As you may know if you read my blog, I went to acting school. I know, how decadent, right? One thing that puzzled me in my time as an acting student was the regularity with which Whitney got acting gigs. I was surrounded by eager and ambitious women who fought tooth and nail for the approximately three good female parts that came available each year (by “good part,” I mean in a respectable production, with costumes and a paying audience, and consisting of more than twenty lines of dialogue). Despite the overwhelming plentitude of women, Whitney always had parts. She flitted between community theatre productions, semi-professional gigs, and school projects like a saturated butterfly of small-time fame.
What Made Whitney Successful?
I knew several talented actors, both male and female, who could not get a part to save their life. Nobody in casting would touch them with a ten-foot pole. Meanwhile, here was Whitney, adding respectable roles to her resume every two months.
This Is Only Notable Because Of The Fifty Women Who Weren’t Getting Parts
The moment that this became intensely interesting to me was when I ended up in a class with Whitney, and I was able to observe, firsthand, her regular process. (Before you get all worried about me being cynical, please remember that I am speaking of her habitual patterns and not her native talent or potential.)
Whitney, It Turned Out, Wasn’t The Best Actor
Whitney was a shit actor. I remember watching her perform an audition song for the class (we had to work our material regularly in front of each other–because, you know, it was acting school). It was some seductive, happy-go-lucky party type song, where the character was meant to be exceedingly worldly and experienced. Right-o?
The Audition Song
Whitney performed the piece after the manner of a vestal nun wearing fifteen yards of stifling linen. The teacher of the class kept blinking hard, and hesitating, as if unsure of how to address this gap between sensibility and material.
So Where’s The Secret? Nepotism? Politics?
Why did Whitney keep getting all these juicy roles? And, lest you think I am basing my evaluation of her working habits purely on this un-sexy song, I shall add a short litany of her other offenses to actor-kind: Whitney was routinely late, poorly dressed, badly prepared, and got most of her material from those books you can find in the library called, “The Best Women’s Monologues Ever!” (which, if you aren’t from the acting world, are so over-performed by virtue of being easily accessible that they are generally anathema to decent folk in theatre). She was not sensitive to her partners in scenes, was not particularly good at memorizing her lines, and did not respond readily to direction.
What Does This Have To Do With Writing, Victor Poole?
So what is the #1 Most Important Thing in writing? The answer lies in the mystery of Whitney’s success. She was a terrible actor. She had mediocre habits, and lackluster sensibility. I studied Whitney, and the other actors like her, for several years. Why, I asked myself, did these people keep “winning” in theatre? At first, it didn’t seem to make sense to me.
The Turning Point For Me
It was not until I started to direct theatre that my mind expanded, and I learned the value of an actor like Whitney. It was as a small-time producer that I solved the mystery of the mediocre actor who succeeds.
What does this have to do with writing?
There are writers who work rather like Whitney did. They write stories, and they either sell them directly to readers or to publishers. They have impressive publication credits, and some manner of fan base. They may or may not make a living at their work, but they are irrefutably writers, because people read the things that they write. They may not have stellar work habits, and their writing may be lacking in sensibility, or in erudition. Sometimes their editing is subpar, or their plots are predictable.
Those Scoundrelly Success Stories!
To people on the outside, writers like Whitney are maddening, like a gadfly that is permanently and obnoxiously attached to your brain, stinging you. “Why are they published already?” not-yet-successful-writers may wail in despair.
I could tell you what Whitney was doing in a word or two, but you would not understand. I will tell a short story instead.
The Allegory Of Flynn And John:
Once upon a time, there were two space cadets at the Academy of Super-Pilots of the Future. John was two years older than Flynn, and he (John) was determined to make a splash as the greatest space pilot of all time. He (John) wanted to have a wall full of awards and trophies; he wanted to be mentioned constantly in the news-bulletins of the Allied Galaxies. John had hardcore ambition, and he worked constantly at his lessons. You could see John, of a Sunday afternoon, hammering himself into exhaustion in the simulation cruisers, while his acquaintance, Flynn, was relaxing in the local booze-gardens.
