattered that they liked it and was only too pleased to take their suggestions on board. The company appeared to demonstrate that they had high standards. I was impressed when I was informed by email that my story had been accepted for the anthology. As you can imagine I was proud of my achievement and proudly told people around me that my work was soon to appear in a collection by an actual publisher. I also wasted no time in broadcasting my success on social media. I was walking on clouds for a few days.

There even followed a launch party on Facebook which I was more than happy to attend. Again, this impressed me: the company seemed to really know what they were doing. They had drive, energy and a confidence about what they were doing and where they were going.

It was announced that the anthology would be published in early 2018. I found it hard to believe that in only a few months I would be holding a professionally published hard back copy of the anthology which included my story. I felt as if I was making inroads towards becoming a professional.

Then alarm bells began to ring (if I’m honest I had a vague feeling of suspicion from the start but decided to bury it). First the publishers asked if the writers in the anthology would offer to proof read each other’s work to make sure that the quality of the stories was as good as possible. At first, I liked this approach, as the company appeared to have high standards (although it only occurs to me now that a publisher would hire their own proof reader and editor). I agreed and waited for the stories. Things went quiet, so I messaged the guy who seemed to be the face and leader of the operation, asking how I could receive the other writers’ work. He replied that the company hadn’t gotten around to sending the stories out yet but would be sending them out soon, although he sounded a little vague as to how soon. I assumed it would be sooner than later given that the publication of the anthology would only be a few months away.

Then more silence. In the interim, I was also working on a story for a second anthology (see they had a five-year plan and vision, clearly) which had been announced at the launch party. Now I had my foot in the door I wanted to make sure I could produce more work which would be picked up for the second book as it seemed that this publishing house was going places, and if it was I wanted to be part of it. In addition to this they were even asking for submissions for Halloween stories, the funds of which would go to a charity, and on top of this they were looking for novels to be submitted. They clearly had a vision and I saw how I could publish not only short stories but a novel through them.

So, I waited patiently and carried on writing the story for the second anthology. Soon after I began seeing Facebook posts from the guy in charge about a story he had published through KDP. I was a little taken aback, firstly if he wanted to publish something why do it through KDP when he apparently had his own publishing press at his disposal? Secondly, I couldn’t help feeling he had taken his eye off the ball, or had become distracted or bored with the anthology. Distant but distinct alarm bells where chiming now. Soon almost every post was about his book and its modest sales and asking for the people in the group to buy the thing as if it was suddenly the top priority and the anthology and his publishing business an afterthought.

Now, prior to this, he had posted about how he was on the brink of winning investment for the project through a third party, only for him to submit a post a day later saying that he had been scammed. Going back to the book he had self-published I had a quick glance on Amazon: the blurb started off by admitting that the story within the book hadn’t been good enough for acceptance by other publishers, so he had done it himself anyway. Now, I’m no expert in marketing but even I know that saying your product wasn’t good enough to be published is a no-no. I was starting to smell a rat.

A day later I went onto the Facebook group meaning to ask again if the guy had a more concrete idea on when the anthology would be published (and not expecting a positive or clear answer). It was with a mixture of resignation and annoyance that I saw a post from him saying the anthology had been halted for the foreseeable future. He initially put it down to things getting on top of him and seemed to lead members of the group through their sympathetic posts to believe he was struggling with depression. Which was fair enough, only for him to tell me in a private message that the anthology had come to a stop as the rest of the people in his team had pulled the plug. So, what was it? Was he pushed, or did he jump?

While I tried to be understanding and didn’t want to tear him down about the whole thing going tits up, I was still annoyed and had my doubts about his reasons for shelving the project. I decided to send him a balanced but honest message expressing sympathy for his condition but also my disappointment that the project had been shelved, especially given the time and effort myself and others had put into it along with writing another story for the next anthology. I also advised him that in future he consider the people he is working with before he commits to another large-scale venture.

I don’t know whether I was the only person to be so honest with him, but there certainly was no evidence of that in the comments to his post. Each one was full of sympathy and platitudes in the vein of oh never mind or don’t worry about it. In short, the theme was one of indifference. There seemed to be no anger or resentment or real disappointment to be found between the lines of these comments. Then it hit me, if this was how these people really felt, then they clearly had never been serious about being published in the first place; just like the publishers.

It turned out in the end that the publishers had been amateurs, dreamers and had attracted the same in writers, who when the project sank under the weight of its own delusion just went back to whatever it was they had been doing before. But possibly the biggest fool in all this has been me. It seems I may be the only person involved with the project who genuinely wants to be published. I’ve no appetite for platitudes, but what I do have in abundance is anger, resentment and regret, mostly reserved for myself for having acted in an amateurish and deluded mind set. More fool me: I should know an ego-led bullshitter by now, but this is the spark which has lit the fire under my arse and lead me to the conclusion that like attracts like.

