Friday, April 29, 2011

Dream the Improbable

And now, for a little variation from the norm, something wholly new and unusual for me: a completely serious post.

After my last post, Anita asked me where I find the time and energy to do all the things I do.  It's a valid question.  I know to most people my schedule looks, well, insane.

Probably because it is, but that's neither here nor there.

A valid question deserved a valid response, and so I got to seriously thinking about why I am the way I am, do things the way I do, etc.  There's not just one reason or explanation, I think, but I did draw some conclusions, and in a wholly typical fashion, I present my findings to you here, in another epically long winded Kalen post.  Actually, this is long even for me.

(Let's just consider that 'my brand.')

I get up around 5 am, hit the gym for an hour and squeeze in a couple hours of writing before work.  I average 1K an hour, 2K if its just dialogue.  I have a flexible job that lets me leave in the middle of the day for an hour or so when I have auditions to make, and I stay at the office from 5-7 to get a couple more hours of writing in while I wait for rush hour traffic to die down.  Then I go home or out with friends and relax for a few hours, and hopefully squeeze in another hour of writing before going to bed around midnight.

Days when I'm on set however, all of this goes completely out the window as an average work day on set for an actor are usually at LEAST twelve hours and can be up to sixteen hours.  I've worked nineteen hour days on a Pepsi commercial, and expect many more days like that in my future as well.  But there's a lot of down time on set and I usually have no trouble making my word count.

So yes, my average word count per day is anywhere from 5K to 8K, except on weekends when I can usually get to 10 or 12K.  And I average about five hours of sleep a night.

Only two things make this possible.  One, I love what I do.  I freaking live for it.  I will never EVER see creating worlds and characters and bringing other people's characters to life on camera as work.  I'm never too tired for it, resentful of having to do it, or anything other than just looking forward to doing it.  My kind of schedule just wouldn't be possible if I didn't honest to god live for what I do.

The other thing that makes it possible, is routine.  So many people underestimate what the human mind is capable of.  We grow up a certain way, we see life and work and people around us a certain way, and whatever we come to define as 'normal' becomes the bar by which we measure ourselves.  And exceeding normal, going beyond the ordinary or the routine, that takes a toll.  Because our minds, our bodies KNOW that its extra.  It's us asking more of them than we usually do, and they begrudge us for it and makes us pay.  The trick though, is in how you define normal.

For me, this kind of schedule, these kinds of self-expectations are completely normal.  Have been since I was a kid.  My siblings and I were raised as overachievers, as competitive, expected to view extraordinary (in the literal sense of the word, beyond the ordinary or normal) as our routine.  From the time I was eight until I was eighteen, I can remember getting up at five every morning so that all four of us kids had a chance to practice an hour of piano every morning (yup, we're all classically trained pianists too, my kid sister played with the San Diego Orchestra when she was sixteen, etc).  We all played Varsity sports, I did an hour of karate three days a week and had a black belt by the time I was fifteen - heavy, grueling activities that challenged our bodies as much as our minds.  Ridiculous, right?  Living off five hours of sleep a night for most of my life, filling my days with as much physical and mental activity as I do, by most logic I should have driven myself into the ground by now.

Except I get physicals, I go to the doctor, I'm very much in great shape, prime health, and expected to live a long and healthy life.  I'm not actually wearing myself to the bone or taking out credit that my body will be forced to pay for later on in life.  And its simply, honestly because to my body and mind, this is normal.  This is routine.  Forget what society dictates as standard, for as long as I can remember this has been my usual, and so I'm not asking anything of myself that I haven't been asking or expecting for most of my life.

The truly interesting thing to me is, I'm not some exceptionally unique genetic freak either.  In the age old nature vs nurture debate, I know and firmly believe that nature is a large factor in how we ultimately develop.  But in my personal experience, the role of 'nurture' can't be denied.  See, I have three siblings.  My older sister and I are our dad's biological children.  My younger siblings are adopted.  My younger sister is Vietnamese.  My younger brother is Mexican.  We literally share not a single speck of genetic family lineage.

