If a person writes a book and no one reads it, is it still a book? Depending on your reason for writing, your answer will vary.
I write for a variety of reasons – relaxation, brain exercise, practice my craft, gottagetthatdamnideaoutofmyhead – but I primarily write because I want to entertain people. It’s a need written in DNA, and a novel is the current medium in which I choose to satisfy it (I’ve also dabbled in flash fiction, a novella, pitched a comic series, and currently have two tabletop game ideas I’m exploring).
Looking at it from that perspective, I won’t find success until my writing is in someone’s hands, whether physically, digitally, or in the not-too-distant future, displayed via holographic projection. Said another way, what I’ve written is not really a book until someone reads it. It’s simply a interesting story, perhaps an exercise, occupying a similar paradoxical state as Schrödinger’s cat.
I imagine people protesting on my behalf: Don’t sell yourself short! There’s value in the experience! Simply finishing is a major accomplishment! All these things and more are true. They have value, and I appreciate the sentiment.
But they’re not the things that bring me to the keyboard. However…
It’s funny, as I write this I’m reminded of something from my childhood, a phrase I learned watching classic MGM movies:
Which brings me to another perspective. It doesn’t matter if anyone sees what you have written/sculpted/painted. You might be a working for an audience of one. You might be working for an audience of none. The very magic – the miracle, if you will – of creation is worthy in and of itself. “Art, for art’s sake,” as the roaring lion reminds us.
Perhaps that is truly why we write or pursue other creative endeavors. The muse will not be denied. The art cannot be contained. That, too, is written in DNA, perhaps scratched and scrawled deeper than a need to entertain.
In the end, it doesn’t matter which reason is more meaningful to you, if either are. However, I think it’s important to consider and decide, because much happiness, stress, and sadness comes from artistic pursuits. Understanding what brings you to your creative workspace will help ensure you keep returning.
I’ve decided both are important to me. I began this post intending to take a position. Share an opinion. But when it comes to art, opinions like criticisms hold less value than the work itself. No one is going to include the phrase “opinion, for opinion’s sake” in their logo.
Good luck to you in your writing, and to its paradoxical existence in the world.
Writing inspiration comes from everywhere. Looking out a window or considering how a person might react to a situation or watching your kids play. In this example, it came from the song “Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls.
“You bleed just to know you’re alive.”
When I wondered what might cause a man to literally, not metaphorically, do such a thing, the story erupted from me. It was the writing experience I’d always imagined, though rarely had. And it came from questions that followed one after the other, piling up until I couldn’t type quickly enough.
More than fifteen years later, I still recall the first scene. A man in a cheap apartment staring at himself in a grimy mirror and hating what he saw. He picked up the razor blade, as he had many times before, and cut his wrist. A single droplet of blood fell into a claw-footed bathtub. As he watched, his cut healed and he screamed in helpless rage. He slashed again and again, healing again and again…until he didn’t. He breathed a sigh of relief. Soon, it would finally be over.
While there’s a violence and hopelessness to the scene, I believed the book would be a beautiful take on the unrequited love story: A man who heals others and himself, and the nurse searching for the person performing miracles in the streets. He falls in love, but will never tell her, never end his self-imposed exile, because his body is too scarred, his psyche too damaged. He’s unworthy of redemption. To further quote the song, “I don’t want the world to see me ’cause I don’t think that they’d understand.”
A few months later, I had the draft of a 30,000-word novella.
Fast-forward to sometime in 2006. Goo Goo Dolls were promoting their latest album, Let Love In. I worked in the Best Buy Music department, and we were often a stop for such junkets. Artists would talk about the album, maybe spin some tracks or perform, and then we’d often get a chance for handshakes and pix. It was the coolest job perk I ever had.
It’s key to understand that “meet and greet” is a brief encounter. Obviously, no one’s making friends, but it is a chance to say a few kinds words or ask a question before quickly moving on. Sometimes, it’s idle chitchat; other times, you get to thank someone for a meaningful impact they had on your life.
I had an opportunity to thank a band for inspiring me to write a book.
At this point in my career, I’d met dozens of famous artists including David Bowie, Duran Duran, Ice Cube, and Jewel. I didn’t get starstruck as a general rule, but this was going to be different because I had a different kind of connection. I practiced what I would say, over and again in my head. I’ve always had challenges speaking aloud, so this kind of rehearsal is typical anyway.
The band did their promotional bit, though I don’t recall any of it. I was still mentally reciting my spiel. Suddenly, it seems, it was time to meet them.
Robby Takac was first in line. We shook hands, and then I shared my story. I was eloquent, passionate, entertaining, and succinct. I beautifully recounted how they had inspired me and made a meaningful difference to my writing.
He seemed thrilled. “You should tell Johnny. He wrote the lyrics,” he said enthusiastically. “It would mean a lot to him.”
Suddenly, this encounter was different. At least that’s what my fevered brain suggested: a band putting together a song was not the same as a lyricist sitting down and pouring his soul into the words. This was now going to be one writer talking to another (i.e. having a “writer talk”) and thanking them for the inspiration in their words. How often does a person get a chance to do that?
