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.

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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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Rage Against the Dying of the Light

Dylan Thomas’s poem has had resonance with humankind since the day he wrote it. I’m inclined to agree with the sentiment. I’ve written about death before, never better than here, but this last week I lost a beloved uncle, a man who, outside of my immediate family, has had as big an impact on my life as anyone in the world.

He didn’t rage, so much as bargain. On the way to the cold and silent grave, he brushed up against the Reaper more than once, and always was able to persuade that silent sickle-wielder that he should come back later. He was exceptionally persuasive. Until the end, a week ago Sunday, when he sat down in his favorite chair and was himself persuaded to leave us for a while.

I’m a believer, and I believe that we are not of this world originally, nor do we end here, but go on and on. I’m persuaded by very much better men and angelic women that the joys of what we go to will exceed the joys of this place as an inch-thick porterhouse exceeds a cardboard box. It is a thing I believe.

And yet. I like my box.

My Uncle Kumen was able to write his life story before he shuffled off this mortal coil, and I was privileged to edit it, along with my dear cousin Brian. It brought me in contact with Kumen in a way I hadn’t been able to experience before that, and it was a gift to me of such value I can’t express it. We had long chats in his office, on the phone, over email. He was able to touch me and mold me in unmistakable ways. Kumen altered the course of my life.

One of those chats, deep into the evening, ended with him telling me a story (not that there weren’t stories all through, every time, but this time was different). He was in the Army, on maneuvers, and got lost in a field. Across the field was an old, abandoned house, well-preserved, but still in the kind of condition that only those kinds of structures can be in, and he said that he walked into it and felt almost as a physical presence the people that had lived there before. It was evocative, and I could feel a story there. I do stories. I know them. They flock to me like moths to candle. This one fluttered and danced, just out of reach.

I always thought I’d have time to write it while he had time to read it, though it wasn’t really my story to tell. Time wasn’t kind, and I didn’t make the use of it I could have. Now the story is mine to tell after all, and I’ll try to bring the fluttering moth inside and let its wingbeats stir the dust of creation. No matter the result, Kumen will be in it, all through it, because it is his tale, and I just the teller.

It’s not raging against the dying of the light–it’s refusing its death altogether. It is becoming brighter, now that we are undimmed by crude matter and the ungainly molded clay. It is, perhaps, leaving this pale creation, this limited remaking of the luminous threads spun from the wheel in our heads–for nothing comes right in this place, nothing is ever quite what it could be–and rising to a sphere where we speak and all matter obeys, where the creator and the creation are one, and the starstuff dances to whatever tune we whistle.

I could get used to that. One day, like my dear friend Kumen, I will.


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The very first modern opera was written in about 1400 by a man namOrpheusEurydiceed Peri–an Italian, of course–called Euridice, which you surely know is the name of Orpheus’s girlfriend. You remember the story? Euridice dies and is carried off to the underworld. Orpheus is so despondent that he will not play or sing anything happy, and everything in the world is sad, so the gods allow him to go to the underworld to get her. If she goes with him all the way out to the sunlit lands, she will be restored to life, but the condition is that he cannot look back to see if she really is following him. If he does, she will be lost to him forever.

If you have not read this tale, go, right now, and read it. Spoilers follow.

Still here? Of course she goes with him. Of course he cannot stand not being immediately reunited with her, and looks back, right on the threshold of life, and she fades away. It’s a great story. It’s so great that when, almost two thousand years later, a dramatist was looking for a subject for his new musical form, he chose this story.

The kicker? The second opera ever written (and the earliest one still performed today) was written by a man named Monteverdi, from the same area of Italy, and he called it Orfeo. That’s when you know you have a terrific story, when everyone is copying it.

Why is this story so powerful? I think it’s the bittersweetness. Some people like their lemonade sour, some like it sweet, but I like Brazilian lemonade (which is really limeade), because it’s bittersweet. I like really good dark chocolate (not Hershey’s, don’t get me started). And I like Pay It Forward and La Vita e Bella, though they break my heart.

Malcolm-Reynolds-malcolm-reynolds-26244315-733-1125I’m approaching the end of writing a new novel, called (right now) The Temple of Sand and Steel, and I can see the ending coming, and it sucks. Hard. It’s a dark novel anyway, filled with death and grief and mayhem, betrayal and lies and hopelessness, but through it there is a core of resistance to the dark, a commitment, in spite of all reasons to abandon it, to doing a quality job and retaining honor. I feel like that should be rewarded, and it will be, to some degree, but I also feel like the classic stories of honor and courage have a bitter tang to them, mixed with the sweet. Oedipus. Malcolm Reynolds. Frodo Baggins. Regulus. So someone is going to die, and probably more than one someone.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think the recipe for joy is happiness+pain. I’m not McCoy. I’m Kirk. I need my pain.


