The Gift of Leap Day

It takes roughly 365.2421 days for the earth to make one full cycle around the sun. The traditional Gregorian calendar, based roughly on the Julian calendar, was originally made having only 365 days a year – every year. Those extra six hours might not seem like they are a very big deal, but after ten years of leaving six hours out of our calendar, we would be roughly 60 hours behind the earth’s true location in its path of orbit. So in the 1500’s we listened to the Egyptians and Leap Year was created, adding an extra day to the end of February once every four years so we could more accurately monitor our trip through space. What does this mean for us? Extra time.

For many writers and artists, our craft, our passion is something we do on the side, spending our typical work day in a 9-5 average job in order to pay our bills. By spending our lives in this fashion it is very easy for us to get bogged down in our jobs and in the every day activities therein and allow our passions to fall to the wayside. This is a terrible thing, we know, but what can we do? After all, there are only 24 hours in a day and we’re only one person. If only we had more time…. Well here you go, people!

Once every four years there is 24 extra hours added to the calendar year that  (assuming we can take one day off of the standard 9-5) can be used purely for our craft. I’m aware that doesn’t seem like a lot, but believe me, it can make a huge difference. Let’s assume that in one hour you can write about 2,000 words – and yes, that number definitely varies, but this is just for example’s sake – and on this particular day you can set aside ten hours to write. That gives you somewhere in the ball park of 20,000 words that you didn’t have before. That’s almost the size of a novella. That’s a very sizable short story. Basically, that is one heck of an accomplishment.

Too often we use the excuse of time to prevent us from doing things that make us happy, that might make us successful, that might literally make our very dreams come true. Why? I think Jack Kerouac may have said it best with a quote that, although altered in many different ways says, basically; “Climb that damn mountain. Because in the end nobody is going to remember the time spent mowing the lawn or working in an office.”

If that isn’t a powerful thought, I really don’t know what is. We allow ourselves to do the day in and day out monotonous crap while we’re younger because we want to pretend that we have forever to do something else. We put off so much because we say that we just don’t have the time, don’t have the money or just aren’t ready. So many excuses keep us from achieving our dreams that it’s almost shameful to admit it. The bottom line is that we’re only here for a little while and if we keeping putting everything off until that fabled and ever busier “tomorrow” we may wake up one day and realize that “tomorrow” is never going to come. So make the most of TODAY, after all it only comes once every four years. Even if you put everything off for another four years and decide to make Leap Day your “whatever the hell I want” day, that’s a start, right? So drop it all. Pick up the pen, the paint brush, the clay, put on the boots and the jacket, get on the surfboard – do whatever it is that you feel is going to make you happier and improve your life in even the smallest way. Be it eating a new type of food or discovering a new type of plant because you decided to take a hike in a new part of the forest, you deserve it.

Life is short, people. We need to remember that. If we have a passion, a desire, a talent, we need to embrace it. We deserve to embrace it. Take the time out of life to make yourself happy, no matter how small the task is that will provide that happiness. Even if you decide to literally only take one day every four years to dedicate to yourself, it’s a start. And if you dropped the ball this year, you’ve got four more years to make the plans. Leap Day of 2020 is on a Saturday, so there’s even more reason to make it awesome. Plan out that book and start writing, buy paints and canvas, buy new hiking gear and request a day off of work. Whatever it takes to accomplish the goal, whatever it is. Just stop making excuses and climb that damn mountain before you wake up one day and realize it’s too late.

An Incredible and Humbling Experience

Hey there friends and fans. I hope you are all doing well and that your craft and passion is going smoothly. My own work has been up and down as usual, leading me to feel a bit of self doubt and woe, made all the much worse by the fact that I have graduated college for the second time and still find myself having trouble getting full-time employment. But I digress.

As many of you may know or have remembered, this weekend brought one of the things I most look forward to in the year; the Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium. I first started attending the symposium four years ago and quickly fell in love with it. The opportunities provided by this convention are almost endless. A large portion of the Appalachian Heritage Writers Guild are present every year. These individuals are all successful authors, many of whom have a good portion of publications under their belts. The symposium consists of two days worth of workshops where these authors are asked to present and teach about an element of the craft, a specific genre or something of the sort (publication, editing, etc…always something that will be helpful to other authors). Each year there is one, at least slightly more famous, author who is asked to be the keynote speaker.

My personal experience with this symposium is that it is wonderful. Each year I have left the events feeling more confident in my work, my abilities and my future as a writer. In fact, some of you may remember that it was the symposium itself that led me to creating this very blog. How’s that for awesome? Anyway, this year’s experience was one that stood apart from my three previous ones for a number of reasons. Lately I have been a bit worried that my work isn’t quite up to par, that I haven’t accomplished anything, that I haven’t done anything positive or made anything of myself. I now realize that is because I haven’t done it all yet. My list of accomplishments (please forgive me here, I’m not trying to boast. I’m merely trying to show you all that accomplishments aren’t just huge goals or obstacles to overcome) is fairly large. As a student I was managing editor of a literary journal for two years and head news writer for a newspaper for one, because people had confidence in my writing. I have completed two of the three (or four) novels in my Maverip series. I have graduated college twice. The list goes on and on.

I came to this realization because of the symposium. This year was particularly unique for me for a couple of reasons. One; I was asked to present a workshop. Me. The guy who feels like he’s a failure at least half the time. Members of the committee asked me if I would lend my expertise in the field of the supernatural to do a panel on Zombies and the Un-Dead in relation to Appalachian Literature. I humbly accepted and worked hard on a presentation that I may discuss later this week.