It’s cool. I’m cool. It’s going to be cool. I’ve already got my speech planned and practiced. I’ve literally just recited it to someone else in the band. It’s cool. It’s going to be cool.
It wasn’t cool.
I shook hands with John Rzeznik, and immediately blurted out some disorganized version of my tale that focused waaaaay too much on a man in a bathroom cutting his wrist with a razor blade. I might have continued to shake his hand like you see in movies where the fan doesn’t let go. I don’t remember.
Of all the things John expected to hear in a meet-n-greet line, this interaction certainly wasn’t on the list. With typical rock star grace, he listened to my story, though I picture him having the face of someone being presented with a severed limb. A few minutes later, we had our photo taken.
I’m not saying that John’s posture or my distance from him are the result of this interaction, though that tiny insecure voice in my head still suggests it.
Then it was over. I probably shared a laugh with some colleagues as I described the disaster in hyperbolic detail. John went on with the promotional tour, probably never encountering another writing weirdo again.
I share this cautionary tale because it’s funny, but also as a reminder to writers to practice their pitches (even if it didn’t work so well here). As much as we’re probably more comfortable typing up a quick 10,000 words of “summary”, sooner or later you’re going to have to talk about the project aloud. The spiel is a critical step in finding an agent or someone willing to pay you. It’s probably going to be uncomfortable because you’re trying to sell your work, not yourself, but both are being judged (fortunately, your friends and family are helping every time they ask “What’s it about?”). Your performance, so to speak, could be the difference between a request to see more and a polite rejection of the severed limb you’ve presented.
Good luck with your writing and your pitch!
Postscript: As for the book, Healed, I shelved the project for reasons unrelated to this encounter. However, writing this post has inspired me to take another look at the ending. It might be changing.
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Pardon a word of preface before I get to the album I’m going to review. Few in the world are lucky enough to be recognized for the art they create, whether in paints or stone, music or poetry, or movies or books. I believe we can always use more art in the world and that each of us can do our part simply by sharing the things we like. Even if you do not do this, even if you disagree, you still benefit from the artists in the world who are working every day to do something they love. So why not make a meaningful contribution and share something you like? Even better, pay money for something you love.
This post is a review of the album Moshi Moshi, the debut album by Ryan and Pony, friends of ours. And while our relationship predisposes me to support them, I really do enjoy this album. It’s been in my rotation since I bought it.
“They fuse dream pop, post punk, brit rock, EDM, and good ol’ fashion rock and roll for a sound all their own,” their website says. I agree. And here’s my impression: It sounds like a synthesis of all the rock and pop music I loved through the 80s and 90s, and it creates something new. The music feels like a natural evolution of that time period, both familiar and fresh. Perhaps I phrase it this way because that’s what I try to evoke in my own writing.
I enjoyed all the songs on the album, but here are the four that have stuck with me from the first spin.
Track 3: Fast As I Can – This is their first single and it tells you everything you need to know about them. Solid production, catchy-as-hell hooks, and great harmonies. It’s even got a little bit of what I affectionately call “80s sax”, which will always have a special place in my musical heart. The videois cool, too!
What really resonates with me, however, are the lyrics that tell of a protagonist who will do whatever it takes to help someone; additionally, “all the love you bring, every little thing you do: it matters.” This song is practically the anthem of my hero, Tildy, so I’ve added it to my “hero playlist”. I’ll write about that in a future post.
Track 7: First Night – Opens with a sweet bass line from Pony (we need more of this in music), and then – what is that, Ryan – surf guitar? Don’t mistake me, this isn’t a Dick Dale song, but it’s got that cool guitar sound throughout. And in the back half of the song, the guitar also evokes Tom Petty, which is an interesting thematic transition. This song drives forward relentlessly. It’s dense, in that there’s so much in here, I’m surprised it’s only 2:28 long.
Track 9: Low – Is this one pure pop, is it going to be a rock song? It’s a little of both; it’s something different than both. The thing that strikes me in this one is Ryan’s vocals: you can tell it’s him, but it’s yet another style from his repertoire. This song is a great example of how a band can deliver several different musical styles in a single album without deviating from the core of who they are.
Track 12: I Would Die 4 U – I wasn’t looking at my phone when this came on, so I didn’t know I was about to hear a cover of one of Prince’s best songs. As it opened, I found myself listening to something that was familiar, yet I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It turned out to be a a new arrangement that offered a fresh take on the intro of a song we all know. And in a way that some covers do so well, they’ve taken this song and made it their own. It’s got the pieces of the original we love, but with new things that keep it from feeling like just another rehash. Great example of the band’s musical chops.
I think we’re all predisposed to enjoy the things our family and friends create, but man, it is amazing when they exceed our expectations. One of the best compliments I’ve received went something like this: “I forgot that I knew the writer and just got pulled into the work.” That’s exactly how I felt with this album. Ryan and Pony know their stuff, and Moshi Moshi is a polished, professional, and – more importantly – enjoyable album.
I hope my appreciation of the passion in someone’s work will inspire you. Whether you listen to these tracks, buy the album, or simply read this post and share it, you’re helping contribute to the art of the world. If you’re an artist yourself, you can probably expect someone to do the same for you.
Good luck with your art, whatever your medium may be!
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