They say if you want to make money in the writing business you find a niche and go to that place again and again.
In other words, if the crowd loved your trumpet solo don’t come back on stage with a guitar or xylophone.
Play that trumpet, baby!
I get that. And I don’t begrudge any writer who subscribes to that theory. To each his or her own.
But here’s to those who’ve gone the other way, who’ve followed their muses, wherever those muses have taken them, even if it’s seldom meant to the bank to deposit another hefty royalty check.
Here’s to those who’ve led with their hearts and not some can’t-lose formula.
Here’s to those who’ve written as if life were a Yahtzee game and part of the fun was seeing if you could score a few points in all 12 categories: perhaps writing a three-of-a kind spiritual trilogy, a full-house family memoir, and a small straight of mysteries.
Here’s to dabblers and chance-takers and you-never-know-unless-you-try writers whose platforms aren’t chiseled precisely in granite but whose success is built of great memories.
I can relate. I am a Yahtzee writer.
World War II biographies? Three. Sports and life books? Two. Children’s? On my second.
Nuggets of wisdom from my favorite movies? Check. Collections of newspaper columns? Check. Hiking the Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail? Check.
The price I’ve paid? I’ve never gotten deep traction as an expert in any particular genre. The dividends I’ve received? Being true to who I am as a person.
I’m not touting the likes of Yahtzee writers for any sense of self-grandiosity; follow-their-muse types often find themselves being regularly humbled, my most recent example being a book event at a fire station to which three people showed up — one by accident — and firetruck sirens kept going off while I spoke.
No, this isn’t about chest-beating success. This is about the significance of the writing journey itself.
Too many writers drink the formulaic Kool-Aid suggesting you must trust a system and not your heart. And, turning 60 this week, I’ve been more contemplative than usual about how I’ve spent my life as a writer and whether going my own way has left me a failure.
My conclusion? I wouldn’t have missed the ride for the world.
By following my muse, I’ve gotten to write about the stuff that I’m passionate about — and best-suited to write about. To know an array of fascinating — and generally obscure — people. And to experience a bunch of stuff I never would have otherwise.
Because of my book research and promotion, I’ve put on a barbecue for a town of 600 people, shot hoops in the Indiana gym depicting Hickory High in the movie “Hoosiers,” spent a weekend at the Wonderful Life Festival in Seneca Falls, N.Y. and found myself in Normandy, France, on 9-11.
Along the way, I’ve met a few famous people but, ironically, the two most well known “stars” I’ve spent time with were also the only two books subjects I’ve parted ways with — because they were so unwilling to help.
Finding success in book writing is about perspective and appreciating the small victories you experience by being yourself.
About the grist of the journey, not the fruits of whatever material success you experience.
And about being true to your bent as a God-created human being. I think of a line from an old Amy Grant song: “All I ever have to be is what You’ve made me.”
So, sure, if you’re made that way, play another trumpet solo. But if you’re not, don’t be afraid to play Yahtzee.