Do NOT Look for Your Passion

Passion burns hot. It also burns out.

I’ve written on this before, in terms of relationships, but it applies to professional achievements as well. I just spent the weekend with a group of undeniably passionate people, spending hundreds of dollars to consume (quite excellent) advice from successful and kind-of-successful professionals in their industry. I love these people. There was passion everywhere you wanted to look.

Purpose-Quote-800x533There was also, in a few places, commitment. Purpose. Persistence. And a heaping pile of tenacity.

Without those things, all the passion in the world will get you precisely nothing.

I’m a working writer. I make consistent money turning out content, some of it okay, some of it good, occasionally something brilliant. The key is, though, I’m a factory. I make stories (among many other things, but that’s a post for another day). I sell those stories. I intend to make more and to sell more.

Prosaic? Why, yes, actually, although I also sell poetry. But writing is art! It’s supposed to be, I don’t know, where the Muses come and whisper genius in your ear. Newsflash: the Muses are more like Rosie the Riveter than they are like Madam Trelawney. If you show up with your lunch pail and put in a shift, they’ll help you more often than not. If you wait for them to get there, you’ll be like Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) in You’ve Got Mail, sitting at the table, waiting, while the love of your life sits opposite you, dismayed and incognito. You’ll never recognize him as opportunity, because he looks too much like work.

There’s some burgeoning discussion of this these days, and about time. Passion is a lovely thing. It’s entertaining. It makes movie plots and book deals. What it doesn’t do is write books or make movies, both of which are hard, long, complicated processes that require a lot of thankless, stultifying, often boring work.

I’m coming off a year and a half of such work, writing 50,000 words a month, every month, to where I’ve now written about 920,000 words of new fiction in that span (to say nothing of blog posts, letters, essays, and suchlike, none of which counts). I did that not because writing is my passion (though I am, often, passionate about it), but because I wanted to find out if I could make writing my purpose. Appears I can. Okay. On to the next phase of the career.

Writing with purpose, learning with purpose, marrying with purpose is far more likely to lead to successful outcomes than waiting for the white-hot blaze of passion to light up your life. And in my experience, purpose is far more likely to stack the wood so that when the heat of passion ignites, there’s fuel there to sustain the blaze.

I often say that my job as a teacher isn’t to teach; it’s to light kids on fire. Maybe I should add to that encouraging them to build a woodpile, so that the fire has something to burn.

Don’t look for your passion. It will find you. Instead, put your shoulder to the wheel, and push along. Then when opportunity sweeps by, you’ll have the muscles to catch it.

Posted in Improvement, Sheer Cussedness | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Happy New Year!

This is New Years Day, for me. Seriously.

I actually demarcate my year in four bits. July 1 is my birthday, so that’s a logical. Christmas/New Years is a given, because that’s the break at the end of a hard (they’re all hard, aren’t they?) calendar year. BYU Education Week and the start of school used to be important-but-not-critical, but now that I’m teaching this is pretty much the biggest day of the year.

But there are two events that mark the first and middle of each year, for me as a writer. One is, not surprisingly, National Novel Writing Month, November of every year. For those not in the know, that’s a month where the entire writing world comes together to write 50,000 words in a single month. If this doesn’t sound like a lot, consider that this blog post is right now 140 words long. The average news article is 400 and change. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is 47,000. I’ve competed with myself three times on this, and am a three-time winner.

The biggest day of the year for me, though, is today, the first Friday in May. It’s LDStorymakers. It’s a wonderful writing conference in Provo, UT, one of the best you can imagine. But for me, it’s more than that. This conference changed my life. Twice.

Once was three years ago. I came to Storymakers looking for writing inspiration, and left having quit writing altogether. Not because of the conference itself, but because of a loan that threatened to blow itself to smithereens while I was there, which took me out of the conference more than I would have liked. I decided that I would have to quit writing, give up this hobby and become an adult.