And yet, all four of us are considered to be 'gifted pianists', to varying degrees.  We've all won awards, competitions, etc.  We all excelled at sports, making Varsity teams in our freshmen and sophomore years, though the specific sports varied.  All of us were honor roll students, and while I don't put too much stock in IQs, and what having a 'genius IQ' actually means, all four of us test well into the gifted/genius IQ range.  Not a single specific biological link between us (other than you know, being human), both of them adopted at birth and its not like our parents knew how to pick out the 'potential geniuses.'  I firmly believe that while some people may be genetically predisposed to certain abilities or potential, that all of us are born inherently capable of the same things.

I am the way I am because this is my normal.  Because I was never given any reason to believe I WASN'T capable of the things that I am.  While I've struggled with my own insecurities and personal demons over the years, I simultaneously took for granted routines and skills that would stymie a lot of people, with an end result of mind over matter.  Because I believed I was capable of certain things, because it was simply so ingrained in me that there was no question, no doubt - I was capable of those things.

Now as to the title of this post:

There's a quote I THINK from Sherlock Holmes.  I could be wrong though.  Roughly paraphrased, it says 'When you eliminate the impossible as an explanation, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be true.'

That always stuck with me, and over time I adapted it slightly.

'When you eliminate failure as an option, all that remains, no matter how improbable, is success.' 

As I mentioned, we all have our own struggles, hurdles, and neurotic quirks, insecurities and setbacks unique to us.  While I know I have a lot going for me, there's a reason I'm only actively seeking an agent and trying to break into publishing NOW, when I'm 27 instead of fresh out of college.  When I have several completed manuscripts under my belt rather than straight off my first one.  One of my particular problems that plagued me for YEARS was that I sucked at being decisive.  I always had too many things I wanted to write, and none of them ended up getting written.  Or at least not finished.  I'd waste so much time wondering if this was a better story than that one, or if I liked this plot better and so on and so on.

Doing nothing:  the greatest time waster of all. 

What does this have to do with my adaptation of the Holmes quote?  I finally solved my problem of not knowing what story to write, of deciding which idea was better, and actually started FINISHING things by making a very simple choice.

If I couldn't pick what to write, I'd simply have to write them all.

And so I just picked one.  And started writing it.  And it didn't matter which I picked, because I'd decided that even though the sheer volume of stuff I wanted to write was ludicrous, I was going to write them all anyways.  I told myself that was the only solution to my problem, and instead of wasting more time listing all the reasons that wouldn't work and wasting yet more time STILL trying to decide what to write, I'd simply write.

And a funny thing happened.  I started writing faster.  And more, I started writing SMARTER.  Where once I would rewrite a chapter ten times, now I was getting things right the first, second, third times.  Oh, I still have to revise, edit, do more than one draft.  Don't get me wrong.  But nowhere near what I had to in the past.  Because I decided I wasn't okay with any alternative.  So I'd just have to get better until I could get it all done.

Incidentally, that's why I'm an actor too.  I never could decide what I wanted to be when I grew up - I wanted to be too many things.  Pilot, fire fighter, lawyer, doctor - I couldn't be them all, but I couldn't not be them all.  So I'm an actor.  I can be a little of everything.

Then people said you can't be a writer AND an actor.  That's too much.  It'll never work.  But if I don't accept it not working, if I don't accept picking JUST actor or writer as a career, then there's no reason I CAN'T be both.  Failure's unacceptable to me, so I guess I'll just have to find a way to make both work.

See where I'm going with this?

One thing acting and writing have in common, is that they're the two most empowering fields I know of.  How does that work?  Getting on TV, getting published, it depends on so many variables outside of us, right?  Skill, talent, body of work, market trends, market conditions, economy, luck, casting directors, acquisition editors, etc, etc, ad nauseam.


If you look at successful actors and successful writers, if you look at their work and read their interviews and see how they got to where they are today, there's a million different variables.  No two got their start the same way, no two have the same level of talent.  There are actors of all shapes, sizes, colors and degrees of attractiveness.  There are writers of all genres, experience level, subject matter, and more.  Some writers and actors got their agents by networking, some were scouted, some got their work in front of the right person at the right time simply by luck.  Some only had to try for two months before landing their big break, some it took ten years.  Some only came by it posthumously.

