Two nights ago I went to a hardcore show. I stood in the front row of a mosh pit surrounded by hundreds of sweat soaked fans thrashing their limbs and surging towards the stage and banged my head to bone crunching riffs and rip roaring screams. The venue was small and cramped, insanely hot and packed full of tattooed bodies and booze. By the time the concert was finished my body was drenched, my clothing smelled like the armpits of a dozen moshers mixed with a copious amounts of alcohol, and my lungs burned and throat ached from screaming lyrics at the band. Yep, it was a good night.
The next day was a bit of a struggle. I had a mild hangover despite sweating out a few litres of alcohol, but I guess you have to take the bad with the good don’t you?
It’s no secret that I’m heavily inspired by music. So much of what I do as a writer is influenced by the bands and artists that I am listening to. When I want to write dialogue I listen to gangster rap and hip hop; when I want to create emotion I draw upon ballads and folk; and when I want to write a good smash mouth scene I turn to metal and hardcore.
While there is a never ending monologue of musical musings inside my head, today’s post is more about the artist than the art of music itself. As I watched Keith Buckley of Everytime I Die throwing himself around a wearing nothing but a pair of cut off shorts and sneakers, screaming his lungs out I couldn’t help but feel inspired. Here was a man who could have cared less whether there were ten people at his show or ten thousand. You’d paid for a ticket, you’d earned his respect and he was going to give you the best damn show you’d ever seen.
As my blog and my writing continues to grow in notoriety I find myself being contacted by more and more readers and writers who want to reach out and offer their perspectives on my work. And I love receiving the feedback regardless of whether it is positive or negative. It’s a truly rewarding experience to know that something I have produced has affected someone so much that they feel inclined to reach out and contact me. Seriously, even when someone sends me an email to say that they hated my latest post or that my vulgarity taints my work, (a common occurrence) it’s a great honour to know that they care enough to interact with me.
Recently however a reader asked me to define what I meant when I said that I wanted to be a successful writer/author. They stated that there is a difference between being a successful writer and being a great one. Great writers are rarely successful, and successful writers are rarely great. And although it was probably meant as an off the cuff remark, the idea has been eating away at me ever since. I’ve been asking myself if I want to be great, or merely successful. Do I want to produce a masterpiece that struggles to sell a few hundred copies? Or do I want to produce a palatable script that earns me millions?
My initial answer: I want to be great.
Don’t get me wrong, earning a million dollars would be pretty spectacular. But I find it really disconcerting that I automatically equate the idea of being successful with a monetary figure. Why do I think that unless I climb the best seller’s lists and earn a fortune I will be a failure as a writer? In fact I’m going to go one step further and ask you why do we as a society see monetary gain as the pinnacle of success?
It seems like a dangerous flaw in the mindset of our society to measure success through materialism and fiscal gain, yet here I am in the infancy of my writing career already defining my accomplishments as a writer through this fashion. There’s a plethora of directions in which this post could progress from this point. I could start flying off on tangents about our consumerist culture or the way in which materialism has replaced the more intrinsically rewarding release of dopamine in our brain when we achieve something we long for. But I’m going to keep it simple and say this: true success isn’t about possessions; it’s about passion and feeling. When you move away from fiscal wealth as a marker for success, you can achieve that seemingly elusive goal of being both successful and great at what you do.
Take Keith Buckley for example. As he sweated his heart out on a stage in Brisbane, half a world away from his American homeland, money had no effect on his performance. Sure he would have been paid for his show, but the extent of his success came from being able to take to a stage and do what he loves: perform. In that moment he was both successful and great.
It’s taken some time, a little soul searching and a few change of hearts, but I think that I’ve finally managed to answer that damned question that has been bugging me. I want to be successful and great. At this stage of my career success is defined by having a work in print or in engaging a reader to such a degree that they reach out and make contact. Money plays no part in measuring my achievements right now. I want to create beautiful literature and I want to share it with the world. If I can do that then I’ll be achieving everything I’ve ever dreamed of. Maybe someday when I’ve punched out a few novels and carved out a bit of a niche for myself in this industry that idea of success will change, but right now I can honestly say that being great and touching my audience is more important.
So while I can’t sing to save myself. Meaning that I’ll probably never know the feeling of having a crowd of sweaty fans chanting lyrics back at me, I can continue to engage my audience enough to want to connect with me. Which I figure that’s the novel writer’s equivalent. It may not quite as punk rock as thrashing my tattooed body around a stage, but in my opinion it’s still pretty badass.