What is Writing Success?

When does a writer know when he or she is successful?

Being “a writer” has certain connotations and sometimes embedded tangible requirements. Does he make a living from writing? Is her work critically acclaimed? Is he well-known? Does she garner respect from other writers? Do other people ask him to write? Is her author rank on Amazon within the top few thousand? Can a book release produce excitement? Does she have book signings? Has he won awards for his craft? Does she work tirelessly to improve?

Surely, these are all requirements of being a ‘real’ writer.

But, alas, no, that’s not it. It’s much simpler. It’s more personal. It’s more subjective.

Being a writer is about having the confidence within where one feels they know what they are doing but remain wise enough to know how foolish a thought like that is. Despite always wondering if what is written is any good, he or she keeps on writing.

For the first 30+ years of my life, I had the heart of a writer, yet I was not one. I was a person who made excuses about my writing, which mainly never occurred. I focused on my weaknesses and the strengths of the real professional writers. Strangely enough, the gap between my weaknesses as a writer and a highly respected writer’s strength was vast. That’s what I was focusing on, and it made writing seem like an impossible task. There was a gulf of separation too wide, so I  figured I might as well not try.

I’m ten years beyond that type of foolish thinking. Do I still have writing weaknesses? Oh yes. I think I’ve even discovered more that I didn’t know existed. But now, I don’t look at the big guys in awe and lament that I will never be like them. I have learned to feel comfortable in my own shoes. I have unique experiences and unique bouts of creativity which are vastly different from others.  I have something to say, and that’s enough.

Sure, I like a good review or an award or honor just like the next writer. It certainly can stroke a writer’s ego and boost one’s confidence.

But good reviews or awards or a certain threshold of downloads does not a writer make.

A writer is simply someone bold enough to admit that he or she is one.

Once you can overcome that hurdle, you can be successful, and you can write in peace.


Gearing Up for Greywood Arts Residency in Ireland

I’ve found myself virtually walking main street of Killeagh, Ireland using Google Maps Street View, trying to imagine what it will be like to stroll down it in person. I won’t have to wait too long. That makes me so excited!

Through a submission of my play “The Last Bastion,” Greywood Arts – an arts residency house in Killeagh – awarded me with the Greywood Arts Winter Residency 2018 for playwriting. My reward is a one-week stint at their place to do one thing – write. Yes, it’s kind of like a dream come true. I’ll have my own room plus a writing room overlooking the Dissour River.  Right across the river is the Old Thatch Pub – a family establishment for 300 years – one of the oldest in Ireland, and I’m getting the feeling I’m going to be surrounded by Irish quaintness.

The strangest thing I’ll have to adjust to is my reasoning for being there – writing. I’ve never had a week, let a lone a day, when my only responsibility was writing. I have no other pressures, distractions, or responsibilities. Simply writing. Doesn’t that sound like bliss?

Oh, and I have a reading. Here. Look:


I’ll get to present excerpts of what I’ve worked on that week with the local arts community. I’ve been told there may even be some local actors willing to help me out with the reading. How cool would that be?

What will I be working on? I have a lot.  I have two full-length plays I’ve started but have not finished. I’d love to knock them out this week. One is a historical play related to the Nat Turner slave uprising in 1831. The other is a social commentary piece highlighting the conflict between the conservative Christian church in America and the issue of gay marriage.  Third, I am mostly finished with my brand new ensemble show “Crazy Love,” so I’d like to polish off those 8 short plays which comprise it. Other ideas include an embellished play of my childhood which walks through small town America in different time periods of the 20th century.  Oh, and knowing me, a new idea will pop in my brain and perhaps supersede all of these. Who’s to say?

Anyways, I head out for Greywood Arts on March 30.  I will certainly be posting photos and highlights of this week. Stay tuned.

Don’t Underestimate Your Writing

Don’t underestimate your writing.

I learned this lesson recently. It was late December, and the submission window for entering a script in a theatre festival in New York was rapidly approaching. It was a festival that produced one of my plays in 2017 — my first ever production in New York City. It was a big deal to me.

Since I had a modest, one-year history at the festival, I wanted to submit again for the 2018 version. But I ran into an issue. What script? Last year it was an easy decision. It was a script I really liked. It was about issues current in the news. It was timely, funny, and profound at the same time. I thought it was one of my best, so I was delighted when it was chosen.

But for this year, I just felt like I didn’t have a script that was as good as 2017. I hemmed and hawed and eventually decided, on a whim, to send off a script I had written a while back but never did anything with it. I re-polished it and sent it off before the December 31 deadline.

I had no expectations.

Then it happened. Earlier this week I received an email from the theatre in New York saying they loved the script I sent and wanted to produce it for their June festival. I was shocked. They loved the script? They chose the script? I had no idea that it would have been chosen.

After this happened, I read it over with another person, and this person told me how much she liked the script. Suddenly, it was starting to grow on me. A script I thought was just “ok” was really not that bad. I started seeing it for its uniqueness, its quirkiness, its unusual story. It started sounding funny to me as I read it and …

What’s going on?