P.S. If you’re one of my beta readers, expect that book to show up in your inbox on Groundhog Day. If you’re not, and you want to read my novels before you have to pay for them, send me an email to chris at iamchrisjones dot com.

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Three Reasons Why It’s Better to Publish Than Not

I published a book today. It’s a collection of fairy tales I got tired of trying to sell to agents/publishers, so I took them in-house and used my local team, and got illustrations from some of the kids I teach, and their friends, and voila! Here it is:

Kindle Cover

It’s good. It won’t win a Pulitzer, or make me rich. But it’s a fun collection of tales, some serious, some not, some quite dark and painful. I think the target market will like it, and if they like it enough, maybe I’ll do another one someday.

Steven Pressfield gets this, but even after I had the book done, proofed, ready, and sitting there, it took me half an hour to press the “accept proof” button and make the book live. I surfed Facebook. I read a blog. I dithered. Resistance rose up and smote me and told me I’d be wasting my time and end up laughed at and ridiculed. But I pressed “accept” anyway, and Heaven help me, I think I did right.

There are three reasons why, in circumstances like mine (I have a novel in front of agents, and I have six more in the editing process, getting ready to go, and four more that will be finished by spring) it is better to publish than not:

  1. You can’t make money if you don’t have something for sale.
  2. You can’t represent yourself as a working writer if your work doesn’t go up where people can buy it.
  3. Courting ridicule by doing something stupid is better than playing it safe.

Yes, it would have been lovely to have been picked up by Penguin House or one of those, but this wasn’t ever writing that had that potential. It was just something I wanted to do. I love fairy tales, and fables, and whimsical writing. I love not having to explain how squirrels can build robots, when they lack opposable thumbs.

If it sells, great. If it doesn’t, I’m still writing 2000 words today, because that’s what I do. I am a working writer, and you can buy my work, here and here.

Today, that’s a win.


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Cover Reveal

Having grown tired of trying to find a publisher for my enormous collection of fairy tales/legends/tall tales/whimsical whatnots, I’ve decided to publish them myself. Here’s the cover. If you’re interested in doing some illustrations, I’m just starting to incorporate those and would love more than I have. Click the image and I’ll take you there:

Kindle Cover

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NaNoWriYear: A Post a Year in the Making

Last November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for theNaNoLogo second time. I hit my 50,000 word target, also the second time I’d accomplished that. I went there, and got the t-shirt (I always get the t-shirt, and I always buy it in October, as motivation). May 2014 was the month I decided that I was going to become a serious
writer, and NaNo was just a step on that path. I’d done it before, so I knew I could do it again.

Halfway through the month, though, I realized that in my position, aging and with no real prospects that made a career in writing a likelihood, I needed to do something radical, or the dream of writing for a living was never going to come true. I needed to put a lot of words on the page in a very short period of time. I had to suck hard and fail fast.

Since I was in the process of doing a 50k month, what if I tried to pull off a NaNo every month for a year? I didn’t know if such a thing was possible. The NaNo graveyard is filled with the bodies of those who couldn’t do it for a month, and I was going to try to make a whole year of it? Me, who am one of the laziest people on earth? Who’s hardly ever finished anything in his life? Who’s never written more than 200,000 words in a year before? But I had to try.

I bought an iPad keyboard, made a writing space, built a couple of spreadsheets so I could track my progress, got a couple books of writing prompts, and jumped off the building.

I flew.

As of today, every month since last November, I’ve written 50,000 words.

This post is the celebration of that accomplishment. I thought it would be fun to look at some statistics, because they are cool, and maybe they’ll be helpful to someone else trying to ratchet up their level of production.

