Expectations

They shape us, sometimes sculpting with care, but often chipping away at who we could be. For expectations are born both from within and from without. Left unfettered, expectations will crush a soul, reduce an artist to rubble, and smash the joy we should feel every day.

Our parents start the process… “You go to a good school, get a good job, marry well, have children, and work hard. Go to church on Sundays. We absorb these ideas until they seem to be our own.

Then our peer group kicks in, and they can either help or hinder the process of personal growth. In my case, my friends from school and early adulthood tended to be unconventional. I tried to have it all, marrying a lawyer and writing songs in Nashville and never quite fitting in. Like many writers and artists, I strived for conformity, yearning for acceptance. But as an unknown writer, I was always just on the other side of an invisible door.  I could see the people, smell the food, and hear the music, but I was more spectator than participant. So close,  yet infinitely far.

Artists and creatives who surrender early on my find happiness if they can kill that part of themselves which longs for artistic success. It’s tough to achieve a balance.

We believe, deep in the secret places of our heart, that we are living a certain kind of lie, that there is something else out there in the universe whispering, then shouting, exhorting us to yearn for more. We chaffe against the bonds of the past and the expectations which threaten to confine us. Some of us are lucky enough to shed those shackles, and that is a glorious thing, an awakening of the spirit.

Yet, when we look beyond the borders we have been confined to and set our eyes upon the distant mountaintop, we begin another journey in which our own great expectations do us harm. It’s inevitable.

We dream great dreams and imagine a future of rainbows and unicorns where our art is heard, seen, read, and important. We visualize how things could be and convince ourselves that they not only should be, but that they will be thus because it is our destiny. Ahh, the arrogance of an artist. We must possess some of it, for we dare to believe that someday, somewhere, we will make a difference and that our work will matter. This drive can propel us to great heights, but it can just as easily destroy us.

I write because I must.  My pen touches the page and I and mix color and emotion because I need to pull the swirling tempest of light and darkness out of me and share it with the world.

When I remember this truth, I enjoy the journey toward that lofty peak, savouring the scents and vistas along the way. I am free of expectations and can live, love and laugh in the moment, and the moment is what matters.

I strive to remember, because the moments will only keep slipping away.

Faith and Fiction

This is a story of triumph, so please bear with me because it might not sound that way at first. Happy endings aren’t worth a damn if there weren’t tears along the way.

  
I love writing and God. The love of those two intersect, in spite of my passion for other things. I love my wife and my children. I love to play music and dream melodies and yearn to create something beautiful and true.

I love the way the sun breaks when it’s rising over the Gulf of Mexico when I’m so far from land that the sea and sky are the world, and there is that perfect orange light born, glittering on the waves, and the hope of a good fish and that day sings in my chest. The best part, knowing that the next day will be just as good, infused with the same hope. For me, those moments have been few,  and I’m blessed to remember them.

It is easy and dangerous to make the things we love God.

A mentor and friend, a brilliant songwriter far beyond me, convinced me that the only way to succeed was to be willing to sacrifice everything at the altar of writing. I listened to him and to my own demons and learned the wrong lessons. My friend would smack me in the back of my head now if we were sitting next to each other at a bar in Nashville. I have tears in my eyes remembering him and the way he made me a better writer, and I wish I could hear him say something sarcastic and kind. 

Writing is not God, though we make it so.

Writers are not destined for pain unless they choose anguish. Joy is the lyric and the page and the melody and truth beneath. God is God.

So you want to be a writer…

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If you want to be a writer, my advice is: don’t want to be a writer.

Seriously.

The overwhelming majority of us are destitute, conflicted, outcast, and inhabit a general state of unhappiness because dreams and reality aren’t the same thing. The idea of being a writer looks nothing like the reality. Only for an anointed few is this not the case.

I’m not going to bore you with sad  number-crunching; suffice it to say that there are about three million people trying to enter gates that will only allow a few hundred to enter at any given time. If you’ve ever been in a big city, then the idea of a traffic jam of these proportions should make you think twice, and then ten more times, about wanting to be a writer. Because we’re all trying to enter the same gate, and there’s not enough room for everyone. There’s bickering and thirst and sometimes murder in the long hot wait.

If you want to be a writer, then write poems and love songs for your partner, write short stories and epic novels that take decades to compose, infused with joy and hope and thousands of hours of research and plotting and honing. Rewrite everything as many times as you can until you have stomped the love out of each line and eroded the originality and voice which made them true in the first place.

Chase trends and listen to talking heads and bow down to the powers that seem to be, attend seminars and workshops while other people who want to be writers, and people who thought they wanted to be authors but who decided that being a critic is a better path, destroy your dream.

That’s the wanting to be a writer part. Don’t do it.

If you are a writer, though, then you have no choice. I applaud your belief and audacity and will cheer you on when things are glorious and your work is praised by the wise and mocked by fools. Writers write because they must; the money is the grand prize, but the reward for a writer comes also in the joy of the writing itself.  Mostly, that’s likely not going to happen, and at some point, writers must come to grips with that. Cold, hard, truth. Many iconic writers died in obscurity and poverty.

If you are a writer, then this truth doesn’t matter; you remain undaunted.  You will put your butt in a chair and crank out stories. You will research and you will write. You will rewrite. And rewrite again and again.. You cut the things that you were certain were brilliant. Slash pages and paragraphs. Of course, you have to write them before you can cut them.

I’m a writer, and I wouldn’t recommend being one. For those who can’t help themselves, take heed. It’s a long, brutal road.

