Don't Be Shy: Write Like a God Damn Rock Star!
Immediately prior to James Osterberg taking the stage, something extraordinary happens. The usually mild-mannered Jim, quite placid and measured in his downtime, seemingly body-snatches the Incredible Hulk on speed, and transforms into a wild, primal beast, that for the next ninety-minutes will prowl the stage like a caged tiger, hump the Marshall stacks, and eyeball audience members into wanton intimidation. For ninety minutes a night, James Osterberg is Iggy Pop, perhaps the wildest frontman rock ‘n’ roll has ever encountered.
I’ve witnessed this transformation on two occasions; working backstage for a catering company that served its purpose well by getting me into the music industry. It really is quite an unsettling, yet wholly wonderful phenomenon to behold. One minute, you’ll be talking to Jim, quite low key, and asking him what he would like with his peppermint tea, when all of a sudden, almost mid-sentence, Iggy is let out of the cage and holy hell, look out if you happen to get caught up in his attacking frenzy!
However, this article has nothing to do with music and has everything to do with the art of writing. Writing is the purest form of expression and freedom of thought that human existence has to offer. The possibilities are infinite, and can cross over into the taboo, the occult, or even the most insane or violent fantasy, without ridicule, condemnation, or the risk of breaking the law. It’s just that beautiful. The blank page, or these days, the blank screen, is the biggest turn on ever to grace humanity. Porn? Who needs it? Just write your own!
So why is it that so many writers simply choose to follow a formula or a set template when they craft their novels? Why is it that so many choose to only write within the realms of mediocrity and the inane? What the hell is a formula for writing anyway? Who designed this thing? It’s a trap that I have discovered has a very strong stranglehold on a lot of independent writers. In recent years, publishing has taken on a whole new personality of its own, mostly thanks to the internet. Now, anybody who has the time and the will, can publish their own novel from go to woe, easily, efficiently, and cost effective. This is a great thing and fits right in with my own sensibilities like a randy teenage boy fits into a latex doll.
There’s a problem though; the formula itself. Like any art, to create a novel does not require a formal education or qualification, and like any art, no novel should be ranked, itemised, or deemed successful or unsuccessful in anyone’s eyes. However, this formula that many independent authors seem to follow is not only gunning for novel content to be tangible and constrained within a dull classification, but it is also promoting that oh so miserable and disillusioning of words, mediocrity. This formula for a successful novel is only providing one solitary thing; a distinctive and dividing line separating the true artists from the business people. Sure, the formula might help you create a novel that sells and makes you some money, and that’s fine, I don’t begrudge anybody of that. However, does it really ensure that your novel is successful? I guess success can be measured in many variables, it’s kind of existential, but kind of ethereal at the same time. But a true writer, a true artist, has swagger, confidence, even arrogance, and stands behind their creations every inch of the way. They write like rock stars and to hell with the consequences. Those that write to a specific formula, or google a stock standard flow chart proclaiming how a novel should be, to put it bluntly, they write like accountants. It’s boring.
The point is this: no matter who you are, whether you’re a quiet and reserved introvert, a loudmouth show-off, follow a strict religion, a narcissist, a student, a grandmother, whatever, when you take to that keyboard to write your book, you best make damn sure that your rock star altar-ego turns up to play.
Just take a look at some of the greatest books of the twentieth century; Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, George Orwell’s ‘1984’, Anthony Burgess’ ‘A Clockwork Orange’, Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’… they are successful novels. They are the books that the people remember. They most certainly did not follow a set formula. They created their own. Sure, those authors didn’t make a million dollars from their work, but those books are the true and pure definition of what art is; controversial, original, revolutionary. English romance novelist Jackie Collins was one author who built an entire empire from mass producing a formulaic set of cheese and swill. But hey, that’s subjective I guess. But you tell me, off the top of your head, can you name me one title of a Jackie Collins book? No? That’s because she wrote disposable fiction. An escapism for her readers to remain subdued, none the wiser, and to develop unrealistic standards of how their own lives should be. Her books are not memorable. And this is the question that I believe every author should be asking themselves:
Do I want to write something important, something that provokes a reaction be it positive or negative, something original and memorable, with a point, a purpose, and a meaning?
