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Finding Your Heroes

It’s been a while since I wrote something here, so I’m a bit rusty. But this is something I need to say, and hopefully something you need to listen to:

Find your heroes.

Simple as that. Call them mentors or teachers, parents or guides, I don’t care. To me they are heroes, people I look up to, people I want to emulate.

For a long time I had no idea how to do it. Isaac Asimov‘s dead. So’s Jack Vance. Ursula Le’Guin died a month ago. Louis McMaster-Bujold, Dean Wesley Smith, Howard Tayler, pretty much everyone I admire, lives on the other side of the world. And even when I knew Tayler was going to be in Finland, for the World Fantasy Convention last August, I put that aside. Didn’t have the time. Didn’t have the strength to chance it. Promised myself that I’d go meet them some other WorldCon. When I’d made enough money from my writing.


Dreams are like finances. You don’t reap the rewards now, and then pay your dues later. That’s borrowing, and you can do it to your life as well. You dream, and you dream, and before you now it, all those good feelings you get daydreaming have eaten up your time and you’re old.

No. That’s not the way to do it.

You need to pay your dues. I needed to pay my dues. Not just with time, but with cold, hard cash.

That’s scary. That’s saying that “hey, bub, this isn’t an empty promise any longer, you’re actually doing something about it.” It’s putting yourself at risk. It’s upsetting the status quo, and that opens you up for a number of bad things.

You might fail. Your family or spouse or loved ones might think that you’re forsaking them. Your boss might think that you’re not putting in enough hours at work.

All of that is true. You might. But that’s when you need your heroes.

We’re living in a time when it’s incredibly easy to gain access to top-grade mentors. A lot of them do interviews. Or YouTube channels. Or online courses. All you need is a subscription, or a course fee, or a…

You need to pay your dues. You need to put in the cold, hard cash in order to learn your craft so that you might follow your dreams. And what better way to do that than to learn from your heroes?

That’s what I did. I’ve been thinking about how to practice my writing, not just write haphazardly, but practice, find ways to get better quickly. And I’d been drawing blanks. I read a lot of advice from various writers, some of it sensible, some plainly crazy, none of which I followed more than, maybe, once.

That didn’t help. In fact, it made things worse. I wasted time reading about practicing, time I could have devoted to practice, had I known how to do it.

So I turned to a personal hero of mine: Dean Wesley Smith.

I’d come across Dean’s work in a Storybundle two years back, one of the NaNoWriMo bundles they had going, and I loved what Dean was saying. Then I read his Writing Into The Dark book at his blog. And then I bought it, so I could re-read and mark it up.

Because Dean was writing the same way I write – pantsing his stories, finding the plot as he wrote, writing to entertain himself. He was writing for fun, and putting out several dozen novels a years. Saleable novels (Dean’s got over a hundred traditionally published novels, more short stories, and coming up on that amount as an indie published writer as well.)

Dean Wesley Smith was what I wanted to be.

Then I came across his lectures. Yes, the man whom I named my personal hero had lectures available. Lectures on how to practice your writing. So I immediately…

… did nothing.

That’s right. I didn’t rush out to buy those lectures, for the measly sum of $50. No, that would have been too easy.

Instead I simmered. I wavered. I knew I wanted to do it, but $50? On my writing? For a bunch of lectures?

Money flows toward the writer, right? Doesn’t that mean that everything should be free?

The change came when I bought thai for the family. I spent $50 on dinner (yeah, Sweden is expensive.)

I had the money. I have a good job, so does my wife. We don’t suffer financially. It’s not like I desperately need those $50 to survive. I could afford to buy those lectures. And yet I didn’t. Why?


I was afraid of what I’d find. What if Dean wasn’t the Wise Old Guy of Storyworld? What if he was just another writer? Or what if he was WOG, but I didn’t understand what he was teaching?

What if I failed?

Nothing, that’s what. I’d be out $50. No big deal. I pay twenty times that for rent each month (Sweden, expensive.)

Maybe I’d get my illusions shattered and Dean Wesley Smith would crawl out of the computer monitor and laugh at me.

That was actually a nightmare of mine, right before I started coughing and spitting out all my molars.

Screw that.

Pay your dues. Find your heroes, and emulate them.

I paid the $50. I watched the lectures. Dean didn’t laugh at me.

Was it the glorious Hallelujah moment I expected? No. Was it horrible? No. It was actually pretty good, with some solid tips, a good deal of motivation, and it got me practicing, and thinking about practicing.

But most importantly, it broke through a dam of resistance. I’ve listened to all the practice lectures. And now I’m thinking about attending one of Dean’s and Kris Rush’s online workshops.

Because that is paying your dues. You put your money, and your time, where your dreams are. Dreams without effort, that’s just bitter-juice waiting to be pressed. Dreams with effort, that’s fireworks.

Find your heroes, folks, and then pay your dues. You know you can. So do it.

You won’t regret it.

Dreams of Futures Past Book Cover


  • Having some skin in the game helps. Cortez burned the ships so his men couldn’t revolt and try to get back to Spain. The only way left was forward.
    Michael W. Cho

  • Theresa

    Your advice resonated with me, so much so, I just subscribed to your blog. I have felt all you felt and taken a very similar route – resisted, feared, chose to not pay my dues. I sucked it up a couple months ago and signed up to attend my first writers’ conference in San Francisco (only an hour’s drive from home, so I had no excuse not too, except the almost $500 fee – it’s expensive here, too). It’s terrifying to consider what will happen … but exciting, as well. Thank you for affirming all I’m feeling. I remain hopeful! Happy writing and I look forward to hearing more of your inspiring thoughts.

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