This morning as I was trolling through Facebook I saw this quote
“Writing is like sex. You don’t have to wait until you’re an expert to begin doing it.” – Anonymous
I laughed of course. I giggle at most sexual references though which is probably unusual for someone who writes erotica. I continued scrolling through my newsfeed but I kept thinking about that quote. And that quote led me to think about another quote I heard recently.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a rabid fan of the Foo Fighters. So much so that I can’t listen to them before going to bed. If they touch my ears within an hour or two of bedtime I become so wired I can’t sleep. There’s something about that music that just flips the crazy switch in my brain (although god knows it’s not a hard switch to trip!) and I lay there staring at the ceiling continuing to vibrate. I wish I was joking or being overdramatic but I’m not. I love…love…LOVE the Foo Fighters!
Aside from the music I love Dave Grohl’s attitude. He gave the keynote speech this year at the SXSW music festival and for anyone who hasn’t seen it, you really should. He is speaking about music, but really a lot of what he said there could be applied to writers, or any artist really. It runs almost an hour but is so worth the watch and I promise you, you will walk away from listening to that wanting to go create something just for the pure enjoyment that creativity brings. I saw an interview with him recently where he said, “I don’t want to be perfect. I just want to be badass!”
I heard him say that and I remember thinking, “Wow!” Here is someone who most people would look at and deem a legend. Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Them Crooked Vultures. He’s worked with every legendary musician out there from the generation before him, his own, and the ones after. Despite all that the man doesn’t seem to have a snobbish bone in his body when it comes to looking at his profession. At the end of the day what Dave Grohl seems to want is simply to make music. He has no desire to look at other people and tell them how they’re doing it wrong (although with a resume like his he certainly could make a whole separate career out of doing that), he doesn’t want to put himself above the up and comers, he doesn’t want to look at and compare himself to anyone else…he just wants to be a badass.
When it comes to doing anything there are varying levels of skill and talent of course. If writing were music my work would more so be Johnny Rotten than Bach. Is one better than the other? I’m sure fans of classical music would drone on forever about the nuances of Bach and the ins and outs of why it deserves more attention and respect than anything Johnny Rotten ever did. But you know what? Johnny Rotten had some pretty interesting things to say and certainly was good at moving people and evoking an emotion. He may not have been classically trained, but man, he certainly kicked some ass making music didn’t he? People loved him for it and are still loving him today. (Side Note: I am not comparing myself to Johnny Rotten! I am the dirt that coats the scum on his shoes. Rock on Johnny!)
What does this have to do with writing? A lot actually. We could take a page out of the book of music here. For a long time I wrote but didn’t show anyone or take it very seriously because being a voracious reader I would always flip to the back of the book and scan the, ‘About the Author’ page. The vast majority of author bios went something like this: “Joe Blow graduated from Fancy Pants University, Suma Cum Laude, with a degree in Being Better Than You. After than he went on and received his masters in Perfection, and won an award for being born a writing genus.”
Ok I’m exaggerating…sort of. Every author bio was usually nothing more than a list of where the writer had gone to school, years they’d graduated and letters they’d earned to put behind their name.
Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge anyone their formal education. It’s a huge achievement that’s accomplished with much hard work and dedication, but the impression I was getting from all the bios I was reading was that only people who have a massive amount of education are permitted to be writers. I never saw a bio that said, “Joe Blow is a high school dropout and a garbage man with a talent for telling stories.” Not once! That’s starting to change now with the advancements in self-publishing though, and thank god for that because, being a Joe Blow myself, I bet his stories are badass.
Should you try to make your work the best it can be? Absolutely! Although the opinion of what that is will vary from person to person. I sent a sample of my book off to an editor about a year ago who emailed me back and basically told me I was a terrible writer. I was crushed at the time. I stayed in bed for the better part of three days and didn’t write again for months! Fast forward to June of 2013. The book is for sale on Amazon and I have received lots of great reviews, and have heard from many, many people about how much they love the book. I am so grateful for the rejection of that editor. I think she would have turned it into something I would not have liked under the guise of making it ‘better’.
Is it perfect? Hell no! Is it badass? In my opinion, yes!
Writing belongs to us all. It’s not just for the academics and editors and grammar Nazis and snobbish large publication reviewers. It’s for all of us! READ the stories you want to read, and WRITE the stories you want to write, and SCREW anyone who tells you that you can’t or shouldn’t because you don’t have this or that degree. Or that you’re too young, or too old. Or any other meaningless, empty excuse they use to talk you out of it.
As Mr. Grohl said in his speech, “Who determines the value of a voice?” Everyone does, and yet, no one does. When I start to feel like I don’t have the right to be writing I try to look at it this way. One day the sun will expand consuming the earth and all the books, all the music, all the art that we humans spent hours and hours discussing will be gone. We will have spent so much time talking in circles trying to determine (in vain!) which piece is more important or ‘better’ and guess what? It doesn’t even matter. It will all be vaporized, along with whatever is left of you (wherever they decided to stick you when you dropped dead) and all your descendants.
Write! Paint! Make music! Create! And if someone loves it, you should love them back in return. Appreciate the hell out of those people. And if someone doesn’t get it? Oh well! As the Foo Fighters say, “Done! Done! On to the next one!”