The second was the following year’s conference, 2014. I didn’t go, because I had no money, because the year of not writing was the least successful of my life, in every area. EVERY area, professional, personal, spiritual, ecumenical, grammatical.

I’ll never miss it again. I’ll never come here not having written. These are my people. This is my tribe.

P.S. That first conference, that I thought was such a failure, did feature one class on writing dialogue that I remember quite well. I remember it, because as part of it we did an exercise wherein we had to write a page of dialogue entirely without tags (no “he said”, or “she warbled”, stuff like that), but keep it intelligible. I did it, it was hard, and I forgot about it.

A year or so ago I was leafing through the forgotten pages of my hard drive, and found the dialogue snippets, and thought, huh. There’s something interesting happening here. I wonder where this goes.

Where it went was a novelette called Cheating Death, which is now a full novel, my seventh. It’s also the most publishable thing I’ve yet written, and I’m convinced that relatively soon someone is going to pick it up and you’ll be able to buy it.

So even when Storymakers fails, it succeeds. Best. Thing. Ever.

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Leicester City are Premier League Champions.

pC1vq2QlThat is not a title that can possibly be written. No purely American sports fan can possibly understand how ridiculous it is.

Listen. In the last 26 years of English soccer, up to this year, a grand total of FIVE teams have won the title. Let that sink in. It’s as if Notre Dame, Alabama, USC, Texas and Florida had won all the national titles since the BCS began. As if the Super Bowl was only won by Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Dallas, San Francisco, and New York since Clinton beat Bush. As if the World Series were the Yankees, Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, and Cardinals.

Oh, it’s more than that, though. In English soccer, if you aren’t Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, or Manchester City, you don’t win the title. You just don’t. It’s not only that you don’t win the title, because that’s a pipe dream, but that you don’t crack the top six, which is always populated by the four above plus a rotating group of Liverpool, Tottenham, Everton, and some other big clubs. Leicester City? You must be joking.

Except that today they won the league. No team of their size has ever finished in the top six. Last year in mid-April they were cast-iron locks to be sent down to a lower league.

I can’t relate this to Americans. There isn’t any upset even close to this. Butler beating Duke for the NCAA title (which they didn’t quite do)? No. Butler were 10-1 underdogs. Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson? 80-1. The USA beating Russia for the gold medal, arguably the biggest upset in the history of sports? 1000-1.

Leicester City were 5000-1 underdogs. 5000-1 are the odds you can get in Vegas that Sasquatch will be found to be real. FIVE THOUSAND to one. Those are the odds that, say, you could put the North Carolina Tar Heels in the NBA and they would win the title. That the AA River City Mudcats would win the World Series. That Amy Poehler could actually become President of the United States. That you could personally run the Kentucky Derby and finish in the money.

Five thousand to one is what you do with a bet you can’t really value at all, because it CANNOT HAPPEN.

Your odds of having Simon and Schuster take your manuscript and make it into the Hunger Games are SIGNIFICANTLY better than that.

All those movies about how hard work and discipline and focus can accomplish anything? They’re true. They really are. Manchester United spent more on ONE PLAYER this season than Leicester spent on their entire starting eleven. The Foxes (that’s Leicester) spent $48 million pounds on their whole roster. That ranks SEVENTEENTH in the league of twenty. Chelsea spent 215.6 million (and will finish tenth).

I can’t even process this. The impossibility of this marvelous thing is off the scale.

Why would I do a whole post about this? Because it’s a validation of the little guy. It’s proof–not one-game, any-given-Sunday give-it-a-shot stuff, but 40-game eight-month proof–that a plucky band of hardworking nobodies can, actually, pull off a miracle and win what is reserved for the bluebloods.

Because it leaves me without an excuse. The next time I start saying, “well, I’ll try, but it can’t really work,” my son Nicholas will say, “Leicester City”, and I’ll shrug and say, “okay. Fair point.” Nothing like this can happen.

But it just did.


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Because I Promised

This will be short. I’m only blogging because I promised myself I would.

