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.
11 thoughts on “The New Black”
Nice post Chris! You’ll get there. You love music so much (like me), may be you should also consider writing lyrics as a side…you know small change, besides making the big bucks from the novels of course. 🙂
I love that line, “Great writers are rarely successful, and successful writers are rarely great”. One could use the word “artists” instead of “writers” and that would cover the struggle most creative people find themselves living with. Great is a matter of opinion. Success is completing your objective. That’s what matters. I am sure that when the fame and money thing happens it will be ok too!
I agree, it is badass.
This is a fantastic post and I believe many of us can relate to you even if it is a different passion we seek. Your honesty about your own struggle as to who you want to be is inspiring and motivating. Keep it up, you’re doing great.
I’m sure so many creative people struggle with that question Chris. Me, well I guess I write for enjoyment and to entertain mainly (to inspire/motivate perhaps) and I too love getting the feedback. Yes, I want to write a book (probably non fiction) and yes, I would like to earn some money from it but the pleasure is in knowing someone else will read it and I guess for me it’s as simple as that. Lucky I have a day job!
Thank you Chris for visiting my site and Liking my post ‘The Book of Love – Cosmic Circus.’
So you wish to be great. i would suggest firstly you accept the idea that you already ARE and from there discover how you wish to express that greatness by simply following what you Love to do!
Thank you for liking “The Blue Hour” and “Twilight.” I like your quote about great writers and successful writers. Mastering a craft like writing can be a reward in itself. I have met a few writers both in person and online, and they acknowledge that writing is not the best way to become wealthy. Many of them work at other jobs and write in their spare time.
Man, in all honesty I’d rather be a successful writer than a great one – but I define ‘successful’ as writing something I’m happy with. If what I write makes me happy then I’ve succeeded in what I set out to do. Being a ‘great’ writer is determined by others, so it’s something I have no control over.
Hi Chris, I’m glad you liked my post today so I could find you in return. Interesting concept you’ve put on the line. I’d like to throw in my opinion that there is absolutely no reason that a writer cannot be both great and successful. Not all of the richly paid writers of popular acceptance are hacks. Have you read John Irving’s wonderfully rich novels? Strive for both, sir.
Interesting take on a complex subject. Artists, in general, seldom achieve “greatness” in their lifetime. It usually takes a type of exploitation that occurs after their death, before that happens. Issues like copyright and artistic control disappear.
As you rightly point out. There are many financially successful writers. Whether they are “Great”, is a matter that only time will tell. When I was young I thought books by and the writer A.A. Van Vogt were great. At the time he was successful. Now barely forty years on, they are consigned to the dustbin of history. How many times will that happen?
I say, go for the success in financial terms. So you have the luxury of writing. Without issues of funding, lurking in the background. I personally feel, that any artist. Only has one person to satisfy. That’s themselves. Money, is a fickle mistress. Hey, wishing you good luck! Whatever course you find. Cheers Jamie.
I guess it all depends on how you define successful. Personally I don’t equate success with money, I equate it with effort and “doing”. One writes or one thinks and talks about writing never lifting a pen or typing a key. I believe you are already successful ☺