Steampunk & Synthesizers

The books and music of Ren Cummins

The official site of author Ren Cummins, information about his books and music, a place to find questions, answers, and more questions for those. Links and other internety things, in a sort of one-stop shop.  

99 Ways To Not Make a Light Bulb

In the climactic final act of the movie "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", we find Indy in the outer chambers protecting the Holy Grail. Having been extorted into making his way through a series of perilous traps, he climbs a small series of steps, carefully maneuvering the decapitated bodies (as well as the heads - if a decapitated body is a body without a head, what do you call a head without a body? Hmm. Sorry, tangent.) of all the previous attempts. I always thought that scene a very suitable metaphor for trying to do something big.

Also, considering how bad everyone was at figuring out the first puzzle, I always thought it strange that they even DEVISED a second and third one. Or, I don't know, make that third trap first. I know, dramatically it doesn't work if the leap from the lion's head is the first trap because it ultimately represents the final surrender of the main character, and would make the other traps just seem like he's being clever, but from a logistical perspective, you don't want to put that second trap where someone could come along and break through the whole... okay, sorry, where was I? Yes. Right. Dead bodies.

Over the past twenty+ years, I've gone through four different "art" careers. Drawing, acting, music and writing. Along the way, clearly I haven't kept up with three of those in any serious capacity, and I'm not quite a household name in the fourth, either. Still, I see a lot of bodies littered by the side of the road. It doesn't feel like it was so long ago that I was one of them, back when I was struggling to make a name for myself in the music industry. There were/are so many other musicians, so many much more talented musicians, all struggling for the same corner of the spotlight, and in the end, it just wasn't going to be my path, I knew it, and I stopped trying to fit myself into that different-shaped industry. It wasn't just one thing, either. I pushed hard for about 10 years, developing my craft, learning the technologies, learning the business, and so on. And in the end, it just wasn't an equation that matched the life I wanted.

Acting and drawing met with similar fates, and much earlier on. But writing always brought me back. Over and over. And even so, it's been a climb. The industry has changed dramatically over the years, and allowed for much more unconventional styles and genres of storytelling. The ability to find and develop an audience is much more organic, and from a pure production standpoint, it's almost TOO easy to get a book published. Which, yes, might just explain all that Dinosaur Erotica I keep hearing about.

The interesting thing is that everyone seems to know the "right" way to become successful. There are books upon books at how to be successful at writing, formatting, publishing books - and don't get me started on how ironic that is. Blogs upon blogs try and tackle this big mystery, and it does remain one of the most common questions I'm asked. A lot of people want that magic bullet - the one steady, repeatable and proven path to greatness - which they can simply follow, step by step, to be the next J K Rowling or Stephen King, or what not.

But to this, two specific bits of wisdom I've learned seem to apply:

1. You may not achieve the precise kind of success you're looking for.

2. That doesn't mean you have to stop trying.

The fact is, your own definitions of success might need to be re-visited from time to time. As you move ahead in your work, you will discover new perspectives and new opportunities that you might not have seen from an earlier perspective; also your priorities may - and often will - change over time. Additionally, while sometimes the events which transpire to elevate you into a new circle of creative accomplishments may seem random and "lucky", most often these layers of success come to the people who endure, who persevere, and who soldier on long enough to be discovered by the people who have some say in their creative success. It's that old story about "overnight success" generally taking years of effort to actually accomplish, you know?

I had a roommate in college who wanted to be a movie director. His big dream was to one day film a live action film of the Hobbit (no, he was not Peter Jackson). Back in the early 90s, this was a Big Dream. I didn't laugh at him, though, I figured it would be possible at some point, he just needed to get himself positioned to succeed. So one day, he gets introduced to the owner of a local special effects company. They hit it off and the guy offers my roommate a job as a paid apprentice with his company. My roommate turns him down.

I asked him why he didn't take the job, and he explained, "well, I don't want to do special effects, I want to direct movies."

"But this is your chance!" I exclaimed (yes, by the way, I really do think like that. I can't explain it, and yes, I know it's weird.), "This could be your doorway into the movie making process! Today special effects, then 1st assistant director, then boom! Or something like that."

But he didn't take the job. And, yes, he's not Peter Jackson. And no, he's not directing movies.

My point is that you don't know where your chance will come from. Nobody knows. People rarely see it coming. You just have to figure out if you're going to be good enough, if you really want to succeed, and if you are going to keep failing at it until, one day, you don't fail so much. And then you fail even less. And then, suddenly, you realize that those failures aren't really failures at all, but are just success in a different way. You're taking your dog for a walk, and you discover Velcro - or you're working on a treatment for chest pains and you invent Viagra. Things happen, often unexpectedly. And the best way to be in the right place at the right time is to be in the right place as much as possible.

And, on that note, I've got more to write. See you next time!