I’m one of the few people I know who loved both the movie and the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I didn’t love it with the mindless devotion of a syncophant–both had their problems, and there are whole seasons of the TV show I barely skim through during marathons–but there was a lot of good stuff in there, sometimes buried deep in the throes of Joss Whedon working out his craft.
One of the moments from the film that sticks in my mind is the obligatory death of the mentor scene. As Donald Sutherland dies, he imparts one last bit of wisdom on his apprentice. “You do everything wrong,” he tells Buffy. She rushes to apologize, but he shakes his head, gets her attention. “No. Do everything wrong.” And he croaks, with a last gasp, like all good teachers once their students have surpassed them.
The world is full of advice for everything. Want to know how to get stains out of a mattress? Google it. A thousand hits will come up with the same damn recipe (hydrogen peroxide and baking soda, if memory serves). Want to know what that rash on your–uh–anyway, want to know about that rash? Or maybe you’re wondering what climate zone is best suited to growing rutabagas. Or what episode it was when Willow turned into a ghost. (Dude. Team Oz. That is all.)
Advice, opinions, voices, everywhere. And if you research the same thing long enough, you’ll realize we essentially live in an echo chamber. People repeating the same damn things over and over again until you realize you don’t even have enough time to dig through all the layers to get to original opinions anymore.
I have this business, this indie publishing business, and I read about it a lot. It’s the thing I plan to do for the rest of my life, even if I never make enough money to sustain my household off it (but I will, mark my words; I’ve never gone after anything I didn’t eventually get in one way or another). I’m a binge researcher, and not always about things that are immediately relevant to my life. (Ask me about parthenogenisis. Ask me about game theory.) I knew a great deal about self-publishing before I did it, so the stuff I got right was down to knowing the choices I was making.
And yet, I do a lot of things wrong.
I don’t stick to genre. I write romantic stories without happily ever afters, I don’t actively self-promote. I’m rubbish on Facebook and Twitter. And those are very basic things you read everywhere that successful authopeneurs do. (No, I know, isn’t that word excellent? I’m gonna give credit to Joanna Penn, because she’s the first person I’d ever heard use it.)
I could probably start up a new pen name, write smutty short stories, keep them exclusively on Amazon, and charge three bucks a pop for them. I think that business model would make more money faster than what I’m doing now. But this isn’t accidental. I do what I do because it fits who I am. I’d rather read a novel than a short story. I’d rather read smut with twisty emotions than smut with strangers, no matter how hot. (And I don’t think one is superior, either; “porn with plot” being the “lit fic” of the porn world. Ugh! Read what you want to read and stop judging, judgy judges!)
Then I look at my budget and that whole alternate universe business plan I just outlined starts looking a lot better. Damn. My kid likes to eat. I’m just sayin’. Maybe I can get her hooked on Ramen. (I’m not actually gonna get my kid hooked on Ramen. Like any good parent, I simply cut out meat-other-than-tuna from my diet and stocked up on beans.)
The moral of the story is that sometimes you’re the guy who does everything wrong. Sometimes you’re that guy for your entire life. You get picked last for losing teams, you work jobs that line the bottom of the barrel for dignity and self-respect, you get average grades and average scores. You’re not outstanding. You’re probably not awesomely gifted and damaged, either. Those folks might do a lot wrong, but when they score, they score big.
I doubt I’ll ever score big, but man, doing everything wrong takes all the pressure off. You aren’t supposed to be stunningly successful. You aren’t supposed to be the king of the mountain. Do everything wrong and keep yourself afloat anyway? That’s the best of all worlds.
I gotta go finish writing a novel now. I’m about to do that just a little bit more right than usual, so you guys can tell me if I fucked it up when Home Free comes out in October.