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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.
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“
(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.
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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