Friday, March 17, 2023

Five Pieces of Advice and One Anecdote, by Josh Stallings

Q: What is the best advice you received from an agent, editor, publisher, writer, or florist? For bonus credit what was the worst?

Me trying to come up with an answer.

A: “Be furious in your quest for the truth.” As a young writer I gave myself that advice. This quest has led me to understand that truth is personal. Truth depends on one’s perspective. No I’m not saying I believe in “alternate facts”. There are historical and empirical facts, but human truths like the answer to “am I a good person?” Or “am I a complete fraud?” Or “Did my mother love me?” Those truths — the ones a character is made from — are personal and subjective. Villains rarely think they are bad people. Tyrants are sure they do what they do for the good of others. All the really good people I’ve met thought they had hidden monsters inside that must never be let loose. And as a writer it is these human truths I keep struggling to understand and capture.

Charlie Huston

Charlie Huston gave me several pieces of advice, if I wanted the words to rip and roar I needed to, “Write with velocity.” Literally type as fast and powerfully as humanly or dyslexically possible. Our old craftsman home used to sway on its foundation as I pounded words. I discovered that if I was typing at the outer edge of my thinking speed, I had no time to second guess or qualify. It was a way to connect my subconscious directly to my hands, bypassing the critical and logical part of my brain.

Another from Charlie came when I was up for an Anthony. “Awards mean everything, unless you don’t win, and then they don’t mean anything.” No that wasn’t the advice that mattered but it made me smile. What he said after hearing about my award nominations was, “That’s great, but what are you working on now? Awards are for something you did last year. They’re in the rearview mirror.” Keep my eye on the present or I'm guaranteed to crash.

“You will only be as great as you are willing to fail.” - Some Famous Actor. I read it on the wall of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I never do good work from a place of fear. The hard part of any creative’s life is that we will be told many times that we just aren’t good enough or current enough or salable enough. In the face of these slings and arrows we must be bold and have the unmitigated audacity to believe in ourselves.

Ian Ayris

I recently sent Ian Ayris a bleak letter full of why bother, and who cares. Here is his response:

“I fully believe writing is more than books on shelves. Writing is a communication in words of the darkness within, teaching us who we are, giving us the chance to express in words that which we are so fearful to utter aloud. Then when we see it written down, its power over us is diminished and we feel that little more whole for it. And we move on with our torch a little brighter further into the darkness... If we as writers can find the courage to put words to our own darkness, there will be someone who reads those words who will recognize the darkness they have inside them. And their torch will burn a little brighter because of it. They still have the dark path to tread - as do we all - but they will no longer feel so alone. And stuff like that, Josh, that goes well beyond books on shelves. Write your truth, my friend. That is all any of us need to do.” - Ian Ayris


Tell your truth.

Write with velocity.

Keep your eye on the present.

Never fear failure.

Tell your truth. (Yes I said that one twice.)

I’ll leave you with this, 32 years ago when I first got sober I asked my sponsor “If I slay my dragons, what will I write about?”

He laughed and laughed and finally explained, “Slay them? Oh no, at best you may learn to tame them just a little bit.”

For More About Charlie Huston

For more on Ian Ayris


Anonymous said...

You answered well. Thank you.

Susan C Shea said...

So much meat in your post today, my friend. The only point that stopped me was writing with velocity. I am hands down, THE worst typist in the world and if I showed you what taking that advice would produce, you'd think I had dementia.

Josh Stallings said...

Susan, I am the worlds worst typist. Ask Erika, and she may think I’m demented. Editing is definitely needed, but the rhythms are there.

Ann Mason said...

So, what are you working on now?

Ann said...

That was asked with a smile

JD Allen said...

I connect with you on so many levels. Dyslexically challenged typing, finding my truth. And now, I have embarked on a journey to sobriety. I worry about what that means to my stories as well. And I'm mid-project. It's a big leap.

Josh Stallings said...

Ann, I’m deep into a MS that I’ll tell you about when it becomes a complete something? ;)

JD, my experience has been that the writing gets clearer the farther away I am from my last drink. I look forward to hearing what you discover. And yep we have much in common.

Anonymous said...

That’s good to hear.