See, this is almost a week off for me. I only have 53 hours of scheduled time this week, where last week was in the high 60s, so really, it’s like I have fifteen more hours to screw around than I did. Which is awesome, except that I’m filling those fifteen hours with productive tasks I haven’t been able to get to.

That sound at all familiar? I bet it does. That’s modern life.

Two things I want to say about it:

  1. Taking time to do nothing is critical. You do have to do that. Working more than about 50 hours in a week is truly unsustainable, even if you’re doing things you desperately love (like, say, teaching history to the best groups of teenagers in the world). You must take time to do nothing at all, if you’re to be creative. If you’re not, if you’re all ant and no grasshopper, please continue your very important pebble-lugging and don’t pay any attention to me.
  2. Schedule, schedule hard, and trust your schedule. I regularly (not to say always, by any means) schedule my week up on Sundays. Sunday is a good day for me, generally relaxing and quite peaceful, and it’s filled with music and the things of the Spirit. That means I feel a deeper connection to the things that matter, to my core priorities, so that’s when I schedule. Then, on Tuesday, when the world blows itself up and fifteen different people are clamoring for my attention, I have to trust that what I put down was good and necessary, and actually do what I said I would do.
    1. This is not to say no audibles are called. My Heavens, people.
    2. This is also why I use a Lego Schedule (TM). No, there isn’t actually a trademark. I just made the term up. But it works. My schedule is zsufolt, which is Hungarian for packed until it dies from suffocation. But the schedule is in blocks, and the blocks are moveable, though they shouldn’t be deleted. Here, I’ll show you. Schedule example
      1. I have eleven calendars on this account, each with its own color. That gives me a visual on what’s taking up my time, and what isn’t, and whether those things need adjusting. No blue blocks equals no writing. Not acceptable.
      2. The blocks start at 5:30 am and they end at 10:30 pm. But you don’t need to see what’s in the earliest and latest blocks to get an idea of how this works.
      3. All the blocks are important, because the tasks in them have to get done. WHEN they get done is often less important, so I move them around like Lego blocks, but I try not to delete or ignore them. That’s when life gets into choke points and tries to kill you.
      4. Yes, generally that means that I don’t have a to-do list. I carry a 3×5 card around on which I write down things that have to get done. Then I put them in a block on the schedule, and when that block comes up, I do them. Simple. Necessary.

Those are my messages for today. I have checked my dark blue box. And see the white space in the schedule? That’s doing nothing time, which is when I get the idea that I should write a book about a counterfeit investigating organization that investigates counterfeiting. Stuff like that. No, you can’t steal the idea. Aw, heck. Go ahead. There’s more where that came from, this afternoon between 5 and 5:30.

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Because I’m Bored.

Ha. I have never, in all my life, been less bored.

But that’s my first, very glib, answer when people ask me why I’m running for the Alpine School Board. Fortunately, I have others.

The Board has seven members; I’m running in District 6, which is the city limits of Lehi. Currently sitting in that seat is a man named Scott Carlson. When he first ran four years ago, I put his sign in my yard. I still think he’s a good man, and has done about the job I expected. Under ordinary circumstances, I’d be satisfied with that and pay small attention to the race.

Circumstances are not ordinary, not by a long chalk.

Alpine School District is the largest in Utah, and has for a number of years reached the state normally seen when bread rises too long. It’s puffy and dripping over the sides of the pan. When it is baked, and it will be baked, it will sag into a dense, bitter mess. That’s where we are in this district. We need a plan to split, and we need one now. I don’t see that there’s any impetus on the Board level to make such a plan. That’s the first reason I’m running.

The second is, to me, not as important as the first at this stage, but it still has an impact, and that is the curriculum program called Common Core. I am a teacher of junior high and high school kids, and as such I am unalterably opposed to any kind of program that limits the flexibility of teachers to teach what and how they deem necessary for their students to learn and grow. No program, ever, in the history of school, has hamstrung that flexibility more than Common Core has.

