What you do at the moment of decision is the only thing that matters in life. I’ll talk about what that means to creative decisions. I’m good at those. I’m not always so good at seizing the moment in other parts of my life. Making the right creative decisions in the moment is what separates a professional author from an amateur.
This morning I published my book on Amazon.com. You can snag a copy of the Scorpion Game here if you want. Smashwords is pending inclusion in the premium catalogue. This is my moment, the one where I am officially an author because I have something to sell. A massive swirl of emotions swept through me when I hit that button. The book is live. Yet, this moment was built from a series of other moments. One of them almost derailed the whole process.
There is nothing worse than making all of the right decisions and then making the wrong ones at the end, at the crucial moment. I saw this in sports the other day, when LeBron James made two simple mental mistakes and lost game two of the Eastern Conference Finals. As great as LeBron is, he already knows he cost them the game, after scoring and defending perfectly all game. As a true artist, he already knows it. Make no mistake the man is an artist. In the last few seconds, he had two turnovers when he needed to score or pass to the open man. Those two mental mistakes cost them they game. LeBron knows he fucked up, but he isn’t dwelling on it. As a true artist, he is focused on now, focused on today, I guarantee you that. He’s fixing it. A great artist knows how to not make the same mistakes twice. He will have a different mental attitude tonight. They might not win, but if it comes to him when it counts, he will deliver.
The decision that almost derailed my book at the last second, was the cover. The last few days I completely redid it and threw out a cover I’d been working on for months. It was the right thing to do. I hit the open shot. I almost dropped the ball though. How? Well, I’ve done an incredible amount of the work on the book. I cut out whole subplots, rewrote almost every chapter, moved things around; all of it for the good of the book. I commissioned an artist to paint my cover and he delivered a beautiful painting. I went to work in Photoshop to add the text. I know the program well, so I’m not afraid to get in there and get dirty. But, a month later I was still noodling with my cover, secretly unhappy. Finally, I showed it to my wife. She’s a real designer, the kind of person who feels physical pain when things are a millimeter off. In half a day, she knew what was wrong. The image was distracting from the text, the text had no place to sit easily based on the composition, the colors were wrong. Etc. In short, the painting that I’d paid not an unsubstantial amount of money for was worthless to me. I could either go with the sub-par cover that I had, after putting in all that work, or redesign it from the ground up.
I did the right thing at the crucial moment. I started over. I threw out the image. It will only be for promotion now and posters, but it ain’t the cover. Luckily, I didn’t need to commission another artist and spend weeks on it. A part of me already knew that at the unconscious level. I had created an alternative design weeks before in a drunken haze. I showed it to my developmental editor Rich Mcdowell and he said, “I’d buy that book,” but he didn’t like the one I’d been working on for so long. My alternative wasn’t perfect, but it had the right elements to make it work, unlike the others one. My wife went to work on it; making the design subtler, adding designer flourishes. It was a war for a day between us, but we got it done. And it looks great. It looks great in all kinds of sizes, which is important for the modern consumer. If it doesn’t look good at the thumbnail level, then it doesn’t look good at all.
My friend laughed at me when I told him the story. “After all that you went through on the damn cover, you threw it out.” Yup. I’ve thrown out much bigger things. As an artist you have to be ruthless. For that you need incredible self-awareness. You need to make the right decision at the crucial moment, not the easy one. The easy one is always wrong. Always. That’s your litmus test.
You can see the two covers below. It will probably be obvious which one I chose, but I’ll let you, the people, decide. Maybe I’m wrong. If I am, I’ll change it. And I will never look back and feel anything for the stuff left on the cutting room floor.
Now, what will you do at the moment of truth in your own life?