  • Total words in the twelve months: 616,137. These are almost all words of new fiction. I did not count blog posts, or most of the essays I wrote, the tens of thousands of words of Facebook arguments, letters to friends and family, journal writing, etc. I believe the total writing for the last year is close to a million words, though I have no way to count. I log my fiction numbers every day.
  • Best month: July (60,885)
  • Worst month: April (50,o15)
  • Number of months I cracked 50k before the last day: 2 (June and July)
  • Average words on the first day of the month: 1253
  • Average words on the last day of the month: 2115
  • Novels completed: 4 (only one of them from scratch)
  • Short Stories completed: 18
  • Days with no writing at all: 1   That’s right. One day. And that was intentional; I had a big lead in August, and I was fried, and I tried taking a day where I didn’t write, to see if that helped. It was a disaster, and I never tried it again.
  • Days under 500 words written: 5, including the one day “off”. This includes the 125 words I’m the proudest of, which came in a leaking tent in the middle of a thunderstorm with an iPad battery on 5%. That was in July. I wrote 60,000 words in July.
  • Days under 1000 words written: 22. Sixteen of those are before May. I’ve written 1000 words or more every day since the day off at the end of August. When I started, I considered 500 words to be the bare minimum for a day; now it’s 1000 words.
  • Days over 2000 words written: 85. I had a four-day streak over 2k in July.
  • Days over 3000 words written: 12. I had four in July, and seven months never cracked 3000 on any day.
  • Best day: December 12, 6020. I had only two other days over 4000.
  • Biggest deficit to overcome: 3242 on April 21. April sucked. I have a spreadsheet that tracks my pace-to-complete, kind of like the NaNo website does.
  • Biggest lead over pace: July 27, 10,297 words. July was awesome.
  • Miscellany: There were three months, April, May, and October (this month) where I was behind pace every single day until I caught up on the last day of the month. There was one month, August, where I was ahead every day. My biggest average day was the 12th–thanks to that one day in December–and my smallest average day was the 1st, by almost 200 words. There were only two months where I wrote above pace on the first day. I played from behind almost every month.
  • Average words per hour increased from 1300 in November to over 1700 today. I track this, too.
  • Two of the stories I wrote in this period have been published by someone other than me. One of the novels is currently under request by agents (no offers yet).

And yes, absolutely, I’m going to do it again.

If you’re thinking, “I couldn’t do that, there just isn’t enough time in my day,” you’re possibly right. But you might not be. I have eight children. I run a branch of a mortgage company, teach school five days a week, sing opera (yes, for money) (not very much money), and played the Wizard of Oz in a local stage production. I appeared in a webseries. I traveled. I went camping (see above, 125-word day, in the leaky tent). I did all the holidays you do. I just decided I wouldn’t go to bed without writing my words that day. Honestly, it was that simple. And I never did, not once, all year.

It was very, very hard. February, March, April, I thought for sure I wasn’t going to make it. October has been a slog–I don’t like a thing I’m writing right now. There were dozens of days when I got to 10pm (after getting up at 5:30) and thought, “I still have to write for an hour” and thought I couldn’t make myself do it. Where I was literally falling asleep on my keyboard.

This isn’t to brag; it’s to say, I thought I couldn’t do it, either, and I was wrong. I could do it. I could do it through Christmas. I could write on New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July. I wrote on a Mac, a PC, an iPad, and my phone. I scratched out 700 words in movie theaters, waiting for the shows to start. I wrote in a tent. In the car on the freeway. In the bathroom (lot of words there) (did I mention the eight children?). Backstage at the play (I wrote a 4600 word short entirely backstage of the Wizard). At conferences. In my classrooms. I wrote in my office, at my dinner table, in every room in my house and my office. About the only place I did not write was at church. Everywhere else, I had the tools with me, and I used them when I found a spare second.

Here’s a piece of advice: don’t wait for the muses to come. They’re shy. Sit down and put your fingers on the keyboard and start typing, even if it’s gibberish. Some days, the muses never come at all, and some days they do, and the truth is, reading back, I can’t tell which words were on which day. But the words are there, either way. Yeah, a lot of them are crap. I doubt I have 400,000 usable words out of the 600k I wrote. But that’s okay, too.

Tomorrow, NaNo starts again. I’ve got the shirt.

See you in a year.

Posted in encouragement, Excellence, Improvement, inspiration, Sheer Cussedness, Writing | Tagged | 5 Comments

You Obsess Over Every Word. And You Should.

This post is primarily for my writer friends (God bless them and make their books sell like ice on the 4th of July), but anyone, in any endeavor, will hear a familiar echo, I suspect. For the sports-phobic, hang in there. I think you’ll find the payoff is worth it.

Last month my wife and second son Nicholas and I went to Detroit. My son spent two years there serving the people in the name of Jesus Christ, a lot of it in the downtown area around Crack Alley and other, even less savory places. It was brilliant material for novels, let me tell you, but that’s not what this post is about.

One night we went to see the Tigers play at Comerica Park, the first time I’d been to a major league park since Fenway a few years ago. It’s the first of the new parks I’ve been to, the ones built this century. If you’ve not gone to a game at one of these, people, April will come again. Go. It’s amazing.