The Process

We’ve all had that moment in our lives. The one where we heard the song, saw the film, watched the sports star, read the book and thought to ourselves; “I want to do that…I want to do what he does…I want to be where she is.”

We’ve all had that moment in our lives. The one where we heard the song, saw the film, watched the sports star, read the book and thought to ourselves; “I want to do that…I want to do what he does…I want to be where she is.” We may even find we are gifted enough to follow in their footsteps, but few of us will succeed. Most of us will flounder and quickly give up. Even if we do stay in the game, we will spend the rest of our lives looking at someone more successful than us and wondering why it’s them up there and not us. We may convince ourselves that this is the year our resolutions will kick in. And in all that time there’s one simple element we have continually failed to grasp…

The Process. I think we’ve all heard this word thrown around when it comes to the creative process: that the real thrill of creativity is not the finished product but the work towards it. The journey, not the destination. I thought I understood this, and yet I didn’t.

I used to be a musician; perhaps I still am, although it feels a long time since I picked up a guitar. Ten years ago, I seemed as wedded to being a musician and songwriter as I now am to being a writer. I wrote song after song and found myself constantly improving my craft, especially my singing. I made frequent solo performances at open mic events and recorded in my spare room where I produced a three-track ep CD which I brought to gigs to flog, and previous to that recorded an album with a friend.

It may sound like I was an archetypal musician, struggling, yet committed, only I wasn’t. I modelled myself in some ways on idols such as Keith Richards, Jeff and Tim Buckley and Nick Cave; all committed musical geniuses. What they also had was a circle of peers and collaborators. Whereas for myself, even though I was surrounded with musicians at these events, I remained insular. I thought I saw myself in my idols and yet I had never even been in a band, yes, I had auditioned for a handful of bands but with little success.

By 2008, I had written another album’s worth of songs that I wanted to record, and so I did, by myself. It was inevitable that I struggled to record these songs I was so proud of. I drowned under the weight of having to act as my backing band; wringing the fun out of what should have been an exciting and rewarding experience. I found myself nervously trying to get the right bass take or wing a keyboard part I just didn’t have the chops for. I toiled over a drum machine program as I tried to bring to life the drummer I imagined playing my songs, you know, the imaginary drummer who played in my imaginary band. Oh yes, and that doesn’t even take into account acting as producer and engineer, moving mics around in my cramped studio, toiling over mixes and tweaking recording software.

The end came soon after. I lost the desire to perform, not out of fear, but because I simply didn’t feel like it. It was around this time I caught the writing bug. For a while, I found myself torn between being a musician and writer, knowing I couldn’t do either one justice without committing to one or the other exclusively.

This conflict went on for the next few years. I attempted a “comeback” in 2011 playing two contrasting gigs; one in a café, the other on the side of a flatbed truck in front of a field of apathetic punters. Both were complete disasters. At the second gig, I hung around feeling more awkward and out of place than I had ever felt during my performing hay day of 2006-2008. When I got on stage, as with the first gig, I had problems with the pickup on my acoustic guitar, and as a result, I had to play the instrument into a mic which I kept catching my strings on.

Even then there was an opportunity ready to fall into my lap: backstage I had heard the promoter talking about how she was booking bands to play places like the Roadhouse and the Academy in Manchester; this was the silver lining of my dark cloud, and yet, I let it float off. It wasn’t my usual social awkwardness around people in the music scene that stopped me from approaching her about future gigs. I think it was apathy.

It was this lack of willingness or desire to make links with musicians and business people that showed I wasn’t in love with the process of being a musician. I held onto it for so long because I thought I was still in the same lineage as my idols. These people, however, had lived and breathed what it meant to follow the path: to know and accept the process. They honed their craft by playing in bands, getting to know other musicians, sitting in on jams and recording sessions; spending hours in a van smelling each other’s farts or lugging gear onto public transport; hanging around in dingy venues waiting to play for a mere 30 minutes if they were lucky. It took me years to realise what the process of being a musician involved, and it wasn’t just writing and practicing alone in my bedroom.

In contrast, as I dove ever deeper into writing I found it was this process which I gave myself over to. Whereas I had struggled to join bands, work with other musicians and become part of my local music scene, I found it easier to interact and network with other writers through courses, workshops, and the internet.

As a musician, I had never felt comfortable or pushed myself when it came to promotion: I never sent a single demo out to a record company or even looked for paid gigs. As a writer, I have since self-published two books, entered numerous competitions and even had a story accepted as part of The Monolith Anthology through Creative Writers’ Press.

This along with the long hours of solitude, the willingness to take and give feedback, disciplining myself to write every day and for the right reasons, is all part of the process.

