The Wisdom of Ignorance
The Hayes clan is probably not the most well-respected of legacies, all things considered. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, but… well, you know how Jesus said to go out amongst the sinners and preach? Let’s just say that if there was a Hayes in ancient times, they definitely got a seat at the sermon. Not for murder or anything that extreme. Old Timey Hayes probably just got drunk and led a charge of cattle through the middle of town. More dumb than malicious, that tends to be our go-to move.
Now I’m sure you’re wondering, neat anecdote but how the living shit does that relate to the title? Simple: if I’m going to talk about the importance of ignorance, touching on my family is a good starting point. I come from a weird combination of cultures smashed together. On one side are a bunch of people in the medical field (MDs, NPs, PAs, etc) and executives, whereas the other side tends to be less ambitious and educated. It sounds like I’m taking a shit on half my roots, I know, but keep in mind we’ve only talked about careers and college so far, not kindness, fulfillment, overall life satisfaction, or general happiness. I only brought up education because seeing such different life outlooks growing up gave me an interesting perspective.
The people who were more traditionally educated have a lot of faith in systems. Apply here, start interning there, find the right ropes and climb them. Rise up through the ranks to eventually claim a place of prominence. From my stories about cubical living, some of you might recognize this as the early part of my career, before the writing took off. I too went the route of college, entry-level, climb the ladder, except I sucked at it. Monotony and routine murder my interest; as soon as I learned how to do a job I was bored with it. That’s not me trying to humble brag that I was too smart or anything, just owning up to a short attention span for shit that bores me. Point is, I started off going the safe, smart method, but obviously along the line something changed.
Let’s pause the story of my job trajectory real quick so I can tell you another tale. Last year, when Hurricane Harvey came through the Houston area, there was a lot of flooding. My dad’s neighborhood was included in one such round of rising waters. He’s in a higher area of the community, so they had time to see things were getting rough and prepare. Using plastic sheeting, free weights, and spare lumber, he sealed off all the doors into the house as best he could. No, I do not have any idea how nor are there pictures, but my step-mom collaborated those were indeed the materials used. Trust me, I would love pics of this. Anyway, the last door my dad seals is the garage, except he seals himself in there. We’ve got one of those garages where there’s a sizable step up to the house, meaning it would have to rise several feet to hit the doorway.
With the house buttoned up and himself locked in the garage, my dad took a bucket and spent the entire night trying to bail out the garage like a sinking canoe. If that sounds like some crazy shit I’d have a drunk character try to do, I agree. But fuck us both, because that shit worked. Dad kept up with the rate it was flowing in, and while he said it got worryingly high a few times, eventually he won the day. My father successfully brute-forced a flood. Because that’s the other Hayes go-to move: being too dumb to know what we can and can’t do.
Amidst the outwardly mundane careers that side of the family has, there are some exceptions dotted in. Artists, chefs, entrepreneurs, they don’t all have the Hayes name and might not be hugely known, but we’ve got a few success stories in our bloodline. That is one of the most interesting differences I’ve noticed about the respective sides of the family: while mom’s side believes in systems, the Hayes side believes in taking risks. Big swings, the kind that people with more sense would warn you off of, the sort that come with serious consequences if you fail. You know, like leaving your cubical career to pursue writing full-time.
And here, at last, we come to the part where the title makes sense. A lot of people have asked me how I’ve succeeded as a writer, wanting advice for their own journeys. I tell them the truth: work hard, be respectful to others, and hope you get lucky, because I will readily admit luck is a part of this. But here’s the other ingredient that I think has really helped push me along: be too ignorant to know what’s impossible. Not knowing my limits has, in a strange way, been one of the best blessings of my career and life so far.
I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to write 200k+ books outside of the high fantasy genre. I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to write across multiple genres with the same name. I didn’t know people were speculating a serial turned into an ebook would find no market. And so on. Could any of these steps have gone awry? Shit yes, that’s the flip side of taking big swings; you have to be willing to accept losses.
My larger point, though, is that right now the publishing industry is in a state of constant upheaval. Even the traditional folks are starting to branch out into the wild world of indie. A lot of the old wisdom is dated, or entirely useless. When you want to do something, but conventional knowledge says not to, take a step back and consider that rule. Why does it exist? Who was it made for? Yes, a 200k book would have been cumbersome to carry and read in the physical days, but with everything digital why not write for a crowd who likes reading huge stories as much as I love writing them?
Be like a Hayes, too dumb to know your own limits or those of the industry. Try new shit. Try projects you are 90% sure will fail just because it’s something that makes you happy. Not necessarily big ones, you can still balance your business to make room for risks as you do them, but take a few swings. Challenge the rules of generations that came before you. Write the story you want to write, the way you want to write it, and have faith that others will love the passion in the pages.
But I don’t recommend fighting a flood. Dad says he was sore as hell the next day.