Life Lessons from William Shatner

William Shatner Stars on Mars

Life Lessons from William Shatner

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Can we talk about William Shatner for a second?

The hubs and I were watching TV this morning and saw a trailer for a new show called Stars on Mars, where almost- and onetime celebrities apparently compete to survive in an atmosphere created to mimic that of Mars. It’s hosted by Shatner.

As I do almost involuntarily each time I see William Shatner, I said to my husband after the ad, “William Shatner is a marvel. He has created one hell of a career out of a modicum of talent.”

Now, I have nothing against Mr. Shatner. I’m actually Shatner-positive. I feel as warmly inclined toward Bill Shatner as it is possible to feel toward a famous person who intersects my life very little, but I’ll always be fond of him because I was an original Trekker and he by God was the captain of the Enterprise.

That’s the thing about Shatner—he’s likable. More than that, he has a certain presence. Even though he does basically William Shatner in every single thing he’s in, that’s an okay guy to spend time with. He’s not brilliant on screen nor particularly innovative, and he’s certainly no chameleon.

But he’s parlayed his charisma and likability (and one wildly successful cult hit) into a steady stream of work across a very long career.

What Shatner Can Teach Authors

Creating a successful creative career is not about talent. If you are a human and have experienced life, you have plenty of talent for creation. Skill is a different matter, but that’s something you can learn and hone. So why sit there twisting yourself up staring at your blank page and wondering if you’re good enough? You are good enough. I’m telling you that right now with 100 percent certainty.

Creating a successful creative career is not about talent. If you are a human and have experienced life, you have plenty of talent for creation.

Here’s why I bring up Shatner to you, my reader friends, who are likely not clear what a midlist actor has to do with your writing career. Perhaps you are Shatner-neutral or, God forbid, even Shatner-negative.

William Shatner doesn’t matter and nor do your feelings about him. What does is that he has parlayed his average amount of ability in his chosen field into—by any measure—an enormously successful career.

Read more: “When Will You Be a Success?”

1.      Billy Makes Bank

If you gauge success by money, Shatner’s net worth is $100 million. Why? Because he works. But it wasn’t the original Star Trek series that set him up for financial success—it was canceled after just three seasons and afterward he was unemployed and living in a camper van, wondering how to support his family. The show became a cult hit only later, and he makes no royalties from it.

Shatner takes a lot of roles, though—he has 249 acting credits, per IMDB, not just starring in films and TV shows, but hosting reality shows, documentaries and docuseries; voicing cartoon characters; and making plenty of guest appearances on other shows (including a credit as Big Giant Head on Third Rock from the Sun)—and that doesn’t even count his ad work, another 60-plus credits, most recognizably as the Priceline spokesperson, but he has also shilled for the Medicare Coverage Helpline, Planet Fitness, and a company called SoClean.

I think we can safely say, judging by his body of work, that William Shatner is not precious about the projects he accepts. He’s just a worker bee, doing what he’s offered, banking his bucks and living his life.

I’m not saying Shatner has no talent. He was an indelible Captain Kirk, a credible T. J. Hooker. His portrayal of Denny Crane netted him an Emmy for a guest-starring role, in The Practice, and a whole spinoff series for the character, Boston Legal—and another Emmy—and I’ve never not liked him in anything.

Bill Shatner just wants to work—and so he does. And supports himself handsomely by taking what work he is offered.

But money isn’t really all that life is about. If you’re like many creatives, I’m guessing you also value your creative spirit. I’m guessing you value the ability to indulge it as you see fit and explore to the fullest reaches of your imagination. I’m guessing that while you might welcome stacks of money and the freedom to not have to work at other jobs to support your art, your main creative goal is to be able to pursue your it on your own terms.

Shatner works all these various “day jobs” that may not speak directly to his highest creative goals, but that pay the bills. Which brings us to his next life lesson for authors:

2.      Shatner Buys Himself Creative Freedom

If you measure creative success by the ability to express yourself fully and pursue any creative avenue that calls to you, Shatner is clearly blazing a trail.