Do I want to undertake a career of word churning simply to make a few bucks?
On one side are the true artists, on the other, the business people.
Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t room for both, there is. Also, of course, there is the possibility that one might write a book that’s both important and financially lucrative. It’s like anything in life; through the shit one must tread in order to discover the pure joy of what it is to devour the hidden fruit. But it’s a tricky little day and age we live in. Now that things are so convenient, and so simple to search for, no one really wants to do it. We can’t be bothered. So, instead of searching and exploring, we simply consume. And e-books are no exception. Rarely does the surface of the internet book world become penetrated by the consumer, it is merely skimmed, and because of this, true genius and revolution remains undiscovered. Lost and buried in the swampy miasma of verbal diarrhoea and formulaic mediocrity.
Without revolution, without risk and sheer artistic daredevil, how can we ever escape the status quo? Do we really want to be stuck on this roundabout forever?
Take artists like Salvador Dali, Roxy Music, Douglas Adams, William S. Burroughs, Dead Kennedys, Pablo Picasso, the Dadaists... do you really think that they stuck to a formula when creating? No. For if they had, there would be no surrealism, no internet, punk or the avant-garde, or simply no freedom of thought and expression at all. We’d still be living in the oppressive 19th century. Thanks to revolutionaries such as these, we are not.
Don’t be shy. Don’t be afraid. Write like a god damn rock star! Break the shackles of how things are meant to be and free yourself! Every single person on the planet has that ability within themselves, they truly do. Every person has their own story, their own unique style, motivation and purpose. There are no qualifications required here. No one on this great spinning rock we call Earth has any right whatsoever to tell someone else how to write; no publisher, marketer, producer, agent… NO ONE!
There are several reasons why a lot of us choose to remain totally independent of the mainstream publishing world. One reason is that only one in one-thousand books are actually ever picked up by a mainstream publisher; the odds suck. But the other is pure creative freedom. No artist wants to hear from a publisher or agent that they must change their work to suit the masses. Fuck that. Creations are our babies. If some know-it-all told you that your kid has to change to fit within the constraints of mainstream society, wouldn’t you just want to smack them in the mouth? So why, on God’s green Earth, would anyone who chooses to remain independent to continue the pursuit of creative freedom, then choose to follow a template during the creation process? It baffles me.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking, I can feel the dagger burn from here. Here I am telling you not to listen to anyone who tries to tell you how to write, but all the while I’m the one actually preaching how it must be done. But here’s the thing... I’m not judging your final product. You do whatever the hell you want. It doesn’t effect me one way or the other. If anything, I’d prefer that every single one of my competition writes utter crap. That would make my life easier. But art is bigger than just you or I; it’s a wholly intangible entity unto itself. And as writers, I believe that we all have the responsibility to continue to ensure that our art prospers, flourishes and evolves in tidal waves of colour and originality, not bleak, corporatized, formulaic mediocrity. That goes for you. That goes for me. If we choose to maintain the status quo, who wins? You? Me? We might make a few bucks, great! We can eat for another month. But it’s not us who wins, it’s publishers and multinational corporations. Amazon wins. Google wins. Random House and Barnes & Noble win. Because what you are writing will only be on an even keel with a lot of the drivel those companies churn out, and I don’t need to tell you, they have a far superior means of getting their products out there. So why would anyone want to bother with you?
Speak in color, write in rainbows, remain independent and go down in history as someone who is not a corporate shill or a drone author, but a revolutionary who bows down to nothing but the boundless energies and intellects of their own mind and will power. Remain true. If you must, be a James Osterberg in everyday life; mild-mannered and blending in. But when it comes time to take to that blank screen, unleash the Iggy, and you hump the living fuck out of that keyboard! Write the next ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ or ‘Naked Lunch’. And write the next book to take your art to a whole new level that it has never dreamed of reaching before.
Write like a god damn rock star!
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