Atlas Shrugged Part III

2014_08_08_Wallpaper_WIJGBY VAL MULLER

Atlas Shrugged Part III (Who Is John Galt?) is now out in theatres, and I’m looking forward to it.

I donated to the Atlas Shrugged Kickstarter campaign (you can even find my name on the Producer’s Wall at http://www.atlasshruggedmovie.com/kickstarter?p=19) because I think the ideas in the novel are important to share. Although I’m not sure a three-part movie can concisely deliver the ideas of the book to those who aren’t already fans, I was glad to hear it was finally being made into a movie.

For those who haven’t read the book, I wanted to share why I think Rand’s philosophy is such an important concept.

First, a bit on Ayn Rand. Rand was born in Russia in the early 1900s and moved to America in the 1920s. In Russia, her father worked hard to run and own his own business, but under Lenin, that business was confiscated. Seeing the damage done by fanaticism, including seeing thugs take over the college she was attending, Rand dedicated herself to reason above all else. Her experience in Russia allowed her to see how damaging “groupthink” can be as well as what happens when people stop being guided by reason and let other, more emotional, concerns lead them.

In her writing, Rand liked to make sure the reader got the point. That’s why her novels are so long. She had a definite idea of what she wanted her novel to be, and she was uncompromising in seeing that idea to fruition—in some ways, she is like her main characters. The problem is, this makes for a long-winded novel, the length of which intimidates most would-be readers.

I have taught The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged several times. The main lessons my students gather from these texts is not something I taught them—it’s something they came to on their own, and it surprised me. But they are right: They have learned that our society tends to value people’s intentions over results.

As a broad example, if a politician institutes a program with the intention of helping the poor, but that program becomes bankrupt or backfires or ends up making the people it’s trying to help too dependent or even worse off, we tend to reward that politician for wanting to help the poor—regardless of the results. On the other hand, if a business owner produces dozens of jobs—thus helping people in need of work—we still look critically at him because his intention from the start: to make money for himself. Even if the result is that consumers now have goods to purchase and people now have jobs, his intent from the start was inherently selfish, and thus we judge him as a bad person.

Our society has it backwards. We should judge results rather than intent. After all, wasn’t Hitler trying to make the world a better place (at least in his own mind)? Should we judge his intent, or the results?

In Atlas Shrugged, we see a war between government and business. The government in the book is one not dissimilar from our government today: one rooted in crony capitalism and nepotism, one that encourages the public not to think but to blindly follow emotions. The government in Atlas Shrugged, in short, over-regulates the country to (literal) death. In The Fountainhead, the media—controlled by a small group of powerful people—puts out so many pointless stories that people aren’t even able to think about what truly is important anymore. In fact, they blindly follow what they are told to think by their preferred media source. Sound familiar?

Like our government today, those in power in Atlas Shrugged pick the winners and losers. If one company is becoming too successful, the government creates new regulations that cripple that company, all in the name of giving other companies a fair chance. The result of this is that those with prowess in business—those who are able to provide quality products for low prices—are punished. Those who are unable to provide quality products for low prices are rewarded with subsidies and other protections. The end results, of course, is mediocrity that hurts everyone. Now, instead of some people having minimum wage jobs and other people living like Carnegie, Jobs, or Gates, no one has jobs. Everyone suffers and misery is shared equally.

I can’t help thinking about GM (at present, I own a Chevy, which has greatly disappointed me despite my desire to “buy American.”). The government recently subsidized the Volt through various incentives and tax credits, both for buyers and for manufacturers at each step of the process. This is an example of the government deciding on a “good intention” (electric cars). The results, however, were not what was desired. Electric cars, even today, are not very efficient. And they ignore the fact that electricity is usually produced with the same non-renewable sources electric cars are trying to avoid. Again, moving to electric cars is a good intention, but the result of government interference was not useful. The same is true for the government’s movement to produce gasoline using corn (ethanol). Remember when corn used to be so cheap at the grocery store? Not anymore. Even environmentalists have come out to say that producing gas from corn is not efficient—it costs too much energy to produce. Again, the intention was “good”—to help shed our dependency on foreign fuels. But the result was actually harmful.

Borough Market cake stall, London, England - Oct 2008

If an electric car were made by a big company with no subsidies, or a new form of gasoline were created by a private company, both businesses would probably be criticized because of their “greed” and their desire to make money. But in business, decisions must be made based on logic. Whereas the government has an “unending” supply of (tax) money and borrowed debt it can throw at pet projects, businesses need to make economic sense. In a true free-market economy, an electric car would only be produced if it could be made as a reliable car for a price people would be willing to pay.