Suddenly, the simplest of principles once again smacked me in the forehead–everyone has a different perspective. This is not something new. I know this. As a novelist whose novels have been reviewed by many individuals, I know that each person brings their own take and opinions when assessing a creative work. I’ve seen them all–“Brilliant” and “I couldn’t finish it.”

So I learned a lesson: just get the work out there!

It may be liked more than you think. It may have hidden potential that you can’t see. It may also fall flat on its face. But I’d rather have it fall flat on its face than live a digital death on some hard drive.

Guess what I’ve been doing this week? Sending more of my plays and writings to various contests around the world. Nothing may become of any of them. But you never know until you try.

Don’t underestimate your own writing. Put in the time, give it all you got, then release it to the wind and let it float where it may.



Novel Writing: Time to Do the Heavy Lifting

I’m writing my first trilogy, and I must admit, the first 2/3s has come rather easily. Book one cruised by and set-up book two perfectly. Book two introduced some new characters and the adventure went farther, deeper, and more enjoyable than I could have anticipated. Even the ending flowed, setting up book three.

But now, well, I’ve just realized something. If I want this series to end in book three, which I do, then it’s time to do the heavy lifting. By heavy lifting, I mean I need to invest some serious amount of time into thinking, yes thinking, before I get back to writing.

I know the ending of the trilogy. It’s a no-brainer in my mind, but I sat down yesterday and did my first actual writing on book three, I realized that I got a lot of work to do if I’m going to tie all these lose ends together, because I have a lot of loose ends. This series has a plethora of related plots, which have worked well up to this point, and I am confident that they will work well through the ending, but admittedly, I don’t see it all yet.

Now some might call this writer’s block, but I think that’s nonsense. I have plenty of things to write about in this novel and I could go and whip off a chapter right now if I’d like. But, in my mind, this is the crucial moment. The moment of decision which is going to affect a reader’s overall view of this trilogy.

The problem is all about choices. There are so many choices to make. Here are a few:

When should the story pick up again? Immediately after book 2?  I think not. I need a new clever hook, and I have that, I believe. The new book will start in 1348 Europe, the Europe that’s being decimated by the black plague. Has my series had anything to do with that so far? No. That’s why I think it’s cool. A reader will start wondering what in the world this has to do with the plotline, but they will be rewarded, I, as the writer, must make sure of it. And I will.

But after my jaunt in time is finished, how do I pick up the lives of the main characters? Is it the next day? The next week? The next year? I’m currently leaning towards week.

If I choose week, what has transpired that the readers are going to need to know about? And how do I insert that situation? Should I isolate the main characters? Should I have them together? Each decision changes the way the book will flow.

What about the villains? Are they going to get away with it? Are they going to be tracked down? How? What surprises await them? What surprises await the readers?

Do all of my character’s actions feel justified by their motivation?

So I am at a writing crossroad, but before I choose, I must consciously weigh each path and then choose one. Will I ever know if I chose the right one or the wrong one? No. Writing is so subjective that it makes reading extremely subjective.

All I can do is do the proper heavy lifting in my mind and then hope for the best. Here goes.

Writers: You Can Only Control the Process, Not the Results

Every writer wants to sell more books.

Every writer wants to find more readers.

But if you are writing for the purpose of results, you’ll be frequently disappointed in this cut-throat, highly-competitive business.  The faster you realize that, as a writer, the only thing you control is the process, the faster you’ll be at peace with the results – whether good or bad.

I figured this out long ago. I began novel-writing and play-writing because I couldn’t contain the creativity that started bubbling over in my brain. It became my release and eventually my passion. When I eventually decided to start putting my works out in the public eye, I received a rude awakening – not because the results were bad, no, because the results were good.

My first novel started to sell some. Then reviews started coming in, positive reviews, and before I knew it my first novel had racked-up 80+ reviews on Amazon. I was floored and even thought quietly to myself that this isn’t so hard after all.

Ha. That’s when my rude awakening began to seep in. I suppose it was more gradual than rude, but it was certainly real nonetheless. Book two, for some reason, seemed more difficult to market. Then the rules changed at Amazon, and certain big promotion sites changed the way they did business. Everything got more competitive, and before I knew it, I had no idea how to sell books anymore.

Well, it turns out that I didn’t know in the first place. When I think back upon it, I have no idea how my first book did so well in getting reviews. Am I doing anything different now? Yes, actually. I’m better at marketing now. I work harder now. And has it led to more results?

Not really.

So what’s the deal? For me, the deal is that I don’t know how to sell books. But who cares!

Not me. I know what I can control and that’s my writing process.

So I ask myself these questions:

Am I writing the stories I want to tell?

Am I putting the proper time into revisions: 2nd, 3rd, 4th drafts?

Am I meticulous in the editing process?

Do I have an editor helping me improve my book?

Have I recruited beta readers to give me early feedback?

Am I purposeful when thinking about cover design and book layout?

Do I put time and effort into recruiting reviewers who will post honest reviews?