Note: I’m quite sure that current members of the Board will say either that 1) they are working on these things, but the work is going on behind the scenes or 2) that these are things that they can’t do. Some of the Board will say this. Other members of the Board–specifically the ones that asked me to run–say differently, and that the thing holding up action is the composition of the Board. Either could be true, but one reason to run is to find out.

I like and respect Scott Carlson. This isn’t a vendetta, or a negative mark on him. I don’t even consider myself to be running against him. I’m running for something, not against anyone.

The job is a hard and thankless one, and one I wouldn’t have considered standing for until the last couple years. I’ll say this, too: I don’t want it. I would strongly prefer not running, and not winning, if there were someone that I thought would do the job I think needs doing. I have no pride in this thing; if there is such a person, I will gladly throw my support behind them. But I’m done sitting and watching. Things need to be done, and we can’t wait. I can do them. So here I am.

Note: there are two other candidates in the race that I think could and probably would do at least as well as I would, and one of them probably better. If the time comes that he convinces me he wants the job enough, and will do it the way it needs doing, I’m happy to step aside. As I said, I’m not bored.

But as long as I’m running, I’m running to win. If you get to know me–and the best way to do that is reading this blog–you’ll see that I do what I say, I’m not afraid of work, and I can argue without fighting. I’m persuadable, and reasonable. I think first and don’t shoot my mouth off until I know what I’m talking about. If that sounds like the kind of person you’re looking for, I’m asking for two things. One, paypal me $10 ( Two, post on Facebook that you’re going to vote for me. That’s it. For now (muahahahaha).

Thanks for reading this far. I appreciate it.

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What’s “Love” Got To Do With It?

A certain candidate that I refuse to name–this is really an admission, as I will say “Voldemort” any time–has sparked a national debate about civility and decorum, tolerance and accommodation. It’s a good conversation to have, and I am a small voice of not much volume in it, but I have a thing to say that I hope you will hear.

First, to get this out of the way, the Candidate-that-I-wouldn’t-stoop-to-mention will not get my vote any more than Mussolini would. Under no possible circumstances. Ever.

With that taken care of, a word about “loving” people. My various feeds have a lot of love on them, and a lot of admonitions to “just love” other people. I find these wholly appropriate, and I encourage them, but I think we need to be pretty clear about what the word means, if we’re going to use it so freely.

I have friends that are going to vote for Candidate Slimeball. I love them. I do not like them, and I think they are deluded and in some cases terrifyingly so. Thus, I do not want to be around them, and I have no feeling of affection for them whatsoever. The contrary, if anything. And yet I choose to love them because that’s a path open to me that is good for my heart and soul. Love as choice, not love as emotion. See the difference?

I have a specific friend that is in great pain because of the death of her father. I love this woman. I also have great affection for her, although she has said things that are moderately hurtful and somewhat unfair about people I care about (and by extension, about me). In one sense–love as emotion–I care about that. It matters, and I wish she’d stop. But in another sense–love as choice–I don’t care. There is nothing she could do that would make me stop loving her (I’m pretty sure. She is awfully creative, though, so maybe that’s not true, but I think it is). I will extend myself to care for her. I will defend her. I will give what I have to her, and help her if I can.

C and J
If I look surprised here, it’s because I am. She still chooses me. WHY, on earth?

In the first, most common usage, love is an emotion. “You can’t help who you love” is a popular modern phrase for this usage. Translated, it means “you can’t help who you have feelings of affection for”, and in that sense I think it’s true. But if you translate it as “you can’t help who you choose to love”, it’s nonsense. You absolutely can. I’ve been doing it all my life, and so have you. I got married twenty-five years ago. I chose to love Jeanette Joan Jensen. I have therefore chosen NOT to love three-and-a-half billion other women, many of whom (heck, I think MOST of whom) are quite attractive, intelligent, and worthy of love. Some of these women, heartbreakingly, have never had anyone choose to love them the way I love Jeanette. Many men have never had a woman choose them the way she chooses me.

