PERFECTING OUR STORIES

It’s astonishing is how fast it happened. One day I was young and then I blinked my eyes and somehow landed in the unchartered territory of my middle years.This June I turned the double quatro, forty-four years old, and have started to notice some interesting very things going on.

There are the well known physical changes of middle age, decreased muscle tone, laugh lines starting to form, higher forehead and gray hair. As we approach the autumn of our years, no matter how hard we try to hide it, our faces truly reveal the kind of lives we’ve lived.

The psychological changes are even more interesting. Before middle age I thought the repetition of stories was just something seniors did along with complaining about whippersnappers and eating dinner at three-thirty in the afternoon. I was wrong. Yes, my friends and I are now beginning to tell the same stories over and over again.

This could easily be attributed to some natural age-related cognitive decline, stress, or maybe the accumulative effects of too many beer bongs in the 80’s and 90’s but I don’t think this is totally it. It’s as though we are retelling the stories that comprise the mosaic of who we are because a small part of us are afraid we’ll be forgotten. On some level we want our stories to be forever etched into the collective consciousness of humanity. We want our brief blip of existence on this planet to be remembered.

The middle years usher in wave after wave of profound realizations or “Oh $h!t” moments as I call them. I think Generation X, like every generation who came before us, are experiencing, “Oh $h!t” moments on an epic scale. I see it in mass media, social media and face-to-face, we are waking up to the fact that we’re not going to live forever. When you have an Oh $h!t moment it can’t be denied and isn’t easily forgotten. It’s a realization that can be felt on a deep cellular level.

Because of this, Gen Xers are discovering how valuable time is and are figuring out how we can best spend the time we have left more wisely. I’m concerning myself much less about what others think of me or the balance of my investment portfolio. Lately, I’m focusing more on happiness, facing fears, and making awesome new memories. Most importantly, I’m thinking about how I will be remembered by those I leave behind. Lately, I’ve been making a conscious attempt to shed anything or anybody who doesn’t bring a spark of joy to my life. Time is just too short to spend what you have left of it mired in drama and negativity.

I’ll admit this year I’ve given a lot of thought about my legacy. To get to the bottom of it I asked, what do I love greater than myself? After a little contemplation I decided that the legacy I wish to leave the world with will be small, often anonymous, acts of kindness and my words. I hope the many words I’ve written and the words I’ve yet to write will spark some joy in others. I hope my words make someone think, or smile, or even know that they’re not alone in this world. If my words accomplish this my life will have been complete.

Thinking about legacy can be uncomfortable. It can even border on morose but it doesn’t have to be that way. Contemplating and then consciously creating a legacy can provide an extra boost of octane to those of us in middle age who are beginning to feel a bit weary and worn around the edges. I tend think it as a little red button on the steering wheel of life that, once pressed, propels me through mires of the middle years, soreness, fatigue, and at times, the worry that my life will never quite measure up to the one I wished for in my dreams.

Time can teach, time can heal, and time eventually always reveals the truth…IF a person is awake enough to notice. Sometimes we simply must take a deep breath, have faith and take comfort that the universe is unfolding exactly as it was meant to. One thing’s for certain, there’s no fighting age or time. There’s such a profound beauty in learning from our missteps, gathering wisdom, and surrendering to time gracefully.

I would like to leave you with a three things I’d like you to ask yourself. What do you love greater than yourself? What will be your legacy? How would you like the world remember you? When you answer these questions your life changes in some pretty amazing ways. What once seemed so important starts to seem trivial and some things that seemed trivial all of a sudden pretty damned important.

Shakespeare penned the following lines in his play, As You Like It nearly five hundred years ago,

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

Here the Bard sums life up with his typical genius. Yes, life can hard and it is short but it is also the most amazing ride. Not a minute of it should be taken for granted. We are put on this Earth to love, to learn, to grow, and perhaps to help make life a little easier for others. Each of us have the chance to leave our own unique stamp on the world. What will yours be?

~Eric Vance Walton~
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Eric Vance Walton is a novelist, poet, aspiring world traveler, and tea junkie. He invites you to follow his unfolding story by “liking” his Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/EricVanceWaltonAuthor for updates and promotions on his current and upcoming projects. You can find Eric’s new book One Word At A Time: Finding Your Way as an Indie Author, on Amazon in print or as an ebook. Article © 2015 Eric Vance Walton

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HOW TO FAIL MISERABLY AS A WRITER (or anything else)

It doesn’t matter how good of a writer you think you are, if you can’t figure out how to connect with readers you’re not going to sell anything. Internet marketing for indie authors is especially tough to figure out. Often our budgets are small or even non-existent and the rules are changing often.

This is important stuff. If you don’t figure it out eventually you’ll be discouraged enough to give up on your dream. I admit that marketing has never been one of my strong suits. This is one of the reasons it took my writing career so long to take off. 
I was that skinny and awkward kid with thick glasses that few things came naturally to. I would practice things hundreds of times until I perfected them. One of the few things I had on my side was persistence. I’m still that same kid inside, only larger, with a few gray hairs, and the nagging thought that time goes far too fast to waste it.