Do I market with variety in mind?

Am I trying new marketing avenues?

Am I adjusting to new trends and reading up on new developments?

Am I reading other blogs to get feedback about process and the book industry in general?

Am I striving to be better?

If I can answer “yes” to every one of those questions above, then I simply do not care about results because I can’t control them anyways.

I can, however, control the process. If I can look back without regrets and say that I’ve written the book I wanted to write and I marketed it in the absolute best way I know how, then I think it’s safe to say that I have successfully fulfilled the requirement of my passion for writing.

How about you? Are you concerned with results or process?

Commit to Your Creativity

There’s a lot of creative people out there hiding behind your non-commitment.

Creativity can be frightening. I get that. When one allows their creative works to be known to others, it can feel like a smack in the face if you hear a rude comment or a flippant laugh.

I work with a lot of students who are afraid to step out and try the unknown. Sometimes, if they let me read their play or their poem, a verbal addendum of apologies and clarifications as long as the train of a Queen’s gown is attached to it in order to down-play their work and lower expectations.

Again, I understand why. Creative artists are fragile beasts.

But if you want to improve, and if you want to move forward in your craft, I am convinced you have to commit to your creativity and just let it fly.

I dealt with an example of this today. I’m working on the ending of my upcoming show, and the final segment of the show is a narrative piece which is set to music. I’ve been toying all week with wanting to add a narrative introduction to the narrative piece as a way of setting the tone and keeping the audience’s attention.

After a couple days of brainstorming which yielded no fruit, I went back to my script and started pulling out phrases. Then I started playing the intro music and trying out different voices to see what I liked.

And then it hit me. My idea is rather weird. I think my actors are going to look at me as if I’m insane if I asked them to do this. I started second-guessing myself until I put my foot down and said, “No, this is my idea and I’m sticking with it.”

I’ve learned over the years to trust my instincts and go for it.

Now is my idea really clever? Or is it actually stupid? I have no clue.

But the point is, who cares? It’s the creative idea that I currently have, and in lieu of a better one, I’m committed to it.

And that’s how creativity should work. Push your idea, try, mold, change, adapt, but in the end, let it fly, whatever it is and don’t apologize for it – even if someone chuckles at how silly they thought it was.

Trust yourself, and commit to your creativity. It might actually be better than you think.


Adding an Element of the Supernatural to My Writing

My writing, especially my novels, for the most part have been grounded in real life. It’s my nature to keep things focused on the tangible. I love stories of humanity, embedded in history and real-life drama. It’s what I seek in my movie-watching as well. I’ll take “The Bridge of Spies” over any Marvel movie any day of any week of any year. (Please, I hope I don’t get started on super hero movies. Please, no.) The only place I have dabbled in the strange and unrealistic is with my one-act short plays. I’ve written a bunch of crazy stuff, even about inanimate objects, but they are still all meant to tell human stories even if there are no humans in the story.

My novels, on the other hand have always been protected from the craziness. My debut novel, Beauty Rising, focused on a tragic story about thirty-something who finally grows up when he takes his father’s ashes to Vietnam. My second novel, The Recluse Storyteller, is about a secluded, lonely woman who tells wild stories to herself. The Reach of the Banyan Tree is my historical Vietnam novel about three generations of American men who were affected by Vietnam during three different time periods. A Love Story for a Nation is about an ex-writer, who after experiencing a terrible tragedy, decides to protest a brutal government regime by standing quietly in the city square. And finally, Which Half David is about a mission worker in Southeast Asia who becomes tempted by an old flame.

Human stories, real life, tragedy, drama, heart-gripping dialogue, and humor. No crazy fantasy or supernatural elements.

Until now.  And it’s a trilogy.

My soon-to-be-named trilogy is two-thirds written. Book one is having its final edit as I write. It’s coming soon. I have a book cover – still not revealed. Book two is finished. I’m working through it’s second draft and book three is partially outlined. And I’ve done it. I’ve expanded my repertoire.

I decided to write this on a whim, when I had a strange thought in my head, a small girl in a white dress, eating a pomegranate, hovering over an old man sleeping. That was the genesis of my trilogy. Why I had that particular image in my head, I have no idea. But it was there, and I used it.

I first had to start justifying the scene. This small person was hovering. People don’t hover, and they don’t do so eating pomegranates. That would be terribly messy. So I had to decide what makes her hover, who is she, what is she, where did she come from, why is she hovering over this old man’s bed?

That is where the exciting discovery part of writing took over. I just started writing and before I knew it, the old man was being whisked through time to various important points of 20th century history. As I wrote, I began including another character to help balance out the little flying one. Then I had to create their backstory and justify how they can do all of the things they do. I did all of that, but I don’t tell the reader everything. It’s part of the mystery for them to discover for themselves.

I’ve had so much fun writing these books, and while they are a departure from my normal stuff, they are, in some ways, not that different. I’m still telling human stories, embedded in history, but this time, we have some new and fun companions along for the ride.

I can’t wait to share them all with you.

Soon. Very soon!