Comerica has a theme park INSIDE THE STADIUM. The food options rival downtown eating districts. It’s bright and spacious and seats a ridiculous number of humans in excellent comfort with a terrific view of the downtown city. The Tigers won, coming from four runs down to win late. All in all, we couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

But as I sat there, gazing out over the emerald green of the outfield grass to where it meets the deep brown of the warning track, the wall and the scoreboards and block-sized video screens, and the tens of thousands of screaming fans–even though the Tigers had been eliminated from the playoffs weeks before–I was struck by the contrast between that park and the ones I know much better, back home in Utah.

We have baseball here. Two pro teams in easy driving distance, actually: the Orem Owlz (A ball) and the Salt Lake Bees (AAA). I’ve been to both teams’ games recently. They have lovely ballparks, spacious and well-appointed. Taking in a game there, even with a family as large as mine, is a wonderful (and relatively inexpensive) way to spend a summer evening. But the contrast with Comerica was…unreal. It was, almost literally, impossible to believe.

What made it so is my knowledge about baseball. I know what the quality difference is between A ball and AAA ball, and the difference between AAA and the Show. And it’s not very big.

Consider this: the MLB batting average this season was .258. For those not up on the lingo, that means that in a thousand trips to the plate (purists, shut your mouths) a batter will hit safely 258 times, and make an out 742 times. If you’re thinking that isn’t a very good success rate, you’re right, but keep going.

To hit .300 (three hundred hits and seven hundred outs) is to make oneself an all-star. Only 32 guys did it this season (min 200 PA, purists). To hit .250 is to get benched. That’s a difference of 50 hits per THOUSAND plate appearances. A decent number of at-bats in a season is 500, so that means the difference between an all-star and a borderline player is 25 hits a year.

Twenty-five hits a year.

The major league season runs from the first week in April to the last week of September. Count this with me, now: that’s 27 weeks. So the difference between being an all-star and possibly being sent to AAA is less than one hit a week. It’s a difference so small that if you weren’t keeping careful written track, you wouldn’t be able to see it.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between playing in Comerica Park for a median salary of $1.1 million and playing at Spring Mobile Ballpark in Salt Lake City for $2500/mo, between playing before six million fans a year and 250,000.

If you don’t already see where I’m going with this, let me make it explicit: this isn’t restricted to baseball. The NBA has even starker differences in arenas, crowds, and pay, to say nothing of football, which essentially doesn’t have minor leagues. Either make an NFL team, or don’t play pro ball.

Is it just professional sports? Good heavens no. Music, theater, art, teaching, tech startups, you name the arena, and you see the same kind of division between the very top of the table and everyone else, and very often that’s because of things so small that you and I can’t even see them.

What’s the difference between JK Rowling and Brandon Mull and Shallee McArthur and me? It’s a hit a week. Rowling gets one more hit than Mull. Mull gets one more than McArthur. McArthur gets one more than I do. At best, that is. The pool of people I’m swimming with is vast and contains a large number of people that don’t hit at all. I’ve published the same number of novels as my six-year-old. [Ed. Note: My wife points out to me that he turned seven today. We regret the error.]

Shallee has published one (and you should buy it, because it’s very, very good). Brandon has published twenty, which is far too few, sir, and JK has published some indeterminate number because we probably still don’t know all her pen names, but just one of those, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, has sold seventeen quadrillion copies over three galaxies (actually, 450 million for the series, so far. Those numbers are pretty close, from where I’m standing).

JK has an island of gold. I have three jobs. She isn’t that much better than I am, but that doesn’t matter. She is at least one hit better, and a little better on the page is a lot better in the wallet.

And that, my friends, is why we agonize over every single word of our pitch when we enter #pitchslam and #pitmad and #NoQS and #SFFpit and all the hundred others. Winning one of those contests means we get an invitation to camp in the spring, where good coaches can see us and help us and we get to work with people that are for sure going to be playing pro ball this summer. Most of us will then fail to make the roster and we’ll be back with my six-year-old. But some of us will stick. Some, a few of us, will make it to every-day player in the minors. And one in a hundred thousand will make the Show.

This isn’t to be depressing–all of us know these numbers and believe, like every high school player, that we will beat the odds–it’s meant to be precisely the opposite. All the work we do on our craft, every sharpened metaphor and deleted adverb, every corrected comma splice and fresh image, gives us just one more at-bat. One more chance to get the one hit we need to stay in the game. Working like we do on just a 35-word pitch and the first paperback page isn’t insane. It’s precisely what we must do. The difference is just. one. hit.

Keep showing up. Put the time in. Keep writing. Do the conferences. Do the work. Because the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is really there, and it’s really worth it, even if for just one day, to walk out onto the field of dreams and have 40,000 fans come to their feet to see if you can get that one hit that means victory.

You will never get too old to make it. You will never blow out your arm. You can keep trying forever.

So why wouldn’t you?

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