I think, as a musician, I was seduced by what I saw on the stage or heard coming out of my stereo. While this is how many successful musicians get the bug, I wasn’t willing to accept and give myself over to the rest of it. When it comes to writing, however, I find myself embracing everything about it.

The way I see it, the process is like a circuit board, every part of it linked to the other, every connection essential; it just depends on which process or circuit board one can best interface with.

 

The River

This week I published my debut novel, The River.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01LZPG5TH. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LZPG5TH

“Destbury is the latest destination for 18-year-old loner Patrick and his Mother in an endless trail of towns and false starts since their lives were devastated years earlier. Within weeks, Patrick is experiencing disturbing dreams concerning a reclusive and seemingly doomed musician and Patrick’s first love in the form of a girl called Marisa. Together, these propel him on a journey which will change the course of his life.”

It’s free to download from Amazon, but be quick as this offer ends sometime in the wee hours.

The 83rd Floor

It is 9.21am, just 4 minutes since the second hijacked plane impacted between the 77th and 85th floors of the south tower of the World Trade Centre which will collapse in 53 minutes and take just eleven seconds to fall to earth.

Her name is Lori. It is 9.21am, just 4 minutes since the second hijacked plane impacted between the 77th and 85th floors of the south tower of the World Trade Centre which will collapse in 53 minutes and take just eleven seconds to fall to earth. Lori, along with her work mates, has been forced to lie on the floor, which has already begun to cook, in a desperate bid to breathe what little air remains.

The heat is becoming unbearable, an oven with windows which won’t open. While on other floors of the towers, people with this mercy are flinging themselves to their deaths. The 911 operator is trying to reassure Lori help is on the way. The operator knows what has happened. Everybody knows what has happened, but she needs her to understand it will take the firefighters a little while to reach the floor she is on, the 83rd.

The elevators are mostly unusable, gutted by burning aviation fuel. The only other route being the stairwell, miraculously undamaged, has become clogged with a slow moving procession of civilians and emergency workers. The firefighters, each carrying 100 pounds of equipment, will take an hour to climb the stairwell to reach the upper floors as the metal supports slowly warp and bend from the furnace eventually reaching temperatures of 2000 degrees.

The operator, just like anyone else, has no way of knowing the building will collapse, but if she has seen the pictures being broadcast then she must have a sense of the dire straits Lori finds herself in, and of her chances.
Lori says more than once she is going to die and asks the operator for confirmation of this, maybe as if her honesty might give some minute grain of comfort, but the operator cannot do this.

‘Say your prayers,’ she is told instead.
Lori thinks she can hear some voices and begins screaming for help. For a few, brief seconds the hopes of both women are lifted, but no reply ever comes. She asks the operator to find out whether anybody has reached the 83rd floor. The operator can be heard conferring with a third party (the firefighters only managed to reach the 78th before the building collapsed), but she can only tell her help is on its way.

Then Lori asks the operator if she will stay with her and in a small, trembling voice announces she is afraid to die. She will stay with Lori for the next 20 minutes as her words become fewer and further apart and she along with her colleges are slowly overcome by the smoke and the inevitability around them. Each breath now a rare commodity, each second dutifully falling away into the final minutes. Eventually, the line falls silent, and the operator is forced to conclude she has lost her.

 

***
You are rushing from your apartment; keys jangle from your busy hands. Maybe you had time for a parting kiss as you left and a few brief words about the evening’s meal. You can’t be late, you need to get to work, it’s all that matters right now as you emerge into the steadily rising warmth of the early morning sun. The air is fresh and feels keen against your skin, even raising a few goose bumps.

By the time you hit the main throng, the sun is beating down on your shoulders and every exposed part of your flesh. You wonder how long it takes for skin to burn. Now as you move along with the other commuters you see this Tuesday morning as the latest to be pulled from the shelf, uniform but undeniable, to where it will, you believe, ultimately return, bookended by 32 years of the past and the given future.
It seems you were in good time after all as you dab the sweat from your brow and check your perfect hair. The heating rays of the sun are muted by the relative cool of the long shadow you now stand in. You crane your head upwards, as always, at the tower of cement and glass rising above. Glad to get out of the heat, you emerge from the revolving doors and into the sunlit, air-conditioned lobby. You smile and exchange brief pleasantries with the security guard, as you do every morning, before moving off through the warm bodies of suits and uniforms as you make your way to the elevator. You break into a trot as the doors begin to close, until a friendly pair of hands holds them ajar and you gratefully squeeze inside the crowded, but airy space. Everyone is reserved and calm and is either minding their own business or chatting with their neighbour. The man who held the doors open asks which floor you want. He has a warm if unremarkable, face and something about him tells you he is a good man. It is 8.35 am and the good will you have received from this stranger has filled you with a welcome optimism. ‘The 83rd floor,’ you tell him with a smile as the doors finally close on you.