I’d be lying if I said I had never regarded another woman with affection–love as emotion–in the last twenty-five years. But I choose one woman, because there are things I cannot give to more than one. Jeanette is the one. Nothing will change that. Ever. No matter who she is or what she does or what she looks like, she is the one I choose. I promised this, I vowed it, I pledged all that I hold sacred to it. So while in the one sense of love I have very little control–emotions are what they are–in another sense I have complete control.

When we talk about politics, we must talk to people that we cannot feel affection for. It is a necessity, if we are to have any sort of meaningful dialogue. But in the face of this lack of affection, we can choose–we must choose–to love one another. Whatever my emotions about people that think some races inferior to their own–and my emotions on that score are ferocious–I choose to love them anyway. Whatever I think of people that see nothing wrong with arresting their enemies for saying things they disagree with, I can still choose to love them.

Nor does that mean that I will not oppose them politically, or argue with them. I will. In fact, I think that loving them requires that I do so, the same way I would oppose the efforts of my beloved seven-year-old to run into the street without looking. I must try the best I can to explain why they must not do what they are intent on doing, politically, or religiously, or what have you. But I will not oppose them with shouting and viciousness, or attacks on their looks, or age, or physical threats. I would never do that to someone I love. And I do love them, because I have chosen to.

Imperfectly, of course. I’m perfect in nothing. But love is the standard, and I don’t back away from it just because it’s very hard for me to live up to. To me, the best political goal is unity. Unanimity. Policies we all support, not just 50.001% of us, and devil take the other side. There’s no way we’re going to get to that with hatred. We have to get there with love.

Not affection. Not emotion. Choice.

Choose love.

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A Ping.

That’s what I call a short update on the situation. It comes from Hunt for Red October, The-Hunt-for-Red-October-where Sean Connery, playing submarine commander Marko Ramius says to his XO, “One ping, Vassily, for range. One ping.” One tone from the sonar. [Note: what he’s actually doing is communicating with the American submarine, because in the water, everyone can hear everything. But that’s not important right now.] The sonar ping gives the bridge information about what’s in the water around them. That’s what this is.

The update is this: writing is going fairly well, but not as well as it once did. Here’s the deal: I have several books out now, and those take time to tend, time to promote, time to edit and do covers for and all that. I’m teaching a full load, and coaching a junior high and a high school mock trial team, and dealing with grant applications for the Libertas Institute, and so on. Yes, we all have troubles, and that is not an excuse. Just a reason. If I were as committed to doing the writing as hard as last year, I would be doing it as hard as last year. Simple as that.

I wrote 45,500 words in February. It was my first month in the last sixteen that I did not Wizard Kindle brightwrite 50k in a month. I’m a little sad about that, but I didn’t do the work, so there’s no one to blame but myself. I still write at least 1000 words a day (two days below that in the last four months), and the work progresses.

I’m also putting out most of the stories from my book Twelve UponDonuts Kindle a Time as Kindle Singles. Three of them are up now: For All the Marbles, How Donuts Got Their Name, and The Lonely Wizard. I’ll have the rest (or all that I’m putting up) by the end of March. I’m editing (slowly) Knights of Insanity, which has
been requested by Jolly Fish Press, and writing Long Slow Sweep of the Sky, a
steampunk sci-fi novel.

Marbles KindleIt is, therefore, not as if I’m not doing literary things. I’m just a bit off the pace of my writing (though, yeah, February being a short month, if it had been January or March, I’d have made the 50k, so the pace isn’t far from what it was). I love it, and things are good, if extremely packed with stuff to do.

More in a bit.

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If You’re Good At Something, Never Do It For Free

JokerThat’s the Joker, right there, and under ordinary circumstances he isn’t someone I’d be quoting. But it fits, so I’m using it, and I’m directing you to go to Kristen Lamb’s blog and read her posts, all of them, but especially this one.

