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Living a Yahtzee life

They say if you want to make money in the writing business you find a niche and go to that place again and again.

In other words, if the crowd loved your trumpet solo don’t come back on stage with a guitar or xylophone. Play that trumpet, baby! Again and again and again.

I get that. And I don’t begrudge any writer who subscribes to that theory. To each his or her own.

But here’s to those who’ve gone the other way, who’ve followed their muses, wherever those muses have taken them, even if it’s seldom led them to the bank to deposit another hefty royalty check.

Here’s to those who’ve led with their hearts — writers and non-writers alike — and not some can’t-lose formula.

Here’s to those who’ve lived as if life were a Yahtzee game and part of the fun was seeing if you could score a few points in all 12 categories: say, the dancer who dabbles in paints and spends the weekends running triathlons.

Here’s to dabblers and chance-takers and you-never-know-unless-you-try folks whose “platforms” aren’t chiseled precisely in granite but whose success is built of great memories

I can relate. I am a Yahtzee writer.

World War II biographies? Three. Sports and life books? Two. Children’s? On my second.

Nuggets of wisdom from my favorite movies? Check. Collections of newspaper columns? Check. Hiking the Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail? Check.

I’m not touting the likes of Yahtzee folks for any sense of self-grandiosity; follow-their-muse writers often find themselves being regularly humbled, my most recent example being a book event at a fire station in which three people showed up — one by accident — and firetruck sirens kept going off while I spoke.

No, this isn’t about chest-beating success. This is about the significance of the journey itself.

Too many people drink the formulaic Kool-Aid suggesting you must trust a system and not your heart. And, turning 60 last week, I’ve been more contemplative than usual about how I’ve spent my life and whether going my own way has left me a failure.

My conclusion? I wouldn’t have missed the ride for the world.

By following my muse, I’ve gotten to write about the stuff that I’m passionate about — and best-suited to write about. I’ve gotten to know an array of fascinating — and generally obscure — people. And experience a bunch of stuff I never would have otherwise.

Because of my book research and promotion, I’ve helped put on a barbecue for a town of 600 people (Monroe), shot hoops in the Indiana gym depicting Hickory High in the movie Hoosiers (while in Indiana doing research for Resolve), spent a weekend at the Wonderful Life Festival in Seneca Falls, N.Y. (52 Little Lessons From It’s a Wonderful Life) and found myself in Normandy, France, on 9-11 (American Nightingale.)

Along the way, I’ve met a few famous people but, ironically, the two most well known “stars” I’ve spent time with were also the only two subjects I’ve parted ways with on book projects because they were so unwilling to help.

I’ve been far more inspired by those who toil in obscurity but deserve the spotlight than by those who feed off the light like solar chargers.

Finding success is about perspective, appreciating the small victories you experience by being yourself.

About the grist of the journey, not the fruits of whatever material success you experience.

And about being true to your bent as a God-created human being. I think of a line from an old Amy Grant song: “All I ever have to be is what you’ve made me.”

So, sure, if you’re made that way, play another trumpet solo. But if you’re not, don’t be afraid to play Yahtzee.

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