He feels the freedom to explore his creativity in any way he chooses, as evidenced by the dozens of books he’s written, both fiction and nonfiction. By his many spoken-word albums, including wack, you’ll-never-unhear-it covers of “Mr. Tambourine Man” or “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Or his starring in a horror movie filmed entirely in Esperanto.

Shatner does what the hell Shatner wants to do.

William Shatner doesn’t care if you think that stuff is nuts. Shatner going to Shatner. He is living his best life for nobody but William T. Shatner. (I have no idea if his middle initial is T, but I like to imagine that perhaps he and James Tiberius Kirk share a middle name.)

Read more: “Writing Safe or Risking Your Readers

Whose Standards Are You Judging Yourself By?”

(Side note: Wikipedia adds “OC” after his name, which I wanted to believe was a typo for OG, like Shatner is the original gangsta, but apparently it stands for the honorary title Officer of the Order of Canada, which he is.)

Sure, when I was an actor my dreams were about a career like Meryl Streep’s. But I’m thinking I would have been awfully happy with Shatner’s career path too. He’s spent a lifetime working in the craft he loves. He’s translated that into the ability to pursue myriad other avenues of creativity that interest him, and he seems unhampered by what anyone else thinks of it. That’s something I’ve spent my life striving for.

Shatner knows Captain Kirk will always be his major legacy—and he leans in, attending countless Star Trek conventions, and sending up his own image in this hilarious SNL sketch. He doesn’t take himself or his career too seriously. Which may be why he exemplifies yet another lesson for authors:

3.      Shatner Persists

If you measure a successful career by its longevity, Shatner began his career in his twenties, and 70-plus years later he’s still going strong, including a recent appearance for Shark Week—swimming with sharks at age 90—and a brand-new TV series about to launch. Dude is 92 years old and he’s still out there Shatnering his ass off.

He just doesn’t stop—despite any creative career’s ups and downs. He stays in the game. He perseveres.

4.      Shatner Is Happy

This, to me, is the most important measure of a successful creative career—and a successful life: Did we live life on our own terms? Were we comfortable in our own skin? Were we happy?

Possibly the greatest TV interview I’ve ever seen was a recent one where Shatner was being interviewed on a late-night news program when he decided to go into space—William Shatner, Captain Kirk, at age 90 decided to GO INTO SPACE, kids!—and I shit you not he sat there during the interview going to town on Chinese takeout straight from the box, with chopsticks. Throughout the interview.

I was mesmerized. And yes, I’ve tried since to find the clip and cannot for the life of me, but it one day will be shown as a relic of the golden era of television.

William Shatner feels so free in his own personality and skin that he will by God enjoy his dinner while it’s hot even if he’s doing a live national television program, because Shatner don’t care.

All we get is this one ride. Don’t waste it worrying about what anyone else will think about how you saddle up your pony.

That is a man who feels pretty damned good about himself and his life.

Read more: “Prioritizing Your Life

One of the most common last regrets of the dying is not living a life true to oneself. Do you think Will Shatner is going to die with that regret? Hell, no. On his deathbed Shatner’s going to be like, “Fuck, yeah, I lived every damned inch of my life to the max.” (Excuse the language—it’s not me; it’s Shatner.)

People, all we get is this one ride, so far as we know. Don’t waste it worrying about what anyone else will think about how you saddle up your pony. Channel BillyShat, auteur, visionary—the OC. Write the stories of your soul, your wildest imaginings.

Pour one out for the Shats and forge the life of your dreams.

Read more: “How to Be a Working Writer

Talk to me, pals: What do you think of the B-Shat Way? Where do you stand on working the bill-paying “day job” to buy you creative freedom? About following your muse into whatever untamed, untrammeled path she may lead? About measuring your success in that freedom and your happiness, rather than more external measures of it?