There is only one thing all successful writers and actors have in common.  One common thread that binds them and separates them from failed actors and writers.


They didn't accept failure as an option.

That's it.  That's their big secret to success.  Mull that over for a second.  That's ALL you have to do to realize your dreams.  That's all you have to do to make it.

Just.  Never.  Stop.

Never stop trying, never stop growing, never stop learning, evolving, thinking outside the box.  Never stop dreaming.  When one door closes, find another one.  When one manuscript isn't good enough, learn to write a better one.  Hang a sign outside your door that says NO SOLICITORS, NO DISCOURAGEMENT.  Be blind to all the reasons you CAN'T do this.

If you struggle to find time to write, cut down on time wasting by ceasing to second guess yourself and whether you're good enough.  If you're not sure if the story you want to write is something agents would want to see or that publishers are willing to take a chance on, write it anyways.  Maybe it won't land you that agent.  Maybe it won't sell.  It'll still be a finished novel, you'll still learn from it, and you won't have to waste time wondering what it could have been.  You'll know.  You'll grow.  You'll move on to your next attempt.

Don't be afraid of failure.  Every failed attempt is just one step closer to success, one less thing standing between you and success as you cross it off your list as something tried, learned from and on to the next approach.

The only true failure is being less than what you're capable of.

Want to be a writer?  Hell, want to be an actor?

Just be stubborn.  Be fearless.  Be a risk taker, an opportunity maker, a problem solver and an eternal student.  Don't write something off as impossible just because its never been done before.  Don't be afraid to dream big, understanding that there's a world of difference between feeling you're OWED something and feeling you're CAPABLE of something.

I'm owed nothing.  I'm capable of everything.

Know this.  Believe this.  Smile politely when someone rips your MS to shreds as amateurish and incompetent and say 'Thank you, I KNOW my story is worth telling, so I guess this just means I have to work a little harder to tell it.'

Do everything except quit, and you're more than just a writer.

You're a muthaf*ckin rockstar.


  1. Speaking of losing all credibility (yes, I totally saw what you tweeted earlier, and I'll SO get you for that come Monday--HEH), you just shot my image of you as a #winning "warlock on speed" straight to the underworld of fire and gnashing teeth.

    And to make matters worse, you had to go impress the HECK out of me. So, thanks. Thanks for answering my question with such prolific alacarity and leading me once again to the same inescapable conclusion that:

    YOU are the rockstar, and a species separate and above those of us who require 7 to 8 hours of sleep to function above the level of zombie.

    All kidding aside ... great post. :) Very inspiring, and makes me want to get back to writing on my WIP. So a genuine thank you for that. :)

  2. Hah! I love that we both somehow just commented on each other's posts at the same damn time.

    And I apologize for any accidental impressing I might have done. It is not my intention and I am always bemused by it when it happens. I'll do my best to be more underwhelming in the future. ;)

    You wouldn't be the first to accuse me of being another species, hah, but yes, all kidding aside, thank you, and glad I could help kick your butt on that WIP. Whatever gets Anita-books in my grubby little hands quickest...

  3. There's so much I want to say here. First off, I have to completely agree with the first half of this. In high school, I swam as much as 30 hours a week every week all year, lifted weights 7 hrs/week, and either went for an extensive bike ride (~50 miles) or hike (~10 miles) each weekend. I held the state high school bench press record for girls, set Washington state swimming recors, was named to the All-American team, and won zone championships.

    I did this while maintaining an easy 3.8 in all honors classes, being editor of the yearbook, writing for the school newspaper, and finishing 2 manuscripts per grade. My senior year I even had a job.

    People would ask me how I did it, and my main answer was not wasting time. In my generation especially, people treat high school as something to get through, not something through which to thrive.

    Though I must say, I had to have 7 hours of sleep, which meant I slept 9:30-4:30. I blame the whole "still growing" thing :)

    I also completely agree that it doesn't matter if your MS is selling--write it. Learn from it. I wrote absolute crap a couple years ago, but over time, I've evolved into a writer who can do good 5K days for weeks at a tim.

