Thursday, April 19, 2012

Drummers & Writers, Take Note

I took my son, Jack, to a drum clinic the other night.  Jack has been taking drum lessons weekly since January.  He also plays percussion in his school's band class.  He is musically inclined.  Loves to dance, sing, write music, play the drums.  So, when his drum instructor (the very talented Joe Buerger) told him that Todd Sucherman, the drummer of STYX (you know: Babe, Renegade, The Best of Times...) would be in town to hold a drum clinic, he begged me to attend.  Now, seeing as I grew up in the 70s and 80s, he didn't have to beg too hard to get me to take him.  I believe I saw STYX at Six Flags once upon a time.

But I digress.  Jack and I joined about 50 other drummers (and parents of drummers) last night to meet Todd, listen to him play, and talk about the instrument and his career, and answer questions.

I knew Jack would love it.  And knowing my own love for drummers (my favorite instrument in any band), I assumed I would enjoy it enough.  What I didn't know is that this guy would speak to me - to my heart.  Not in the romantic sense, mind you.  This is about a shared love of the arts.  Everything he said about music, I related directly to writing.  If you are an artist in any sense of the word, I think you might appreciate a few of his comments:

1. Having enthusiasm - passion - for anything, comes across to others.  The origin of the word Enthusiasm comes from the greek word "Entheos" which means "the God within" - Whether that's a love of music, the written word, painting - whatever.  Artists who are 100% focused on their art seem to radiate it from within.  It is their passion - their light within.  The best of the best are so good because they show us that passion.
There is an intimacy in these artists.  It's almost as though we - the audience - are a bit like voyeurs.  Peeking into their innermost private thoughts and emotions.  They let go, pour themselves into their art, and not only do we see it, but we feel it.  It's incredibly powerful.

2. The time we spend working on, practicing and perfecting our art is not about quantity, but quality.  While I think it's true that to be good at something, you must spend time doing it (writers must, for example, read, in order to become better writers.  They must also write, write, write.).  However, while spending three hours writing might keep our skills up to speed, it won't necessarily make us better at our craft.  We must push ourselves, step outside our comfort zone, stretch our own limits, in order to grow.  This reminds me of my boot camp instructor/trainer, who always says that an hour of focused, hard work in the studio does more than three hours just going through the motions of working out.  Todd said the same last night.  FOCUS is KEY.

3. There are musicians who play simply to impress.  They play the loudest, biggest notes all the time in order to make the biggest impression.  But sometimes it's the quiet notes that move an audience.  And when the big notes are played around the quieter ones, they tend to have much greater impact.  I was nodding my head as he talked about this.  Because it's the same with writing.  There are writers who just adore big words.  They use them constantly, seemingly in an effort to sound smart, or talented.  Look at me!  It screams, I know all the big words!  And I can use them in a sentence!  
But, for me, it's the simplest language that has the greatest impact.  And most times, makes the most sense.

4. Artists love their gear.  Really.  Any artist who is truly passionate about what they do loves the STUFF they use to create their art.  Todd is in love with the drums. Last night, he said that since he was in diapers he's had a love affair with the instrument.  Drums both terrified and excited him before he could walk.  He began playing at age 3, and has never stopped.

I feel the same way about words. Although for me, it's not the words that terrify me so much as the absence of them on the page.

It's true though about the gear.  I LOVE everything to do with writing.  I've said it before, but I am in love with writing - much more so than it is with me.  I cherish old typewriters, fountain pens, journals, favorite books, bookmarks, even my dog eared dictionary and battered copy of The Elements of Style.  I love the process, I love the ideas, the pain, the pursuit, the joy of seeing my words in print, even a rejection letter that makes me feel a part of it in some twisted way.  Yes, I know that might be faster and even have more info.  But there is a romance in pulling out my well-used dictionary, flipping through the yellowed pages and looking up a word.  I still do it.