Here’s a snippet:

Our consumers have a lot of power. No I don’t feel anyone owes me anything I haven’t earned. Never said that. I said I am tired of people acting like I should be grateful for “exposure” en lieu of being paid and if I say anything I’m a whiny jerk.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writers asking for the sale. All people can do is say….no.

When I was in sales, the single largest reason most salespeople failed to make a sale? Never asked for it.


But what are people saying to writers?

It is okay to have “exposure”…just don’t ask for the sale. Just be happy being exposed.

Huh? WTH? NO!

What good is a used bookstore for exposure if I then don’t tell people, Hey, if you find a book of mine there and you really love it, please buy my next one NEW? It’s how I get PAID.

OMG! How could you? You broke the cardinal rule of being a writer!

I will starve eating exposure sandwiches, okay?

Read the whole thing. And the original thing.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. I realize that I am very fortunate to have four jobs that together keep food on the table. I get paid to write. That’s unusual and awe-inducing for me. This post is essentially aimed not at my readers, many of whom pay me for what I do, but at all of us as readers of other people’s fiction (and nonfiction).

I buy mass quantities of used books. I also buy new, on purpose, when I find an author that really does brilliant work. If you’re looking for some of those kinds of authors, here’s a YA author you’ll like, and another YA author you’ll fall in love with, and an author of fantasy noir, and an author of high fantasy, I guess, and a sci-fi author I bow in awe of. Buy their stuff.

Heck, buy my stuff while you’re at it. You’re going to buy books. Buy our books. Please.

Or don’t. That’s okay, too. And if YOU have a book you want people to buy, link that sucker in the comments.

I buy books, too. And you’ve never met anyone more loyal.

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That’s Right, Woodchuck Chuckers.

I don’t always post on Groundhog Day, but when I do, it’s a post about what I’d do with eternity.

This. This is what I’d do.

I’d get up at 5:30 and play basketball (yes, at 47, after breaking my leg in two places on the very same court where I just boxed you out for an offensive rebound). I’d come home and read scriptures and pray with my family. I’d teach at as many schools as I could (today it was two of them). I’d visit potential donors for Libertas. I’d work out mortgage financing for that family up the street. I’d write sequels to unpublished novels. Then I’d go to pack meeting, or choir, or basketball again. I’d spend time in the scriptures, and praying. I’d go to bed sometime after 11. And then I’d get up and do it all over again the next day.

That’s every day. It’s mad, baby. And I love it.

A few years back I was watching Groundhog Day–we do it every year–and lamenting that I didn’t have the opportunity that Bill Murray did, to live for eternity and do whatever I wanted to do.

And then I realized that I was completely wrong, that I was looking at this eternity thing totally incorrectly. I DO have that same opportunity, and I was spending a lot of it learning to throw cards into a hat, metaphorically speaking. I was doing what I thought I had to do to keep doing what I thought I had to do. That is not much of an oversimplification of the situation.

So I stopped. And I started doing what I wanted to do, and what I was good at, and trying to get better at it. Maybe I’ve succeeded at that–I think I’m a better teacher and writer than I have been–and maybe not, but I’m a better person, and that will do. When I go on, it’s only those things I have become that will go with me. All the other stuff I’ve done will die. Even my books, which kills me, but that’s the way it is.

I’ve made enough of a living to keep living a life. I make no judgments for those that don’t do this, because I am also one of those people. Part of who I am now is the person that couldn’t believe he could live like this. Being who I was helped me be who I am, and neither do I condemn me. But I shall go my way and sin no more.

All right, I probably will sin more. I won’t get this day perfect. But I’ll get to take all the good stuff into the next one, and I’m going to keep going from there.


January’s writing was 54,272 words, the second-best month of my life by word count. Since I started writing for true and serious back in November of 2014, I’ve written over 900,000 words. Around the Ides of March, I’ll crack a million.