The government can force its “customers” to buy a product or service that it creates or that it permits businesses to offer (an obvious example is the Affordable Care Act). Some health insurers quickly gave their support to the idea of government-mandated insurance because it would bring them a steady supply of customers forced into their storefronts by the threat of government fines, higher taxes, even imprisonment or men and women with guns showing up to enforce the government’s will.

As long as an insurance company met the mandatory minimum coverages of the health law, there would be customers and guaranteed revenue. In the absence of free markets and competition, businesses lack incentive to provide a better quality, more affordable product. As a result prices increase and customer satisfaction suffers. In the free market, a business earns its customers because a transaction in the free market does not take place unless both parties derive some benefit from it. With several choices and healthy competition, prices remain low over the long term and innovation brings people new and exciting products such as smart phones and smart watches.

But in Atlas Shrugged and in our world today, people complain because of the “unfairness” of businesses (those heartless, greedy capitalists!). Remember when cell phones first came out? They were quite the status symbol. Only the very wealthy could afford the brick-sized phones. It wasn’t fair to people who couldn’t afford them. But in the long run, they made things better for everyone. Now, cell phone technology has improved so that almost everyone has one. (Though the government is still messing around with the cell phone market, as with most things today).

The point Rand made in Atlas Shrugged is that people need to use common sense—logic—and not be persuaded by emotions that are often exploited to take greater control of our lives. The events in the book—which lead to starvation and freezing to death when food and fuel become scarce—seem so outlandish as to be a hyperbole. But they were based on Rand’s personal experience following the upheaval in Russia where she saw deaths from starvation and freezing as the government seized businesses in order to eliminate “unfairness.” The events Rand witnessed and used in her book illustrate the potential end result of crony capitalism and allowing the government to manipulate us and give up our freedom of choice.

She also saw the greatness that could happen when people are allowed to produce within a free market—when consumers are allowed to willingly pay for something they desire as a way of rewarding insight and punishing shoddy products. And this is the bottom line. If everyone simply used logic in everyday interaction, most bad decisions would be eradicated from the start. But in Atlas Shrugged, as in our modern culture, we transfer the responsibility to think for ourselves to media outlets with deep agendas on both sides of the spectrum, and we reward intentions rather than outcomes. In both cases, we’re just asking for trouble.

Val Muller started writing as soon as she could hold a pencil. Teacher, writer, and editor, Val pens a children’s mystery series, Corgi Capers, inspired by her growly-dog Leia and her fraidy-dog Yoda. Her supernatural chiller, Faulkner’s Apprentice, is her most recent outlet for purging her nightmares, with her young adult novels, The Man With the Crystal Ankh and The Scarred Letter, forthcoming. Her favorite novel is Orwell’s 1984, and she believes strongly in promoting freedom and celebrating individual achievement as a way of bettering the lives of all. Stalk her at www.ValMuller.com

Photo Credit:

“Borough Market cake stall, London, England” By Diliff (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

September 11, 2014

Flags With CloudsSeptember 11th is a day that lives on in our hearts. We pause today to remember the acts of hatred borne out by Islamic extremists. We remember that giving up one’s life to take another is not courageous, but giving up one’s life to save another is. We remember that bravery is not running into a plane to use it as a weapon of fear, but bravery is running into a burning building past those who are running out in order to render aid to the helpless. We remember those who did not come home on 9/11/01, and we remember the loved ones they left behind.

We remember.

Writing Tip: Character vs. Plot and Likeable Characters

Power of WordsReaders may argue over what is most important, plot or character. I argue that character is more important than plot. I’ve read novels and stories in which an unlikeable character ruined an awesome plot. I’ve also read novels and stories in which a terrible (or almost non-existent) plot was saved by a likable character.

For many writers, the problem is that the character exists in a very real and very likeable way in the author’s mind. Sometimes, communicating that likability onto paper is a challenge. Readers like to be shown things in a concrete way. Years ago, the book that solidified this idea for me was The Bad Beginning, the first in the series entitled A Series of Unfortunate Events.

In this series, the main characters have tell-tale physical traits or ticks that help us visualize their personalities. When Violet thinks hard about something, for instance, she ties her hair up to keep it out of her eyes. Readers may argue over what is most important, plot or character. I argue that character is more important than plot. I’ve read novels and stories in which an unlikeable character ruined an awesome plot. I’ve also read novels and stories in which a terrible (or almost non-existent) plot was saved by a likable character.