If you take away just two thoughts from this blog, let it be these:
1.  LOVE what you do.  And if you have a passion, feed it.
2. If you have kids, let them see you chasing your dreams (even failing is good - as long as they also see you get right back up again). And by all means, help them to follow their own.  Take 'em to a drum clinic, for example.  Introduce them to professionals who make a living doing what they love.  Who knows? Someday, they might be putting on a clinic of their own.

The other night, someone in the audience asked Todd when he first realized he wanted to be a drummer (in a rock band) for a living.  His answer?  Never.  He admitted that he'd never had that light bulb moment, never had that sudden realization.  He said music - playing drums - was such a huge part of his life from the very beginning that he never even considered doing anything else.  He did however name a few people who inspired him - namely his own father (who incidentally was a jazz drummer through the 50s, 60s and 70s).

I was originally inspired by authors of my favorite childhood books (Laura Ingalls' Little House series, Ann of Green Gables, Where the Sidewalk Ends, To Kill a Mockingbird), and later by my high school Creative Writing teacher, Julie Zipfel.  I am still inspired... By great writers, and by friends who floor me with their talent for the written word (namely Jennifer, Linda, Lynn, Tammy and Sioux).

But I digress (again)... What's your dream? Who's your inspiration? And when did that light bulb first go off in your head?

(Author's Note: Drummers & Writers aren't always made for each other.  But, they can make life-long friends, if they can realize their mistakes and remember what's really important.  But, that's a blog for another time.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On Golf and Writing

Sometimes we just need a little push.  Some positive energy.  Take golf for example.  I can play 17 crappy holes, but that one great shot brings me back.  After the game, having a sub-par sandwich and an ice-cold beer, the conversation goes something like this:

What about number 5, huh?  That par 3?  What a shot over the water!  Yeah, okay, the first ball went in the drink, but still!  What a shot - right over and on the green!  30 feet from the pin, but high!  Unbelievable ball!

Oh, and how about that putt on 17!  Geez, that was what? 30? 40 feet?  What a line I had on that one!

God!  Can't wait to play next weekend!

Forget about the 16 holes of balls on the beach, balls in the drink, balls in the rough, chunked fairway shots and 3-putters.

For me, golf imitates writing.  I don't send out that many pieces -one or two essays or feature articles a month at most - but the feeling I get when I see an acceptance letter is always the same.  Feels like the very first time (to quote Foreigner).

This year, I've sent out a total of five pieces.  Three to Sasee Magazine, of which two have been published, and two to Chicken Soup for the Soul, of which one (so far - I'm optimistic) will be published.  I'm batting 500, which is pretty great.  Now, what would happen if I could bump up my submissions to three a month?  Could I keep those odds?  Maybe not.  But, the one thing I know for sure (Thanks Oprah), is that anything I don't send has a 0% chance of getting published.  So, better to keep writing.

If you have any interest, all my published articles are listed on the right side of this blog page.  Most of them you can get to with a click of the mouse.  The Chicken Soup stories...well, you'll have to buy the books, but they're worth it!  And while you're at it, check out their  They're always coming out with new titles, and looking for true stories from real people.  I'm sure you have a story to tell...why not get paid for it?

I also manage a blog for the marketing agency for which I work.  If you're in the industry, or a student hoping to be, you might find something of interest here:

Come to think of it, I also guest blog for an online industry blog called Beneath the Brand.  Those articles are listed on the right of this page, too (another one just got accepted today!).

But I digress, sometimes all it takes to drive us forward is a little taste of success.  What's your dream?  Have you given it a shot? Why the hell not?  It just might come true.  Then, of course, you'll be creating new dreams, bigger goals.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  In fact, I haven't hit par on one hole yet this year, so that's my next goal.  Hell, maybe I'll even keep score next time I'm out on the links.  Like, real numbers, and not just those stars and smiley faces I use now (you should see my score card sometime...).

Happy Dreaming!