Friday, June 19, 2009

It's Not All Good~E.J. Slusher

When I was a teenager, I met several adults who shaped and blessed my life. One of the most influential people was a freelance writer named Jerry McGuire. Jerry wrote scripts for industrial, educational, and documentary film, as well as full-length features and television scripts. He also had a book published on how to write treatments, proposals and scripts. Jerry filled in cash flow with magazine and newspaper articles. He held a degree in Geology, was an extremely creative individual and had changed careers to become a writer and adventurer of sorts.

I am sure he and Hemmingway would have had a lot in common. The day we met, my parents had recently moved to Indian Hills Colorado, west of Denver and I entered a talent contest at Evergreen Jr. High School. Jerry was a judge for the contest. I had written an original song, played guitar and sang the song. I didn’t win the contest, but he called the next day and explained he was writing copy for a radio commercial and want to know if I could write music for it. He would pay me for finished music. I was about 14 years old and excited beyond description to do this.

I set to work immediately on my part. We went to Denver a day or two later to record and produce the commercial. We had to wait for another project to finish up before we could get into the studio and much to my surprise Jerry took me to a little neighborhood bar two doors down where he had a two-martini lunch and six cigarettes. He generously shared four gin soaked olives, and that is all I had.

I came from a church going family, and although once in a while someone had a beer, I had never even seen a martini. Within minutes I was convinced that gin completely ruins the taste of a perfectly fine green olive. The other thing is that men in our family did not swear around women and children.

Jerry used expletives liberally, and dropped the “F-word” often. After his second martini, I received my first of several pep talks from him. To this day, thirty-seven years later, I remember it well.

“Listen kid, I have gone out on a limb hiring you for music instead of an established professional. My neck is on the F*-ing chopping block here. So you go in there and give us all you have. No nerves, no excuses. You pull this out of your heart and soul and your gut and I’m expecting the performance of a lifetime. Got it? Let’s go.”

That scared the daylights out of me and I was shaking. But somehow I managed to do what he asked, everyone was delighted and Jerry and I worked together on several projects over the years. He was a big scary guy, but I learned so much from him. He had a stepdaughter my age (Mindy) and we became best friends. There were many slumber parties at the McGuire house with teenage girls making pizza (no deliveries back then), drinking soda, laughing, shrieking and keeping the entire household up all night. Regardless of how little sleep we allowed them, Jerry was up early each day working in his home office in the basement. He was pounding away on an ancient manual typewriter, cigarette clinched between his teeth, and a cup of dark murky black coffee slightly to his left.

He must have held his breath as he wrote because the smoke curled gently and rose straight to the ceiling. I would wander into his office in my PJs with a blanket wrapped around me, as it was always cold downstairs. I helped myself to the guest chair and interrupted him.
“What are you writing?”
“Is it sold yet?”
“Geez, do you get up and write this much every day? You must have 50 books done.”

He stopped and looked at me over the top of a little pair of reading glasses and a stack of freshly typed papers. And here he shared one of the best lessons ever. “Most of it is crap.”

How could he say that about his own work? But he explained, “When you are a writer, it is what you do. Write, write, write and condition those creative muscles. But everything you write is not brilliant. You have to keep doing it and develop your skills. What ever you do with your life, you want to be great, *%$* great! That requires work and discipline. Hopefully some brilliant pieces will emerge. But most of it will be crap.”

Jerry died a couple of years ago. I am 51 and know now that what he said is true. I have written over a hundred songs. Three or four of them are great. The rest are mediocre. I have written three books, the first one was especially terrible, received 27 rejection letters and deserved every one. I will not rework it; it was crap.

My third book, Prayer: The Gate, is the best so far. It was published in January this year. It came from writing a blog site,, where like Jerry, I got up early each day and worked to continually developed my skills. It is important that we are honest with ourselves and evaluate our work fairly. Just because we wrote something, doesn’t mean it is good.

For the past couple of years lots of people have used the expression “It’s All Good”.

It is simply not true and Jerry McGuire would have hated that.


  1. I'm confused (it happens a lot)... is this a repost? Or do I have prophetic dreams?

  2. Hi Katie. I have never written anything for Seekerville before, so you must be psychic.

  3. E.J. -- Welcome to Seekerville and what a great post. WOW, your writing jerked me in immediately, almost making me feel as I were reading a Hemingway novel!! Have you written any fiction? If not, you should!!

    And to me, PRAYER is soooo key in everything we do that it sounds like I would love your new book -- I will definitely check it out.

    By the way, if you don't mind divulging ... what does E.J. stand for?


  4. Welcome to Seekerville! I love your story about Jerry and your honesty. Some of what we write might be excellent, but a lot of it is average or worse. If you don't have someone to tell you the truth, you'll start believing all your words are made of gold.

  5. Good Morning Julie and Cara, I would love to write fiction. The 27 rejection letter book was fiction romance. I think part of my love for writing will always be there.

    And that is why I love what you all do so much.

    E.J. is Erin Jane.

  6. Erin Jane (LOVE that name!! Sounds like a heroine in the making ...)

    My first novel, A Passion Most Pure, garnered 45 rejections total, three after I was contracted!! :)

    Maybe you shouldn't give up on that fiction romance just yet ... :)


  7. :) Wonderful post - thank you for sharing

  8. Hi, E.J. I went to your blog to take a look.
    You're doing wonderful work over there.

    Congratulations on the book, too. And your advice is absolutely right to write and write and keep writing. It's what a writer HAS TO DO!!!

