What Clive Cussler taught me about writing.

At a neighborhood restaurant in St. Paul, I spotted a bright orange watch at the bar. The guy wearing the watch offered to move down the bar so my party would have enough room to sit. Being a watch enthusiast, I took a the chance to peek at the watch. “Orange monster?” I asked. He looked confused. “Oh, no. It’s a Doxa. My favorite fictional character wore one.” Dirk Pitt was a character invented by Clive Cussler. Both were explorers and adventurers. The books often included historical events, mystery, intrigue, and adventure. A more rough and tumble James Bond, well before this more recent Daniel Craig incarnation. Clive Cussler has interviews online, really interesting reads, and a couple of videos biographies. I’ve picked out a few key insights below, that I gleaned from reading about this interesting adventure author.

1. He researches intensively, both about the time period, mechanics of machines, and even words used at the time.

Cussler’s books often took place with historical events or periods in history. He said that he research was the longest part. I never understood the research portion, or rather, didn’t appreciate that it could bring more pleasure to the reader. Research, I take it, can add the pleasure of gaining knowledge, which is a nice addition to an engaging plot, and charismatic characters. He often brings up in interviews that one of his books was taken in place of a PhD thesis.

2. He collaborated with other authors.
This collaboration is something that I have seen again and again in business, but never, or very rarely in writing. By partnering with colleagues and working with them on novels, well they could produce much more content. That’s a business persons thinking. Sure, he was giving up some content, but it was about managing and getting the story through, instead of just writing for normal content. When the iron is hot, well then, keep it going. That’s what Judd Apatow, Seth Rogan, and his writing partner, Evan Goldberg, did. http://www.wtfpod.com/podcast/episodes/episode_396_-_seth_rogen_and_evan_goldberg

When they finally got a a script through, they said, okay, people were asking, “Well what else? Do you have anything else.” Seth and Evan shoved four movies down the pipeline in a two years. When the door is open, go for it. So they were constantly producing material, but then finally, they were able to distribute it. I think either way, both Cussler/partners and Rogan/Goldberg capitalized on initial success by giving the public more and quality. I should let Clive Cussler know that is a really good lesson for me to learn.

3. Hustle.
He got himself an agent through his own contacts. He called an agent and said that he normally dealt with movie and TV scripts, but found some novels that seemed good, and well, now he found some and was sending them over. He didn’t exactly say they were his own. Hustle though is not being disingenuous. He put in the work to produce great content.  https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gdckWZpjjIM

4. Collecting is a habit that belies certain traits.
He says that one thing writing and collecting have run common is perseverance. Writing you have to persevere to the end of the story; collecting you may take a long time to find something. For his example, it could take each lot of time to restore a car. There are certain character traits that come out amongst successful people. I do not know what this information means, yet, but collecting to me is a weird trait. I wonder what other traits move with the desire to collect.

5. He wrote to entertain himself.
Necessity. Given the statement above, other authors have communicated this sentiment [the clymb] this author talking about how he has seen people not continue the work.

6. What he may not have seen.
In his day, the game of getting published was different. The gatekeepers were the companies. And you needed an agent to advocate for you to the companies. Companies were pretty much the only game in town for distribution, accepting payment, marketing. Everything. The agent spent three years before he was able to get Clive Cussler published. Today, there are still those companies, but the real metric is if you can get eyes on something. Give away the best stuff because the people are the metric. If you can get eyes on something. The guy that wrote that ‘hope they serve beer in Hell’ book, he put his stuff online. He couldn’t get published, but in any case, what launched his career was getting eyes on it online.  The guy that wrote the Martian, well he put his stuff on line. As a blog. One chapter at a time. He did have an audience from a web comic he had written, but still. He built it. One thing that I like to examine, is the cemetery …that is the people that did the same things, but did not get the fantastic results. I mean just like there are SOME photographers who put photos on flickr, and are contacted about huge contracts, there are thousands of photographers that don’t. For the people that put stuff out and nothing happens with it…I realize that it isn’t just luck.There is hustle involved with that too.

Like Chase Jarvis talks about, there is the other half. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdTuTlWpY0I

Like Gary Vaynerchuck talks about there is the two hours producing the movie and 16 hours promoting the content.

When I was in college, I would visit every writer I could that came to campus. Whether I knew her or him. One of the writers was talking about how she found out that her books were really popular in prisons. They were inspiring to inmates. That prompted me to ask the question, “As a writer, how do you find your audience? Hhow do you start thinking about your audience? Do you take your audience into account when writing?” She said she didn’t think about the audience. And that answer was unsatisfying to me. It displeased me. It left me feeling like this person who I thought had all the answers, couldn’t help me. Now I realize that part of art is creation. And artists, traditionally, are so focused on creation, what goes into inspiration, and the act of creating, that they do it for themselves. And that is beautiful. And that is likely a very self-satisfying endeavor. If somewhat narrow-minded, self-centered, and admittedly, what might be necessary for production of art.

7. But the game has changed.

With distribution and production and marketing available to the artist, combined with the fact that lots of old media and traditional power structures are not nimble or in place to work the new game, well there is a crack in the wall. Eventually, authors will figure it out and come pouring through. Some already are. So I am getting started, albeit behind the first innovators, but early enough that I can reap rewards. Carve my niche. Dig my supply trough. And do it doing something that is engaging, and fun, and in the doing, renews.

For me, the intrigue of wrist watches is something about what makes a person choose a certain watch. You learn interesting facts, and you get a sense of the person. I hope that guy gets a good adventure or two in with that watch by his side.