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28 Comments. Leave new

  • Jacqueline Sheehan
    June 8, 2023 11:08 am

    I wish that I had followed the Shatner method earlier in my career. When I had sudden success with book number two (that featured a heroic dog), I was afraid that I’d become the author who only wrote about dogs. So I diverged quite a lot, hoping for more elevated literary real estate. I don’t regret the books that followed, but I do regret not reveling in the heart connection that the dog offered to readers. It didn’t matter if the emotional connection came from a dog or a gecko. Finding that emotional connection was all that mattered. I will be thinking about the Shatner approach for a long time. Thanks for writing this.

    • I love this, Jacqueline! It’s so much what we can sometimes do as writers–decide that what we’re writing isn’t good enough or literary enough or serious enough, and then veer off course from what really speaks to us. I’m a big fan of exploring and stretching into other styles and genres, but also of owning and loving what you love, unapologetically.

      I wish I could find that Shatner interview where he was going to town on his takeout Chinese–it was the epitome of doing your own thang, and the image inspires me often. 🙂

      And it’s not too late to dive back into that doggie connection you found with readers. It’s never too late to pivot. 🙂 Thanks for the comment, my friend.

  • I love that he is able to carve this unique career for himself. Having a day job that pays the bills so he can pursue his creative freedom is to me the way to go. I also love the concept of measuring success in the freedom of my happiness. So many times one looks at others successes and wishes one had a similar journey. But in truth I have realized (now that I’m older and wiser, I think, ha!) that my path is mine and mine alone and all I can do is to walk it to the best of my ability and know that one day I will find that elusive book contract. Until then I write away, stories that I hope entertain and make one think. Because in the end, that’s all I can do.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Priya–I’m a huge proponent of the “day job” and what it can buy us artistically. That creative freedom is invaluable–for our writing careers, and for our overall happiness.

      I love that you’ve come to embrace your own path more as years pass–I feel the same way. That’s one of the upsides of aging, maybe? That you realize what really matters, and most of it isn’t what we thought mattered when we were young, at least as far as comparison goes.

      Keep writing–and if you don’t get “that elusive book contract,” make your own–get your stories out there. It’s never been more possible for authors to reach readers. <3

  • Erin Flanagan
    June 8, 2023 12:23 pm

    I love this so much! And am endlessly entertained by how your mind makes connections to writing.

  • Christina Consolino
    June 8, 2023 12:32 pm

    I read every one of these posts, but honestly, this one is one of the absolute best! The perfect start to my day, and one that I’ll refer back to often. (And I was going to make sure that Erin Flanagan read this one, but she beat me to leaving a comment!)

  • Nancy Hayden
    June 8, 2023 1:04 pm

    I love this blog entry. Always a big Shatner fan. Thanks.

  • At 19 I was offered a job at the telephone company. I was writing at the time, playing music, and what I wanted was to be a creative. But I took the job, stayed for 35 years, and got a pension. Went to work elsewhere for 5 years, let my kids get though school. All through that I kept up the music, but not the writing. But I retired, and started again, and finished a 5 book series last year, and I started on another. Not making much money, but I’m living my best life now, starting a new series, continuing to write and play music. My point is that just because you didn’t make those decisions early on, doesn’t mean you can’t reach a point where it’s possible to revisit it all. Also, I kept up the music in my spare time for a couple of decades, kept my creative life alive, by doing what I had to, but making space. I admire Mr. S. for forging this life, and sometimes it seems that willpower is what stops people from moving ahead. You have to want it, for sure.

    • Wow, Rick–good for you! I love that you kept up your music throughout, and came back to your writing. I see a creative life as an evolution–not that you postponed yours or didn’t believe in it or have the willpower, but that you worked your “day job” to buy yourself what you wanted in life, and kept your creativity as a part of it all along, buying yourself freedom to fully pursue it eventually.

      Trying to make a living in a creative industry can be an uncertain, uphill, erratic path, and I have always felt the need to have a secure bill-paying job to allow me the lifestyle I want–and the ability to follow my creative impulses too. I love how Shatner demonstrates that there’s no shame in that path. Thanks for the comment!