A month ago I tried to make a poached egg.  It ended up looking like egg drop soup. It was terrible. Ten or so attempts and a few YouTube videos later I can make a perfect poached egg. The secret, once I learned it, was like magic and made the process easy.  What is the secret?  Soak the eggs (still in the shell) in white vinegar for five minutes before cracking and boiling them. That was it.
Things are incredibly hard until you figure out the secret and then they’re easy. To find success you must have to have the patience and persistence to get to the EASY.

Most of us have heard the quote by William Faulkner, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” If a sentence or passage doesn’t work for the good of the overall project you must get rid of it no matter how brilliant you think it is. This is excellent advice but it isn’t easy to do partially because of ego but to a greater degree because of fear that you can’t write something better.
To become a successful writer you must subdue your ego and have the confidence to believe that great ideas come from an endless source within you. When you believe this amazing things begin to happen.

The opposite is true as well. The surest way to fail at this is to write from a place of fear or hold on to ineffective ideas. They become bars in an invisible prison cell that will keep you stuck right where you are.

I know this “kill your darlings” philosophy works for writing so I applied it to marketing. Sometimes the entire marketing idea stinks and has to go but sometimes part of it can be saved, retooled to try again. I’m not getting any younger and the books aren’t selling themselves so I’ll only try a retooled idea once. If the idea doesn’t get results it must go to the scrap heap.

Some of you might remember last summer I had a marketing idea that I was super excited about. While traveling I decided to hand out a few copies of my novel, Alarm Clock Dawn, to random people for free.  There was a note inside the front cover asking the recipient to leave me a message on Facebook letting me know what they thought about the book. After they were finished reading it I asked if they would pass the book onto another friend to read and they could do the same, and so on. The whole idea was based on the Pay It Forward philosophy.

It was a hard thing to accept because I was sure it would work but the whole thing fell flat. I waited for months but all I heard were crickets…not a single response from anyone. Ever. I had to accept it and move on to something new and better. All of us are a constant work in progress. Failure is not an option.

Next week I’ll be traveling to Chicago for a long weekend, partially for business but mostly for fun.  I’ll be visiting a few independent bookstores and doing some research for my new novel Truth Is Stranger. Along the way I’m going to try this Pay It Forward marketing idea once more.  It’ll be interesting to see how it works after a few tweaks.  I’ll be updating you all on my experiences throughout this process.

All it really takes in this world to be successful is working through the hard to get to the EASY.  I hope your path to easy is a short one. More importantly, I hope you learn quickly from every misstep along the way.
With Gratitude,
~Eric Vance Walton~

We Are Worthy

I laughed at the comic below and then almost immediately it reminded me of how unbalanced our society is. When is the last time a song, a poem, a film, or a piece of art moved you? It happens to me almost on a weekly basis. The truth is these creative treasures have the power to impact you so deeply they can actually change you.

We live in a world rich with life-altering creative treasures, many of them are accessible for free 24/7 from any mobile device. The unfortunate thing is a staggeringly small percentage of the creative geniuses who create these great gifts ever reap the benefits of their valuable service to humanity. Creatives infuse our world with beauty, positive energy, they shake us from our apathy and challenge us to think. How valuable is this? More importantly, how do you put a price on it?

This, is the hard part for us creatives. Our creative fruits…art, literature, poetry are all subjective, what truly impacts one person might seem like crap to another. To add even more complexity, you must make a reasonable name for yourself before most people are willing to spend a dime on your work. The truth is it can’t be done overnight but it can be done. I am proof.

First you must give yourself permission to be an artist or writer. You must also give yourself permission to ask people to pay a reasonable price for your work. If you work hard and create a quality product that sparks an emotional connection with others you deserve to be compensated…don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Yes, you will have to give some content away for free at first but you shouldn’t do this for long. Keep honing your skills, continue to build your confidence, become a marketing ninja!

By the same token, if you encounter another creative person whose work moves you and you are in the position to do so, buy it. Become a patron. This is the greatest gift you can give someone who is struggling. It’s not just about the money but more about the validation of their talent. That item you buy could be the first sale they’ve had in a week or a month and it will give them the hope they need to keep pursuing their dreams. I know, I’ve been there, too many of us have. The age of the starving artist must come to an end. In reality we are all just one big creative family and it all begins with us.

Eric Vance Walton is a novelist, poet, aspiring world traveler, and tea junkie. He invites you to follow his unfolding story by “liking” his Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/EricVanceWaltonAuthor for updates and promotions on his current and upcoming projects. You can find Eric’s new book One Word At A Time: Finding Your Way as an Indie Author, on Amazon in print or as an ebook.

Article © 2014 Eric Vance Walton

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Freedom in Sixty-Four Bars

5:30AM wake up, shower,
coffee, buttered toast, and
So What flowing from the radio

its call and response,
like smoke, coaxes me softly
to some other kind of consciousness

a strange feeling settles
at two minutes thirty-three,
reality? It’s just some charlatan

“you’ve been a harlot, son.”
the notes say, “You’ve sold your best years for a song.”

By three minutes twenty-six
Mr. Davis had me transfixed,
I was living 2/7ths of a life

struggling through the mires
of a Monday to Friday strife
for such a small slice

but who am I to whine?
it’s taken quite a long time but…so what?
I’ve found freedom in sixty-four bars.

~Eric Vance Walton~