What is important is to get my facts straight. If I print false or incorrect information, I will find myself at loggerheads with both my publishers and my readers. Passing on inaccurate or false information creates a disservice. Unfortunately, history is replete with such falsehoods. Checking facts is time consuming. I had to take such precautions when I was making the motor trip around the world that I mentioned. I was told I could not drive through Burma. What this meant was upon my arrival in East Pakistan, which is Bangladesh today, I would have to ship the vehicles and equipment by freighter around Burma to Thailand. That’s what I was told. But what if the information I had was not factual? What if there was a road that was open across Burma? What a terrible mistake it would be if I by-passed Burma only to discover later the route was not closed or, worse, that someone else had successfully driven across the country? That wouldn’t do. I simply couldn’t take for granted the road through Burma was closed. I had to drive to the Burma/East Pakistan border to discover for myself whether it was closed or not. It was closed. It had been closed just after the war. The same was true when I arrived at the Thailand border. I had to drive through northern Thailand to the Burma/Thailand border at Chiang Rai to find if the road was blocked. It, too, was closed to international travel. It was troublesome, but I knew for certain the road across Burma was closed, and there was no denying it.
For the writer, misadventures can make good copy. Consider Joseph Conrad. He was in Singapore, an out-of-work seaman looking for work aboard a ship, when he heard the sad tale about the officers of a passenger ship who had abandoned the vessel when the thought the ship was sinking. The ship was carrying Muslim pilgrims to Mecca. But the ship didn’t sink. From this information, Conrad, when he gave up the sea and took up a pen, wrote Lord Jim, the novel that became a classic in English literature.
I can understand when I hear writers say they have a hard time getting started, but what really baffles me is when I hear people who want to write say-“I wish I could write.” To me, it’s like listening to someone say, “I wish I could swim,” or, “I wish I could play golf.” Stop wishing and learn how to swim or learn how to play golf. Stop wishing and do it. The same goes for writing. Just do it. There is no easy road; it doesn’t come naturally. There’s no such a thing as writing being a gift. A person is a gifted writer not because someone gave the talent to him but because he developed it himself. It’s a craft we have to learn, like bricklaying or doctoring.
When one becomes successful at anything, there’s a great temptation to think, “Hey, that wasn’t so difficult,” or “I wonder why more folks don’t do this,” or “All it takes is some hard work and dedication and anyone can do it” or any number of similar scenarios. Because we don’t really know bow our brains get to be “wired” like they are, we’re tempted to ascribe our accomplishments to our “smart” decisions and/or our tireless dedication, or whatever, rather than to what some might call the whims of Lady Luck.
Luck! I can’t believe it when a person says he is lucky, or isn’t lucky. When I told a friend about my encounter with Mr. Sullivan, the editor at Life, he remarked how lucky I was for had I departed a few seconds earlier or had I not memorized Mr. Sullivan’s address correctly, who knows what the subsequent scenario may have led to. That was not luck. It was circumstance. Had I not seen Mr. Sullivan, and had he not discouraged me, I would have looked for another avenue of action to follow. The incident with Mr. Sullivan gave me the tenacity to strive even harder to become the writer I wanted to be. I wasn’t about to give up. What comes to mind is the quote by Ernest K. Gann: “Even the most carefully contrived plan can be outraged by just a trivial event.” In the real world, only a few get to see their “carefully contrived plan” carried to fruition; many more get to see theirs “outraged,” and the vast majority never even get so far as a “carefully contrived plan.” To even get to the point of carefully contriving a plan, several talents are required and then several more are needed to put a plan into action. Really “successful” people are the ones who have, somehow, been able to call on the required talents and then have had the right circumstances smile on their efforts. Then, there are the untold numbers of ones who had the required talents to put together plans, many that would have been superior to those of the “successful” folks, but inexplicably their circumstances, not Lady Luck, changed. The only time luck comes into play is at the dice table.
Luck should not be confused with Cause and Effect. The Law of Cause and Effect says that everything happens for a reason. For every effect in our life, there is a cause, or series of specific, measurable, definable, identifiable causes.
This law says that if there is anything we want in life, an effect that we desire, we can find someone else that has achieved the same result or effect, and that by doing the same things that they have done over and over we can eventually enjoy the same results and rewards. This is why we look for mentor, or role models if you wish, that we can look up to. Good literature and great writers did this for me.
It took me a long time to discover that success is not an accident. It is not the case of good luck versus bad luck. There are a series of specific steps we take that bring us to where we are. We are where we are, and what we are because of ourselves. It has been our choices and our decisions over the span of time that has inevitably determined the condition of our life at this moment.
If we read the recorded writings of the earliest great thinkers of all time, the philosophers and the metaphysicians we find they have all emphasized the power of the human mind to shape individual destinies.
The key to my learning to write, and it was not luck, was for me to engage in more of the actions that were more likely to bring about the consequences that I desired. And that was to travel, to break away from the humdrum, the nine-to-five so to speak. I had to conscientiously avoid those actions that did not bring about the consequences that I desired. I looked for the positive and not the negative. I listened not to critics.
Writing, of course, is much easier when one’s heart is really in it. I love to write, and that is a step forward. But it’s only a step, one step. I hear it often from those who want to write-“It’s easy for you. You are a writer.” What they mean, or believe, is that once a writer becomes established, it’s no longer a struggle. That is not so. Most folks don’t realize the discipline it takes to sit down and write. You need space to write; it’s not only important, it’s vital. A painter can set up his easel on a busy street comer and paint. A writer needs to concentrate, and that usually requires being alone. You can imagine how hard it can be to write in places like Tahiti that I mentioned earlier. That requires real discipline. I don’t know how Nordoff and Hall managed to complete The Bounty Trilogy with all the temptations they faced.