There’s glory though, in being a writer, an artist, and that’s what keeps us writing and painting and playing music, in the face of the odds and in spite of the facts. That sensation of creating something which is true and makes another human being smile or laugh or cry or throw something at the wall… that’s writing. And for writers, that’s a beautiful reward.

That reward may not be what we yearned for, yet it is beautiful in its own right. Writers know that, and people who want to be writers learn by doing.

http://www.amazon.com/Children-Wrath-Book-2-ebook/dp/B00MW8AZHG/ref=sr_1_sc_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1435638461&sr=8-2-spell&keywords=objets+of+wrath

Am I an author or a salesman?

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I’ve spent more than twenty years as a writer who bangs on doors. Literally knocking on doors in neighborhoods like a vacuum cleaner salesman of old, while figuratively attempting to break into the publishing business, sending out manuscripts and queries, song demos and attending parties thrown for other people. I’ve stayed up all night, pounding out the words and the melody, believing that one day, someone might hear something I wrote and it might matter to them in some way. A smile, a tear, a memory, a truth. The next morning, I’m grinning and pretending to be impervious to the nasty looks from folks who don’t want to see me shivering on their front porch in the pouring down rain.

When I signed my first publishing contract for a song, I thought my ship had come in. I was wrong, two decades ago. When I signed a three-book publishing contract, I believed that at last, the tide had turned in my favor. That was two years ago. I was knocking on doors about an hour ago. Sad but true.

One would think that a career in sales would be helpful to launching a book, utilizing lessons hard won for a higher purpose. Nope. Not for me, at least. Because the thing is, I hate sales. Always have. I enjoyed the freedom of setting my own hours and a reasonable standard of living, although in recent years that has declined with a direct correlation to the number of hours I spend writing novels and thinking about plot and wishing I wasn’t ringing somebody’s doorbell.

I hope I’m a better writer than salesman. The trouble is, to make a living writing, an author has to sell. People have to know what we have to offer, must see the need for that product, and then make the decision to purchase it, that wonderful click on Amazon. I hate to think of it in those terms. I’d rather believe that it’s something other than that, but that’s what it is.That’s not to say that the quality of the next great American novel isn’t important.  Every now and then, there is a story about a writer who rockets to well deserved stardom and acclaim because whatever she wrote was so good it couldn’t be denied.I love those stories.

I used to believe in the theory that the “cream will rise to the top.” But I’ve known too many killer songwriters who died unknown and destitute, read countless brilliant books by obscure authors, while watching hordes flock to the Kardashians and Fifty Shades of Gray and listen to country-rap music. (Oxymoron)  Yet all of those things are hugely successful. The creators of those endeavors birthed empires from vapor, and that’s some damn good salesmanship. The thing is to sell something that people want to buy, and let them know it’s there. I’ve struggled with that concept for as long as I’ve been writing and selling, and for me there has been a dichotomy. Writing is writing. Selling is selling. I want to write true, but I also want to make a living. I hope the two aren’t mutually exclusive for me. I’m still dreaming, still believing, writing hard and close to the bone.

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I’ve got three book releases this week, and I’m a crummy salesman. If you read my books, I think you will smile, perhaps cry, and certainly be transported to places you’ve never been. I’d consider it a kindness if you’d “click.”

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Volume-Sean-Smith/dp/1618682245

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For the most part, what a salesman hears is “I’m not interested.” I hear it every day, and it wears me out now more than it did only a few years ago.

That Hard Creative Road

“Son, it’s not too late. You can still go back to college…Well tonight, you’re just gonna have to settle for rock and roll.” Bruce Springsteen, from the introduction to “Growing Up”

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An artist’s life is hard, joyous, depressing, daunting, rewarding, poverty stricken, and often all of these things at once. We’ve heard it doesn’t have to be that way from self-help gurus and feel-good books. sometimes, when things get close and mean, when the sacrifices we have made hurt the most, we wonder whether it was all worthwhile. But I believe true art is born from this struggle.

 

Now, I don’t think the only way to be a great painter is to cut your ear off, that melody must arrive from pain, that literature only flows from broken, bearded, drunken angst. There are better ways that aren’t cliches. But it’s hard work. There is no way around that part. There will be sacrifice and tears, and hopefully we learn from the experience and get better at what we do. Maybe that’s part of the refining process, the purification of our creative souls.

It’s hard. But we choose to pursue the life of the artist, and we can only hope that what we love chooses us. The legendary songwriter Harlan Howard, whom I had the privilege of knowing, told a writer who was whining about the music business “Well, nobody asked you to move to Nashville.” Those words sting me when I realize I’m slipping into complaint mode. That’s right, Harlan. Nobody asked me to become a writer. I may feel called to do it, but in the end, it’s my choice, and the time, loves, and brain cells I’ve squandered along the way are a consequence.

 

I do not understand the writer who does not read, the painter who does not see, the musician who will not listen, or the artist who does not live. There is glory in it, earned joy which is the process and the product, but not the recognition or fame. We writer types often equate the glory with adulation and miss out on the glory of life. Like a hiker so fixated upon reaching the summit, he walks  through the golden October woods, missing the grandeur of the low clouds blanketing the slopes and ridges, ignores the green smell of hope and mountain, and the trail itself, undulating, rocky, muddy, and wonderful. If we are focused on the peak, we miss the path. I’ve climbed many mountains, but the best views are usually from the ridges and valleys. The peak is often shrouded in the mist, and it’s really just another rock.

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It’s hard. It’s beautiful. I’m still not going back to college.