Flynn had tumbled into the Academy almost by accident. He was not overly ambitious, and had no illusions about the mundanity of the work required of a space pilot. He read holo-comics more than his textbooks, and generally scraped through exams with just-above-passing marks. He only used the simulations when he was required to, and his free time was spent either drinking, sleeping, or staring lazily out the windows of the Academy’s deck and imagining great adventures in the farthest reaches of space.
John graduated with the highest honors, and was placed into an advanced pool of candidates for interviews with the Galactic Merchants alliance. John was sure he would be hired right away, and drive the biggest, most expensive cruisers in existence.
Flynn graduated at the bottom of his class, and started to read the Star Gazette circular while he worked part time in his uncle’s scrap shop, driving beaters in and out of the lot. Flynn applied to the jobs that had the pay he was looking for (just enough, and no more), and he soon got a contract to pilot freight cruisers between the moons of Cycadia.
John got three job offers from industrial corporations who wanted him to serve as a janitorial assistant in the piloting chambers. John was deeply offended; he had not gone through years of schooling to scrub air filters and wipe grunge from the buttons he should be controlling! John went home to stay with his parents while he waited for something better to turn up. His mother pointed out that the industrial companies paid well above living wages, and John, tipping his nose in well-trained disdain, applied for teaching jobs in the local flight school.
Meanwhile, Flynn fulfilled his contract for two years, and was asked by his supervisor to return as assistant pilot to one of the experimental ships the corporation was going to use to mine asteroids. Flynn agreed, and received a small pay raise. He joined the crew of the new ship, and set out for the farthest rim of the known universe.
John got a job as an assistant instructor in the community flight school, and told repetitive stories about his exploits as a hotshot pilot in the Academy. After a year and a half, he was recruited by a new company who wanted a qualified pilot on the team to make their loan application for a ship look more legitimate. John agreed, and spent another six months waiting for the details to be worked out.
Meanwhile, Flynn advanced from contract to contract, and became, after fifteen years of continuous work, the head of a prestigious firm in the Galactic Merchants alliance. He still spent his free time drinking and sleeping, and his shelf was dominated by glossy holo-comics (the expensive kind now).
John bounced from short-term gig to sketchy partnership, all the while turning down occasional bids for his piloting services from the lackluster construction and janitorial sectors. After many years, he applied for a position at the Academy of Super-Pilots of the Future, which had become a has-been school. John was once more among the scenes of his early exploits; he told himself that he had finally arrived. Instead of awards and news-bulletins, John adorned his walls with graduation certificates and photos of his students performing flight simulations.
I See Where You’re Going With This, Victor Poole!
Whitney, and actors like her, had a fundamental understanding of the drudgery, and the actual work of acting, that most actors around me missed. They understood their relationship to the directors and the audiences they performed for, and consequently, once they started working, they never stopped. Acting was, to them, a job, much as cleaning floors or frying noodles is a job for which one can be paid.
Those Poor, Sentimental Actors Who Failed
To the other actors, the ones who could not get roles, acting was a magical fairyland of praise, play, validation, and adventure. They did not understand the work of acting; they could not tell you what the exchange was that occurred between an actor and his audience.
What Kind Of Writer Are You Today?
If you do not understand the job you are required to do in an industry, it is unlikely that you will be hired, or that you will be able to find continual work. Many writers have a fundamental misunderstanding of the exchange occurring between the reader and themselves. They look at writing, and they see a magical fairyland of adventure, ego-stroking, and play. They do not think of writing as work, and they see this attitude within themselves as a mark of superiority. Writers who do not understand the fundamental work of writing have a very difficult time establishing a sustained audience of readers.
Are you, as you are today, a writer who is more like Flynn, or are you more like John?
You’re reading Victor Poole. My fantasy series is designed to make you really, really angry, and simultaneously enhance your ability to create. Copernicus is a man of golden light; he walks over a blue moon with the hero of this book.