For many writers, the problem is that the character exists in a very real and very likeable way in the author’s mind. Sometimes, communicating that likability onto paper is a challenge. Readers like to be shown things in a concrete way. Years ago, the book that solidified this idea was The Bad Beginning, the first in the series entitled A Series of Unfortunate Events. In this series, the main characters have tell-tale physical traits or ticks that help us visualize their personalities. When Violet thinks hard about something, for instance, she ties her hair up to keep it out of her eyes. This very human habit made me like her as a character.

It’s important to plan a character’s traits before delving into the story. Even if this exists in a subconscious way, I like to write it out before I start writing the actual story. I like to list tangible ways to show my character’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m usually good at thinking of intangible qualities, but I’m not as good at showing these things in a way readers will understand. Having some type of pre-writing helps me keep the reader in mind.

Forging Freedom: Dimensions – Table of Contents & Contributors Announced!

We’re happy to announce that all the contracts have been signed, and we can announce our table of contents for Forging Freedom: Dimensions, our anthology of freedom-themed speculative fiction.

The anthology is currently in the editing phase, and we expect it to go to print in the last quarter of 2014. The list below appears in no particular order.

Congratulations to all our authors!

“Freedom From Perfection” by Hayden Lawrence

“Bringing Home Major Tom” by Leigh Kimmel

“Inhuman” by AK Lindsay

“Amnesty Intergalactic” by Douglas W. Texter

“A Brief Biography of Baron Otto von Korek” by Donald J. Bingle

“The Circular Nature of Time” by Hollis Whitlock

“The Rainbow Children” by Leo Norman

“The Fourth Poet” by Val Muller

“To Do As You Please” by Paul Cucinotta

“Hope” by Lesley L. Smith

“Ezra’s Prophesy” by Deborah Walker

“The Witch Toaster” by R. David Fulcher

“Why You Can Never Escape with Escape” by AJ Kirby

“Pedestal” by James Hartley

“The Last Dragoon” by Charles Kyffhausen

“The Pathless Skies” by Neil Weston

“Halfer” by Tracy Doering

“Dorn’s Act” by Jason Sergi

dimension-cover-5-sample

Writing Tip: Using “Track Changes”

Using “Track Changes”

Like most publishers, Freedom Forge Press uses the “track changes” feature in Word to communicate edits to authors. If you don’t already know how to use this feature, it’s important that you learn. If you do it right, it makes editing easy. If you do it wrong, it creates more work for both author and publisher.

Tutorials

There are already a number of helpful tutorials about how to use “track changes.” A quick YouTube search brings up lists of videos, many of them focused on one element of the “track changes” feature. Here is a helpful, concise video: http://youtu.be/uANGRpCEucg.

Use the SAME FILE YOU RECEIVE FROM YOUR EDITOR

I can’t stress this enough. I hear about so many authors putting two files side-by-side and trying to replicate the editor’s edits on an old file. This is making a million times more work for yourself, and it will annoy the editor because there will be formatting issues you won’t truly be able to see—issues the editor has corrected that will go uncorrected, making duplicate work for a busy editor. So when you receive the edited file from your editor, save it to your computer (make sure you don’t save it over your original—just in case. I usually call mine “Document_round1.docx” (or round 2, or 5!). Then, open up the file your editor sent you. Work directly on that file. Do not go back to your original file.

The Review Tab

It all starts with the review tab. I’m using Word 2013, but the newer versions all have a similar appearance. When you click on the “review” tab at the top of the page, this is what you will see:

review-tab

If you have an older version of Word, most of the same features will be there, though it may look slightly different cosmetically.