It was a success. People from all walks of life- at least one of whom was not the least bit interested in the topic until hearing me speak on it- attended and raved about the workshop. I had a number of people tell me how great it was and how much I made them think. One even thanked me for the ideas I had given her. On the second day I had people who had been unable to attend my workshop approaching me throughout the entire day telling me they’d heard such wonderful things that they wished they’d prioritized better. This made me feel like I was doing something right. I was beyond humbled to have these successful authors suddenly become my peers, while others became my temporary students. And the feeling that I was absolutely blessed only grew as I got the compliments I’ve mentioned. But one experience remains.

This year’s keynote speaker was the author Jeffery Deaver. For those of you who don’t know, Deaver is the author of the book The Bone Collector (and many more). I was able to get this genius’s autograph, speak to him face to face and even take a selfie with him. But the true humbling and mystifying part was that I got to be in a book signing with him. By that I don’t just mean that I fanboy’d and got his signature (which I did, obviously), but I was actually sitting at my own table, with some of my work in front of me, being asked for MY autograph. I literally signed my work while an international bestselling author was one table over signing his own. I’ve never felt anything like that.

I told you all of this because I was trying to make a point. I wasn’t trying to brag or exalt myself, I do promise that. My point here is this; We can’t let ourselves get down about things. No, I’m not a Nobel Prize winner yet. Not am I on the New York Times bestseller list. But I am an author. I am a good author (at least based on what I’m told). I have completed works, and even self-published some pieces on Amazon. Too often do we allow ourselves to believe that we haven’t done anything with our lives in one way or another. We are our own worst critic, and if we aren’t careful that experience can ruin us. If we wake up every day and tell ourselves that we are failures and haven’t or won’t achieve anything then we are setting ourselves ip for failure. We have to look at the things we have done, set minor goals and proceed. We are strong and we can do whatever we intend, whatever we dream. Don’t forget that. Stand strong, believe in yourself and try hard!

Your Work, Your Audience, Your Knowledge

I know I’ve written on and touched on this subject a number of times, but it has once more surfaced in my mind and in my work. For any artist there is a very specific thing, or a number of things about which you are going to be most passionate and in turn, most knowledgeable about. This is what your subject matter should be. It seems a bit obvious, but the amount of people out there who try to write on something about which they are completely clueless is surprising and disturbing. You should never betray what you know and love. You know what you love, and more importantly you KNOW what you love. The things that you are inspired to write about are often going to be things which you have an outstanding knowledge of, because you already love them. Granted, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not going to have to do research on anything by any means. Just as much as you can have outstanding knowledge of or passion for such things as the specific laws of your hometown, you can also have a passion for a general subject, such as life on the beaches of North Carolina that you’ll have to do some research on for specifics. Whatever it is that you’re passionate about, that is what you need to write about. Don’t listen to anyone who says that your desired subject matter is not going to sell. That’s complete crap. If you love, someone else out there is going to love it too, and even if it isn’t their favorite subject your passion will bleed into the work if you do it right, and they will feel that. Don’t think for a second your audience isn’t going to feel your love. If you are truly loving your work, no matter the subject matter, your audience will feel your passion in their hands and their very hearts while they read it. That is the mark of a truly great writer; make your audience FEEL. But that’s another post entirely. I just felt the need to remind all of my readers here that no matter what else you do, you HAVE to write your passion. A very dear friend of mine, and extreme supporter of my writing has given me some flack about my subject matter on a number of occasions, but afterwards he always stops me with a very serious piece of advice that I would like to share here before I go. Coming from a professional, published author (myself) and an even more successful likewise published author and member of one of the most prestigious writing guilds in the country here it is in my own words.

Don’t listen to others. Don’t write what others write just because they write it. You know what you want to write. You know what is in your heart, soul and mind. That’s what you have to write. You know it best. You carry it with you all of the time and you know it at a depth that others can only wonder at, but no matter how obscure the subject matter might seem you the world it’s yours. You know it and you love it, and if you put that onto the pages and into the work, the audience will feel it and then THEY’LL know and love it too. Don’t think for a second they won’t. That’s their job after all. You’re the story teller and they’re the receivers.

That is the best advice I can give anyone I think. I’m going to wrap up with a few more pieces of advice from my own mind and experience. Don’t forget these statement; they’ll get you far. Feel free to comment and contact me with anything you have to say and remember these pieces of advice. If you can’t provide them (your audience) with something to feel then there is no proper exchange. You have to feel it first and put those feelings into your work- put your blood, sweat and tears into the work, so the audience can feel them as well. Only then can there truly be an exchange of literature. If you don’t believe that, go back and read works from the Romantic Period. Those authors had true feelings that they spilled into their work, and no matter how much or how little you know about the subject, you’re enthralled because you can FEEL the piece itself. Feelings bring work to life. You have to remember that. So please, I ask everyone who has any sort of artistic passion, DO NOT work on something you aren’t passionate about. Don’t try to pass off dead work. You HAVE to give it life, you have to give it feeling and passion. That is the only way to bring literature, or any sort of art, to life and make it worthwhile for you and for the audience. Don’t ignore that passion that’s in your heart, no matter how much you’re afraid someone won’t like it or will criticize it. It’s your passion, and someone else WILL love it too, if only because they feel your own love within it. So don’t keep that from the world. It’s your job, your calling, your duty even to share this passion with a slowly dying and passionless world. We are the lifesavers, and we can’t let the world die with us. Remember that. Thank you all for reading.