True Wealth

I watched a video recently in which a very famous writer was spitting mad that someone would ask him to do something for free. His argument made perfect sense: the people asking him to do this thing for free were getting paid, why shouldn’t he be paid? He detested the idea of giving anything away, and amateurs, he went on, who did do things for free were only ruining it for professionals like him.

Contrast this with James Bach, a lecturer and software tester whose business model is to do things for free all the time. Eventually, he explained to me, people offer to pay him for his services, and when they do, they pay him well. I like this approach more than the famous writer’s, as Bach’s key principle is the power of generosity. Both men, it seems to me, will make plenty of money, but only one of them is likely to enjoy it.

Desiring wealth is perfectly natural—healthy even. Everyone on earth deserves to be wealthy. However, I do not think you will ever experience wealth unless you live generously. That is, no matter how much money you have in the bank, if you do not perceive life’s inherent abundance, you will only become more and more conscious of how you might lose whatever it is you have. No amount of money can insulate you against the belief that there isn’t enough to go around.

Generosity does not mean donating to every charity that crosses your prow. What the act of donating to charities can do for some people is to remind the giver that there is enough in the world for everyone, and that more is always coming. That is the source of true wealth. And generosity extends far beyond the checkbook. Listening, for instance, is free and remains one of the most generous acts possible.

Somaly Mam, whose charity rescues girls who have been sold into Cambodian brothels, told me that while she constantly needs money, she would prefer never to be given anything out of guilt. Love, she said, is more valuable. When you give out of obligation, whether your time or money, the guilt you feel is not that you are lucky to have more than those to whom you are giving, but despair that you have succumbed to a meager of view of life, a place where the best you can hope for is to grab as much as you can, and then see what’s left to toss down to the slow or unlucky.

More Author Articles

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Judge Not

Because of my work on this magazine, I read a lot of books I might not have picked up otherwise. Sometimes this is a good thing, as when I discover a writer I love which to me is always a bit like making a new friend – but sometimes the reading can be tough sledding. I am not one of those readers who can read just anything and be content, and if a book does not fall within my pretty narrow taste, I have been known to get grumpy.

I have to admit that I used to blame my grumpiness on the writers. If they had bothered to write something that amused me things might have gone smoothly. But I began noticing a pattern that led me to wonder if the writers weren’t the problem at all.

I believed at first that If a book didn’t interest me, then there had a to be an empirical reason this was so. And I, as a writer and an Informed Reader, could sniff it out. The problem was the dialogue, or the problem was the pacing, or the characters. Or something.  It didn’t matter, because whatever problem I had, the result was always the same: The next time I sat down to write, when I reread the previous day’s work, whatever flaws I perceived with that other writer, I now perceived in my own writing.

It happened without fail, and reminded me of that old biblical maxim about judging. There is nothing crueler than perceiving yourself as the object of your own derision. And of course the first time it happens you chalk it up to coincidence, and the second time you tell yourself to get a grip, but by the third go around you understand it’s time to reevaluate.

My tastes are my tastes and I have no particular interest in changing them, and I will always have my ideas about what does and does not constitute effective writing, but none of that is the point. Robert Henri said that all art is the trace of a magnificent struggle, and it is, for all life is a magnificent struggle. When you judge another writer’s misstep you are judging life itself, which means you are actually judging yourself. When I find the generosity to let another writer write however they must write, I return to my desk more generous toward myself, which is good, because generosity is the only stance possible if I wish to give anything back to the world.

More Author Articles

Blake Snyder

Blake Snyder died yesterday morning. I knew him only by way of our interview, but in that short time I felt privileged to have talked to a man so warm and so excited about writing screenplays. I was surprised to learn he was 58. Perhaps his face had come to show some of those years, but his voice was all youth and all joy for the process of writing and teaching,

I learned about Blake because of the address he gave at the 2008 Pacific Northwest Writers Conference. Though he had sold twelve screenplays in Hollywood bidding wars, Blake remained passionate about teaching and sharing all that he had learned in over twenty years in the business. This is a good example for all writers to remember. It is easy to get caught up in building your career and making as many contacts as possible and hustling here and bustling there, but perhaps the best networking tool of all is generosity. Give freely whenever you can, and it will come back twofold.

Usually, after I sign off from an interview, I keep the author on the line for a few more minutes for an extended, informal chat. This is a preference of mine, simply because I like to talk to writers, and not usually what the authors are expecting. In Blake’s case, however, after I clicked the record button off, Blake said, “Great! Let’s keep talking.” I wish we could still.

More Author Articles

Get What You Give

A short one today. It is summer and family will be arriving soon. Well, my mother to be precise. When I was too young to write, I narrated my stories to her and she typed them for me. I can still remember standing behind her reciting as quickly as her secretary’s fingers could fly. And once, when I was fifteen and I told her a teacher had suggested, “Bill, maybe you should make up the stories and let other people write them,” my mother replied immediately with pitch-perfect horror, “Oh, my God!”

God bless the power of the parent when used for good. There is no greater service, perhaps, no greater gift, than simple attention. It reminds the other they exist and they are heard and that they matter. It can be tricky as a writer sometimes, since you work in private and the agents and editors and readers are at such a distance. The remedy? Give attention to others – your children, you lover, your friends, and yes, even perfect strangers.

I went to Los Angeles to visit a friend recently. The place gives me the heebeegeebees. I tried my hand at screenwriting once upon a time, but it wasn’t a good fit, nor was Hollywood. The town seemed desperate and hungry with everyone scrounging for the last morsel of pie. Whenever I get around that energy, I start feeling desperate and hungry too. So I said to myself, “Be generous.” The more generous you are, the more you remind yourself that there will always be enough. So I was, and it was a great visit.

Always give what you want to get.

Now it’s time to clean my bathroom.

More Author Articles