When you receive feedback from the editor, there will be two things you’ll see. One is editing comments, usually in red or blue. The other are comments in the margin. Let’s take a look at a sample manuscript. This is what the author sends in to the editor:

sample1
The editor will typically do two types of edits: formatting and content. First, let’s talk content (because it looks less “scary” in Word). The editor will make suggestions to improve your content. Since it’s still your story, though, most editors want you to be at least aware of what changes they’ve made. Some editors do this as a courtesy. For others, they’re genuinely giving you a choice. To show the changes I’m making as an editor, I would click the “track changes” button under the “review” tab in Word:

track-changes
Here is what changes would look like after a fairly aggressive edit:

sample2

But usually, editors don’t only want to make changes; they want to explain those changes, too. To do this, they will use the “comment” feature under the review tab:

new-comment

The comment will then appear to the right on your screen:

sample3

So far, nothing too scary. We’ll look at how to work with both comments and edits in a moment. First, let’s see what it looks like when your editor changes formatting. In the example below, the editor has decided to use single spacing for the manuscript and change the font. Here is what you will see:

sample4

It looks really scary, but it’s just Word telling you every change that was made. There are ways to make it look less scary, though the more you work with it, the less intimidating it gets. In Word 2013, you can customize what you see. For instance, under the “tracking” menu (a sub-menu of the “review tab”), you can choose “simple markup,” “all markup,” “no markup,” or “original.”

markup-options

When you click the pull-down arrow, the menu will expand to look like this:

markup-options-2

You can play around with which option you prefer, but for authors, it’s usually best to use “all markup” so that you can see exactly what the editor has done. “Simple markup” simplifies the appearance of the manuscript, but it makes it more difficult to see what changes have been made. “Original” flips back to the original version of the manuscript in case you want to see what it looked like in the first place.

You can also customize the view by clicking the pull-down arrow that says “show markup.” This lets you customize what types of edits you see:

show-markup

When I’m working with a piece from the editor, I like to look at all types of edits made, but some authors find formatting edits distracting. Here’s what the edited manuscript would look like if we unchecked “formatting” above:

sample3

The formatting has still been changed, but it’s hidden from the author.

Now let’s look at how you can work with these changes once you receive them from your editor. First of all, if you really trust your editor, you can simply go to the accept button…

accept

And from the pull-down menu, select, “accept all changes.”

accept-all

Doing this creates a clean, edited manuscript with only the comments still showing. Most authors, however, want to see and approve every change made. If you simply click the “accept” button, it will accept the change and move on to the next one. This way, the author can see each change. If there is a change you don’t like, you can use the “reject” button to reject that particular change. If you want to explain to your editor why you want to reject a change, place your cursor at the change, and click “new comment.”

new-comment

This will allow you to explain why you want to reject the change.

Speaking of comments, even once you’ve gone through all the changes and accepted/rejected them, you’ll still see the comments. To delete a comment, right-click on that comment and select “delete,” or use the “delete” button under the “comments” sub-menu. The pull-down menu allows you to delete a particular comment, or all comments. To expedite my editing, I usually delete all the comments at once, after I’ve gone through each and every edit.

The more you play with “track changes,” the more you will understand it and see how useful it is. Don’t be afraid of it, and don’t be afraid to search for tutorials on the features you want to understand more completely.

We Have a Winner–Cover Chosen!

We started with five draft covers, and if we learned anything from the age-old struggle between Connor MacLeod and The Kurgan, we know that “there can be only one.”

And so there is! Despite a field of 5 candidates, the cover you chose secured nearly 60% of votes cast.

We would like to thank everyone who participated by voting and sharing the event with friends. We would especially like to thank those who took a few moments to offer some individual comments.

We’ll take the below draft cover, make a few changes based on the feedback we received, and use the resulting final cover for the book release.

A release date will be announced soon, so be sure to follow our blog or social media sites for upcoming news.

Thank you for participating!

dimension-cover-5-sample

Writing Tip: Controlling the Camera

Power of WordsI like the word “experience” rather than “show” or “tell” because when it comes down to it, writing is more of an art than a science. Sure, there are tools to learn (POV, description, pacing, etc.), but when it comes down to it, an engaging author will learn to use the right tools at the right time to create an engaging narrative. The bottom line is: you want to help your reader experience your story. This is why movies are so much more tempting to the general population than books—movies are immediate, and they allow us to experience the world through a viewpoint carefully chosen by the filmmaker.

As an editor, I have rejected works for various reasons. Some works go into way too much detail. It’s as if the author was told by an English teacher (and I worry—because I do teach English!) to be descriptive, and the author has tried to pack as much description as possible into the scene. While an interesting metaphor or two is nice, there has to be a purpose for such description. Readers have so much to do other than reading that they want to feel their time is being respected. Everything included in a novel or a story should have a purpose.