  9. Thanks Mary, Julie and Wendy for your words of encouragement.

    There are a talented, strong, purpose filled group of writers that hang out here. You are all a blessing to the new ones.

  10. He sounds like the city editor at one of the papers where I worked.

    When he had time to explain what he was doing, I learned a lot.

    Thanks for sharing. I had to laugh when your Jerry said "Most of it is @@@@."

    Truer words were never spoken!

  11. Hi E. J.:

    Your post is very interesting. It reminded me of two quotes.

    Sturgeon’s Law: “Ninety percent of everything is crud” and the famous Woody Allen comment:"90% of success is showing up".

    I do think, however, that the above sentiments express a philosophy of 'doing more of the same only harder' rather than 'learning and doing things smarter'.

    For example, I think creative writing is at least 20 different skills and not just one skill. A writer has to master most of these skills to be successful. This can produce a very long learning curb --one well littered with rejection slips.

    However, once a writer masters the requisite skills and learns how to work ‘smarter’, then everything changes. It is at this point that a writer, who may have taken ten years to publish her first book, often publishes one book after another.

    In a way, with writing, the past is not a good yardstick for measuring the future.

    I think there is greater cause for optimism than one might expect.

    Thanks for your post.


  12. E.J.--Thank you for reminding us to look for gold and not be content just to compare our writing with works that are worse than ours (as is way to easy to do). I want to challenge myself to ask--is this gripping? Does it matter? I appreciate what Donald Maass said in 'Writing the Breakout Novel'--Who cares? Does it really matter if the hero/heroine doesn't get what they want? If it doesn't, better dig deeper.

    What are some keys that help you discern the brilliant from the non?

  13. So this his name REALLY Jerry McGuire? You didn't hang around Tom Cruise as a youth did you, E.J. Because if you did, we want to know alllllllllllllllllll about that. :)

  14. Vince, I hadn't thought about how many diffent skills are involved in creative writing. Once many of them are mastered, it does get easier. Great insight. Thanks

    Ann and Ayrian, It is good to have someone like Jerry or Ann's editor in our lives. It makes us dig deeper and expect more from ourselves. And as Ayrian says, look for the gold. So important.


  15. His name really was Jerry McGuire. He didn't look like Tom Cruise.

  16. Ayrian has presented the most excellent question. How do we know when we produce some work that is brilliant,..or superior in quality?

    What do you all say about that?

    I start with the concept for a sanity check. Does anyone care? Is it a great idea? No matter how well crafted and beautiful the words, if the concept doesn't matter you are wasting your time.

    Then I move on the crafting part. I use the technique Cami talked about yesterday and have pages of goop to start. Rewrite comes after that. But at some point you go back to the 30,000 feet view. I have re-written until it complely lost it's edge and significance. For me that is the biggest danger.

    Now I am working on that exact thing. Keeping the edge and excitement.


  17. Brilliant is subjective. Time definately tells. Do you think it is great a week later?


  18. Isn't it liberating to know that it's fine to write crap? And that through writing crap we will eventually come up with something that's not?

    I love this post and will reread again when I've time to linger over it.

    Thank you.

  19. EJ, I loved this post! Such transparency mixed with fresh wisdom. Jerry must have been quite a guy, and you portrayed him in such a way that I loved him flaws and all. I wonder if that is how Jesus sees us?

    Thanks so much for sharing this.

  20. Shaddy and Carla, thanks for dropping by today. You know I think that is how Jesus sees us.

    I think it is the sign of a true friend who knows who we are; what our weaknesses are and can love us anyway.

    There is a recent blog post on prayerthegate about that. Let us see eachother as God sees us.


  21. I would love to be able to write anything, I try to write reviews and that is even hard for me.


  22. Great Post E.J.,

    I can see your friend sitting at his bohemoth typewriter even now.
    You portrayed him beautifully. Perhaps, you should write a gumshoe novel with a hint of romance.

    What do you do when you're one of those people who tend to see the crap as you say and not the diamond.


  23. Edna and Tina, Write, write and write. Pray for inspiration, creative ideas and the vehicle to execute them. I love the gum shoe idea, Tina. We all have diamonds. So it is a diamond hunt.

  24. Okay... first - great post! Loved it. I love the line, "It's all crap" especially since that's how I felt today with my writing!

    Second - I'm a wee bit creeped out. I couldn't sworn I read this before. Same picture and all. I even commented on it...something about Show me the Money! Oh wait... wrong Jerry McGuire. Hmmm.. maybe I am related to Joseph and his technicolored dream coat.

    I'm off to go write some more crap now. :) Thanks for the post E.J.!!

  25. Katie,

    Maybe you have been to the prayerthegate website before. It has been going for over a year. Maybe we have mutual friends on FaceBook.

    At any rate we are part of the body of Christ, and spiritual sisters. Be blessed and have an awesome weekend. EJ

  26. It's clear that you're a gifted writer from this emotion-evoking entry alone. You've managed to pass the inspiration you got from Jerry on to me and, I'm sure, others. I know I needed it. Thanks for that. Keep writing. You have a way of reaching people.

  27. Great post, E.J. I agree with Julie about your writing.


  28. Great Post Erin! Jerry sounds like a great mentor. I think his wisdom applies to all creative forms. It takes me a good 5 hrs of crap to get 1 hr of quality design.

    Keep up the good work!