  • Debbie Dakins
    June 8, 2023 3:08 pm

    I had a huge ah-ha reading this; I knew it was going to be great as soon as I read the set-up about being good enough. (Thanks, I needed that!) Absolutely laughed out loud and nodded throughout. Thanks for the wit, wisdom, and encouragement. “Pour out one for the Shats and forge the life of your dreams” is going on my cork board. You’re a gem, TYM!

  • Jo Anne Burgh
    June 8, 2023 3:47 pm

    I love this! It’s been ten years since I first decided to be a “real” fiction writer, and I still rely primarily on my day job (legal research and writing for other lawyers) to pay the mortgage, keep the lights on, get my 15-year-old car fixed, and pay for all cat-related expenses. Some days (like today), that’s frustrating because I’d so much rather spend time on my novel, but at the same time, it’s liberating. If I had to rely on my novel to pay my way in this world, I seriously doubt I’d take as many creative chances as I have because I’d be so worried about whether it would sell. Thanks for this wonderful example of what living a truly satisfying creative life looks like!

    • Thanks, Jo Anne–I’m glad that’s what you took from it. Me too. I have always maintained a steady “day job” to get me the lifestyle I want–and I appreciate how it takes away any noose from my neck or expectations as to my creative work–I can do what I want in that regard (currently contemplating an all-Esperanto editing book, inspired by the Shats…KIDDING) and not worry whether I can sell it or there’s an audience or whether I’m meeting outside expectations. To me that’s what makes it fulfilling. Thank you for the comment!

      (Also…”cat-related expenses…”! Ha! I totally get that.)

  • Sophia Ryan
    June 8, 2023 4:05 pm

    After reading this blog, I slapped a sticky note to my computer that says, The Shatner Method. Truly, the message in your post came at a perfect time. Thank you!

  • I love this so much! It makes me think of the time my very successful author friend made a snarky comment about Shatner on Facebook. He said something about his book, asking if it was written with the same punctuation as his speech pattern. Somehow, Shatner got wind of the post and commented below, suggesting my friend shut his big mouth. My buddy and I still laugh about it years later. He says having Shatner telling him to shut the F up on Facebook was the highlight of his career.

    • OMG, now I want B-Shat to see this post and upbraid me for my cheek if he feels I’ve impugned his talent in any way. I will have ARRIVED. (But if you’re reading this, Mr. Shatner, please know that I write this with nothing but respect and I actually think you are very good at what you do, and your clear delight in it is also a delight and an inspiration to me.)

  • Mary Rosewood
    June 8, 2023 4:34 pm

    Until now, I haven’t thought much about William Shatner, but it’s hard to miss him — he’s everywhere! 😀 This is a delightful essay, and I see so many applications of the Shatner Way for writing, for business, and for life. Thank you, Tiffany!

  • This came just when I needed a huge attitude adjustment. I’m querying and it’s not going especially well. I’ve let it get me down.

    Here is my new and improved attitude. I’ve got no writing cred and am not especially skilled (working on that), but I’ve written a book. It might be the best, but it might entertain some folks.

    Excellent post – thank you. Well, thank you, no thank you for the link to Mr. Tambourine Man. Yeah, about that…

    • Be like Billy–BILLY DON’T CARE. People can take their rejections and they can shove them up their keisters (says Billy)–you sing your own personal “Mr. Tambourine Man” with your whole heart, my friend, and know that Shatner’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” album, A Transformed Man, was rated by music database website AllMusic at four-and-a-half out of a possible five stars, and has a 4.6 rating on Amazon. Those who get it, get it. 😉

  • Bill comes across as one of those people who seems to find joy in all he does. Essentially, he has gone where few have gone before. Thanks for beaming us up, Tiffany. You have the Con.

  • Love, Love, Love this!!! What would Shatner do?! Thank you Tiffany, FAB post!!!


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