Too much description for description’s sake can sometimes feel like a waste of time to a reader. On the other hand, I have rejected works that don’t get me close enough to the character. Some works merely summarize what’s happening in an almost clinical manner. They do too much “telling” instead of “showing.” While writing is, to some extent, subjective, good writing is good writing. An engaging story will hook most readers. Engaging writing is the key to hooking editors and agents. I’ve read and loved stories in genres I thought I hated all because of how well they were written. I’ve started, hated, and abandoned stories written in genres I love because the stories didn’t hook me—I felt like the author wasn’t respecting my time, didn’t have control of the narrative, and wasn’t trying to help me experience the story.

When you write, think of yourself as a movie director. You control the camera. Where do you want to force your readers to look? If you make readers look at too much all at once, the story becomes confusing and un-engaging. If a director simply placed a camera far enough away so that we could see all the characters at once, we wouldn’t know what to look at. We’d squint at the screen for a bit, trying to make out all the little dots running around, and then we’d probably shrug and walk out of the theater, demanding a refund.

On the other hand, if you force the reader to look at too much detail, the story also becomes un-engaging. How many times have you skipped ahead when you saw that a story contained too many paragraphs of description? When a filmmaker zooms in on something, like a close-up of a character’s lips as they are talking, it’s interesting for a few seconds, but if the camera stays zoomed in for much longer, it becomes uncomfortable—then boring. There is no “rule” for how much detail to include in a story. In general, the more detail you include, the slower the pace. You’ve got to find the right balance to best communicate the purpose of each scene. Choose your camera angle, and decide how long to focus on each element. Now apply that to your writing. The page is blank. It’s up to you.

Help Us Choose a Cover for Our Upcoming Release!

We’ve been working hard on the next installment of our freedom-themed anthology, and we’re proud to announce that a cover reveal is within sight.

There’s only one problem. The freedom elves (who work voluntarily and not at all against their will) left the cover design machine on too long. And as a result, we’ve ended up with more than one cover.

This is the cover for Dimensions, our speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, and the like) anthology of freedom-themed works; we wanted to capture the fantastical nature of the stories and highlight the limitless possibilities offered by the genre.

Help us by choosing which one you like best and tell us what you think by taking the quick, two-question survey below:

Click Here to open the survey (opens external link to Survey Monkey)

Here are previews of the 5 covers:
dimensions-cover-1-sample Dimensions-cover-2-sample dimensions-cover-3-sample dimension-cover-4-sample dimension-cover-5-sample

 

The Power of Love: A Tribute to Freedom

By Val Muller

Aranka SiegalLast week, I had the honor of hearing Aranka Siegal speak. Ms. Siegal is an 84-year old Holocaust survivor, and despite the physical challenges of her age, she agreed to attend the 2014 Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference. She was the final speaker for the week and by far the most inspiring. Indeed, there are days we experience that we know will impact the rest of our lives. For me, June 27 was one of them.

While Ms. Siegal did describe some of the atrocities she experienced during her time at Auschwitz, it was not the extent to which humans can torture one another that resonated with me or that will stay with me for the rest of my days. Rather, it was Ms. Siegal’s spirit and outlook that gave me so much hope for humanity.

She began by describing the hesitancy of her family when she told them she had agreed to yet another public talk. According to her family, it was time for her to settle down and simply enjoy life. Indeed, both of my grandmothers passed away at around age 84, and I could not picture either of them, in their last years of life, traveling alone and standing in front of an auditorium, speaking for one hour before lunch and one hour after lunch. Her family was right to worry. But as soon as she heard that she would be speaking to “her favorite group of people,” teachers, librarians, and other educators—those who could spread her message to the “most important group of people,” the children—she knew she had to attend.

I’ll spare you the heart-wrenching details she recounted to us about what happened at the Death Camps (as she referred to them). I’ll only say that think everyone in that packed auditorium cried at some point—including Ms. Siegal. I cannot imagine dragging myself through such a painful experience time and again, bringing out memories and tears that would be more comfortably stored away. But Ms. Siegal felt it was important to share her personal history and her message. After she was rescued near-death (with a high fever, suffering from typhoid and weighing not even 60 pounds as a teenager), she almost immediately started jotting notes because she knew she had to share her story. It was her former neighbors and friends, the Hungarians, who put her and her family onto the cattle cars to Auschwitz, and after Liberation Day, she told herself that she would eventually make it known to them what happened after they put the Jews on those trains. She kept emphasizing her concern that many of the people that put her on that train must not have known the type of place she was going.