    Maybe we're made of the same cloth, Kalen.

    *Also, it throws me off b/c your name is basically my MCs. (Kalyn)

  4. @Taryn - Well you definitely impress the hell out of me. After high school I did this whole 'delayed teenage rebellion thing' and screwed up my life for a couple years, took awhile to get on track, so the fact that you have it so together impresses me more than all your other stats combined. You'll 'make it' sooner rather than later, that's for sure. So hopefully that does mean we're cut from the same cloth, haha. And yeah, I noticed that about your MS. LOL, I'm used to a lot of variations of my name but no perfect matches.

  5. 'So yes, my average word count per day is anywhere from 5K to 8K, except on weekends when I can usually get to 10 or 12K.' What the what? Also 'yup, we're all classically trained pianists too'? I know you just told us how you manage to be ridiculously awesome (hard work and routine or some shizz) but dang if you don't make the rest of the world look bad by being so badass.

    This post made me feel equal parts 'OMG how can I ever compare to this guy and *so envious* he seems to have this life thing sorted' and 'well hell, maybe I should do more'. I'm going to count that as a win for you for being inspiring, or something less corny sounding.
    - Sophia.

  6. LOL noooo, no making anyone else look bad. So not the point, haha. But that's the thing. I think a lot of time I look egotistical because when I say certain things it looks like bragging though like I said, I take it for granted, like its normal, and my whole thing is always if I can do it you can do it too!

    Which in hindsight I realize totally IS egotistical because its like HEY BE MORE LIKE ME RAWR so great, but what do you expect IM AN ACTOR #excusesexcuses.

    So no, in conclusion, if you think oh hey I want to up my wordcount and write more books or Im sick of getting rejection notices for my query then just like, selectively choose parts of the post to be inspired by, and if not, then just be like hmm, somebody should prick this guy with a pin and let some of the hot air out!



  7. I'm a new follower brought to you by Anita Grace Howard!

    That said, I absolutely adore this post! I swear, it's like we share a brain! How awesome to see someone out here with the same awesome drive and determination (and nearly the same schedule) that I have! Your advice and wit was much needed tonight! Thanks for writing it!

  8. I kind of want a t-shirt that says HEY BE MORE LIKE ME RAWR now.
    - Sophia.

  9. Hey Carissa! Nice to meet you! Any friend of Anita's should be mistrusted and watched carefully - I mean is a friend of mine! And yay, kindred spirits! Obsessive overachievers unite!

    @Sophia - Yeah, who am I kidding? I'd totally wear that. Unironically.

  10. Damn! I think I'm going to have to follow you to the grocery store, down the street, and maybe to the moon, now--you are just that cool. Happy to meet you through the illustrious Ms. Howard. However, can you slice and dice a rutabaga in mid-air while performing all your other feats? Hey? What do you have to say about that?

  11. Even while whistling dixie! I defy you to prove I can't!

    And yes, Ms. Howard is quite the Pied Piper of Awesome People, isn't she? She knows all the cool kids it seems.

  12. You need to get those shirts Sophia suggested. I need one, too.

    But yeah, great post, great explanation, and--okay, not gonna lie, I get so fucking annoyed at people when they're all "Waaaa I can't doooo it." Whatever man. I'm not fucking special and I'm SURE I can. So... uh, yeah.

    Rehab is for quitters.


  13. Great post Kalen! Phew, you are one busy guy (LOL). And here I thought I was busy. My life revolves around work (for the court system) by day. I leave early in the morning because I have a long commute. I use my lunch hours as my writing time because after work I have to get kids to and from sports practices/music rehearsals/games etc.

    My kids are the ones that are into a lot of activities: soccer, football, track, basketball, orchestra, band, choir, news crew etc. Plus they're honor roll students. So I try and squeeze my writing time into lunch hours, work holidays, evenings when the kids go to bed. Plus of course, I belong to a crit group so there's always critiques to handle as well.

    But you're right, if we want something bad enough we'll make it happen. Sometimes it means less sleep, but hey, it's worth it.