Tuesday, 6th October, 2020. The day Eddie Van Halen died from throat cancer.
Some of you may not know who Eddie Van Halen was – EVH for short. He was an American rock guitarist who, like Jimi Hendrix, changed how people played rock guitar. He was an inspiration to several generations of rock guitarists.
He had to deal with a lot of issues in his life, like injuries (from his high-octane stage act) and the almost inevitable drink and drugs. He eventually succumbed to throat cancer at the age of 65. He had smoked since he was 12.
Over his career, he sold 56 million records.
So what’s all this got to do with writing?
After his death, I was amazed by the sheer volume of wonderful comments from people across the rock music spectrum – fans, fellow musicians, friends. So many people were struck almost dumb from the loss of this trailblazer. His death knocked them for six.
Because sometimes, we doubt ourselves. Sometimes, we feel burnt out – it looks like our writing isn’t getting anywhere. We don’t achieve the sort of success we’re looking for, that validation of our writing. No matter how hard we try, that pinnacle just keeps eluding us.
But if you’re a writer, you can’t not write. There is no way you can stop writing, just because the money and fame hasn’t come your way. If you’re a writer, you will write if you’re not successful, if you don’t have a laptop or a notebook or you’ve lost the use of your hand or … whatever. The desire to create stories in embedded deep within us, usually from a very early age.
A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.Richard Bach
You don’t always know when someone is reading your work. Several times over my life, I’m been shocked to receive some feedback on my writing.
The first time occurred on a campsite in Northern France. I was ambling down the campsite field one day, and someone called across to me.
“Hey! Are you Gerald?”
Now this could be a good thing, or it could be a bad thing. I have some quite strong views, and I’m often not afraid to air them. But someone had recognised me from my motorhome.
“Maybe. Possibly. Why?”
The guy came walking over to me, and shook my hand. “I just wanted to say that I read your blog, and I love reading it. I can’t wait for every new episode. I just wanted to say that. Cheers.”
The second shock came when someone emailed me, out of the blue. I didn’t know them, but they’d picked up my first little collection of flash fiction, Bleak Midwinter Tales. They said “I really enjoyed reading your stories. They were great.”
The third example was when I was working as a roving technician in schools, and one of the head teachers came up to me in the staffroom one day. “I read those stories you wrote. You can really write, can’t you?”
These three examples show that you don’t need to have money rolling in or Amazon or Goodreads reviews to justify and validate your writing. Somewhere, out of sight, someone could be reading your work, and enjoying it.
When Eddie Van Halen was starting out, he couldn’t afford to buy a professional rock guitar, so he made one out of parts he bought separately. He called it his “Frankenstrat”, based on a Fender Stratocaster but built like Frankenstein’s monster. He bought a neck from one place, a cheap body from another because the wood had a knot in it. He got on with things, made a guitar and got on with his career.
So don’t waste time prevaricating or procrastinating. Open up that word processor or the notebook, and start putting down your thoughts and ideas, and your dreams and fantasies. Like I’ve just done, at 2:21am, to get this blog post written.
Make your mark. Get the writing done, before it’s too late.
As EVH says: Just keep pedalling. And smile.