Ignorance leads to all kinds of dark places. So does hatred. She described all the horrible propaganda she saw growing up as a Jew in a place that has been part of several countries during her lifetime—Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Ukraine. This propaganda turned people against Jews in a visceral way. As she admitted, it wasn’t the first time propaganda was used to set one portion of the population against another, and it certainly wasn’t the last.
What struck me, though, is what she spoke about at the end of her speech. She told us that she does not harbor any hatred for people who had nothing to do with her imprisonment or torture—regardless of their background or ethnicity. She recounted friends and acquaintances she has of German heritage, and she bears them no ill will. At the end, she looked out at the crowd and said, “I love you all!”

After lunch, when there was time for question-and-answer, someone asked her how her heart could be filled with so much love after all that had happened to her. The questioner asked, specifically, how she could stop herself from feeling hatred for the descendants of those who had killed her family. She spoke genuinely to the crowd and told us that it was hatred that allowed the Holocaust to happen in the first place. She would be no better than those who had killed her family if she harbored hatred in her heart.

Instead, she emphasized the importance of sticking to the truth. She even hinted at the fact that people should not blindly follow a religion or a philosophy if the ideas behind it encourage prejudice and hatred. Indeed, when recounting her time at Auschwitz, she never embellished details, and she did not speak with hatred about those who helped to torture her. Instead, she simply let the facts speak for themselves.

Hatred is like a dangerous fire that can quickly grow out of control. As Ms. Siegal put it, “a flame can quickly grow into a crematorium” (her mother and younger siblings were taken to a crematorium when they first arrived at Auschwitz), and it’s important that we don’t let hatred get in the way of logic. It’s easy to become taken by propaganda and let hatred take over our hearts. I need only to think about election season on Facebook and all the hate-filled memes intended to pit one political party against another. These pictures are nothing more than propaganda created to fan the flames of hatred and force people to abandon logic in favor of reasonless passion. And with impassioned panic, people are willing to cede too many rights. Just look at the Japanese Internment Camps as one small example.

Ms. Siegal is right. To remain free, we must think logically and stick only to the truth. We should not fall prey to propaganda or political correctness—in other words, she told us we should never be afraid to speak out about something that seems wrong to us simply because our opinion might not be popular. Instead, we must always question and use our brains to see if decisions make sense. While propaganda is a dangerous flame that spreads quickly, truth wields its own flame, and though it does not ignite so easily, it can still be spread through persistence and honor.

Finally, to remain free, we must keep love in our hearts. There is never actually much that divides opposing parties—whether it be Democrat versus Republican or Hungarian versus Jew. If we use reason and do not allow propaganda to enrage our emotions, we’ll find that we’re all human beings with more or less the same desires, goals, and values. We’ll find that our differences are smaller than we once thought. And if we stick to the truth, we’ll find that we can work toward common goals without trampling on each other. But this is only possible if we do not allow those in power—or seeking power—to blind us with propaganda and rage, the enemies of reason.

So as we celebrate American Independence Day, let us be grateful that we live in—in the words of Aranka Siegal—the safest and freest country on Earth, but let us not become complacent or fall prey to propaganda created by those seeking more power and seeking that power only by driving a wedge between our minds and a wedge between our hearts.

Val Muller is an author and editor. You can learn more at www.ValMuller.com .

Writing Tip: Don’t Squander the Gift of Writing

Power of WordsWriters are lucky. As Ray Bradbury discovered, he has the power to live forever. In his works and in his life’s musings, he was fascinated with the idea of living forever—and as a modern classic author, he will. But he had another theme that emerged in all his works, and I find it fascinating: the realization that one is alive.

Too many of us take life for granted. Stop and smell the roses is a cliché of clichés, but it’s an important idea. How many of us slow down and realize, every day, that we’re alive? I was never raised on Country, but one of my favorite songs is “Live Like You Were Dying” because it captures this same idea. We are alive, and we have all these years (or days, or hours) to make something of ourselves. We shouldn’t squander any of it.

It’s the same with writing. We have this gift of writing—yes, you do, right there behind the monitor. If you didn’t have the gift of writing in you, you wouldn’t be reading this!—and it’s important that we don’t squander it. So many people want to see their work in print so badly that they’ll type something up quickly, edit it briefly, send it off to a dozen editors or agents, and then complain about how difficult it is to get published. I propose writing something that is amazing, that celebrates one facet of the amazing gem that is the human condition, something that leaves the reader with a long-lasting, thought-provoking idea that lingers on the brain, in the heart, and in the soul.

Take time to master the craft of writing, for with enough practice, you might just find that your writing has become immortal.

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