Tonight, very likely, I’ll finish my eighth novel, seven of which were written in the last thirty months, five of them in the last sixteen months. I have covers for twelve short stories, covers like this one:

Marbles Kindleof which I’m rather proud, and these will be going up on Kindle three a week all month.

Thanks for noticing. You all make my life very much better.

Posted in Improvement, inspiration, My Books, Writing | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Alan Rickman and Defense Against the Dark Arts

I’ve posted already on one recent death, and though I felt like I probably wouldn’t have anything to say about David Bowie–though, seriously, he was great in Labyrinth–but I can’t help writing just a short note about the wonderful, amazing, brilliantly skilled Alan Rickman.

Having had no idea he was ill, the news catches me by surprise, and of course brings to Hans-Gruber-hans-gruber-24823003-200-200mind all the same things it did to yours: Severus Snape; Die Hard; Love, Actually; Colonel Brandon; Grabthar’s Hammer. But knowing that he was capable of that sort of range made me very curious about him as a man and an actor, what he thought about his craft and how to practice it.

Accordingly, I’ve watched a good number of interviews–there are some excellent ones on YouTube–and thought a lot about what he had to say, answering the same questions over and over. He clearly benefited a great deal from his acting training, and says so with vigor. He had tremendous respect for his colleagues in the industry, and was generous with his time and his considerable influence. The man was clearly beloved by hundreds of millions, but the adulation passed over him, leaving him essentially unchanged, by all accounts. He played himself, often, unsure, willing to press forward and try, never quite believing his good fortune when he succeeded.

His answers were usually fairly vague (What is your favorite role? Oh, how can one possibly choose?), which is what you would expect (Do you know how much you’ve meant to people? The public has been extraordinarily kind to me). For a man who didn’t have an email address until five years ago, and who valued his privacy–no selfies, ever–that fits expectations. But he wasn’t always vague. Once in a while, you could see the real man under the very smooth (and authentic) exterior persona.

For instance this, talking about his acting training, from his NY Times interview (9:41 mark):

Q: What were some of the complaints, what did people feel like needed to be fixed about your voice, training-wise?

A: (without the slightest hesitation) That I had very lazy diction, that I had a spastic soft palate, and that, as I was saying to you, my voice teacher said that ‘you sound as if your voice was coming out of the back end of a drain pipe.’

He then says “I suppose it means…basically…that I had to, um…”

See the contrast? He’s 66 in this interview. He hasn’t been in acting school for FORTY YEARS, and he remembers, with crystal clarity, three critical things that had been said to him four decades ago. Then he struggles to articulate what that meant he had to do to overcome it.

I’ve been replaying that scene for the last couple of hours. I know this mentality. All artists do. Alan Rickman has been told sixteen million times that his voice is amazing and it makes him one of the sexiest men alive. Ask him for a common compliment about that, and he won’t be able to think of one. Ask him what criticism he heard when he was starting out, and he has a ready, laser-specific list. He never forgets those things, not for a second.

It made him better, clearly, and he used the criticism in the best way, to become more polished, resonant, kind (although his play on Broadway in 2012 had him as an acerbic, even brutal critic of some young writers) (and of course, he was brilliant). That’s a good defense against the dark arts of criticism. It’s the best one can manage, often.

How I wish that we would be able to toss aside the criticism once it’s served its purpose. How I wish we could simply forget that anyone ever said whatever it was (lazy, doesn’t concentrate, has gifts but doesn’t apply himself) once we’ve made a beautiful pearl out of the irritating grain of sand. But then, maybe that destroys the pearl.

I learn so much from listening to the truly great describe their craft. That’s my best defense, to realize that if Alan Rickman can be criticized for having poor diction, perhaps I shouldn’t be too upset when someone calls my writing tedious. If I react the way he did, who knows what the future could hold?

Clearly, fame isn’t everything, as Snape would say. And did say. With perfect, unmatchable diction.


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