Monday, April 21, 2014

The Piano Player and the Writer

There's an old story that floats around, one that rings true to me and to every artist, about what it takes to succeed.  I'll tell it the best I can.

A professional concert pianist sat in a hotel lobby behind the keys of a grande piano, and began to play from memory.  He played classical music by Motzart, then moved to jazz, then to boogie-woogie, then back to classical.  He ended his near-hour-long impromptu set with a melancholy piece that moved some to tears.  When he was done, a man approached him.  "I'd give anything to be able to play like that," said the man.  "I have," said the pianist.

What does that mean to me, the writer?  What does that mean to any artist?  It means that what we do is no matter of wishing, no fluke of nature, no whim or hobby.  It is serious.  Our art, whatever it is, is our lives.  Think about that for a moment.  Think of the time you spend watching television, or becoming addicted to another mini-series.  Think of the time you spend on video games or other endeavors.  Think of the things you do to occupy your time.

Now imagine them all gone, replaced with a single overriding thought.  A drive.  A passion.

That is what it means to be a writer.

What the pianist meant by "I have" was, instead of doing other things, his drive was to practice.  His drive was to drill.  His passion for music stole him away from other endeavors.  Not that there was anything wrong with the other activities, they just weren't his passion.  They weren't his muse.  They didn't fill him up the way music did.

The same holds true for writers.  How many times have you, the writers who are reading this, been told by someone (friend, co-worker, demon from hell who is intent on you never writing another word) "oh you have to watch this new series…" or "I'm sending you a link to this on Netflix…It's only got three seasons."  How many times have you heard "but you haven't come out of your writing room/hole/cave/hovel/insert-derogatory-term-here in hours/days/weeks/who the hell are you?"  How many times have your friends not understood your need for isolation?  If you're not a writer, and you're reading this, how many times have you wondered "is something wrong with…" because he often disappears into his or her office and closes the door?  Do you honestly think we don't know?  Do you honestly think we don't care?

The perfect television.

We do.  But that's just it.  We care.  We care enough about our art to sacrifice things like television shows that we don't need, video game time when we should be writing, internet porn when our characters call to us.  It's not that we're too good for television, but we have other priorities.  Or, and this is often the case, they just don't interest us.  I know it's almost blasphemous to say in the modern age, but for some of us, we just aren't interested in the latest sitcom, TV drama, or reality program.  It makes it hard for us to meet people, difficult for us to socialize.  Deep down, wherever we are, we'd rather be writing.  We'd rather be torturing your characters with tense situations and embarrassing moments.  When the laugh-track comes from inside our own heads, it's so much better.

Every now and again, someone comes up to me and says "I'd give anything to have as many books published as you" or "I'd give anything to write a novel."

I have.


  1. Thank you for this timely reminder Scott. My husband and I just had a long conversation yesterday about all the activities we're doing that we no longer enjoy but still waste time on, and all the things we'd rather do with that time. Screw Netflix, I'd rather be writing.

  2. Got rid of the television many years ago. You don't know how many times people have gone into shock when I tell them I have no idea about the 'show' they are talking about. (And they usually have no idea about the book I'm reading!) It doesn't matter, I have my life. You can be a part of it and accept me as I am or get out of it. Even my roommates understand, the door may be open, I'm listening to my music, but I'm writing and that means, don't even bother. Whatever it is can wait. Passion is so much more fun than everyday life. Chase it and never stop running after it.