Friday, July 16, 2010

On talent, success, & bra throwing

Wednesday night, we saw Colin Hay in concert.

You may recall he was the front-man for ‘80s band Men at Work. They won a Grammy in 1983 for best new artist and had a few chart-topping hits including “Down Under.”

Now, Colin Hay plays solo acoustic shows in small towns where many audience members would be hard pressed to name any of his solo tunes.

The second he took the stage, I was dumbstruck. He’s one of the most talented performers I’ve ever seen – and I’m a concert whore, so I don’t say this lightly. His voice was breathtaking, his guitar playing flawless, his showmanship hysterically entertaining. If I hadn’t been reluctant to part with my favorite bra, I might’ve thrown it.
Colin Hay on Wednesday night.

From his jokes, it’s clear he’s aware of the irony in going from sold-out stadium shows to a tiny stage in Central Oregon.

But though his position on the charts has changed, his talent hasn’t. Regardless of how many tickets he sells, he’s an amazing musician.

I can’t help but see a tie to writing. Deep down, don’t we all hope for superstardom? Don’t we all want our books to sell at auction for ridiculous figures, to ascend the bestseller lists and have Oprah and Letterman bitch-slapping each other over the first interview?

But the reality is that it happens for very few artists – musicians or writers. For every performer like Sting or Bono or Steven Tyler whose superstar status spans 30 or 40 years, there are guys like Colin Hay. No less talented, but with careers that have gone a decidedly different direction.

Part of me wants to feel sad about this.

Part of me says Are you kidding? A talented artist making a living doing what he loves? What’s sad about that?

I’ll admit I wouldn’t mind seeing my name on a bestseller list someday. Though I’ll do everything in my power to make it happen, I have very little control. I can work hard and hone my talent, but the odds are slim I’ll ever be driven to book signings in a limousine with throngs of fans beating on the windows and throwing Pop Tarts.

I’m OK with that.

Because talent and success can’t be measured by book sales or the number of concert seats filled. I know that for every blockbuster book atop the lists, there are dozens more that are every bit as good – maybe better – that just don’t have the magic marketing formula to fly off the shelves.

It’s enough for me to know I’m damn lucky. I’m getting to do what I love – to slap words on a page and make a few people smile, to even make a little money doing it.

Though my dreams of grandeur might entertain me, it’s the lure of just doing what I love that keeps me going.

That, and the fantasy of giving Oprah a wedgie if I ever make it on her show.

How about you? If you never write a runaway bestseller, are you OK with that? Is it enough just to know you’re a writer, that you’re talented enough to create a book in the first place?

I’ll leave you with this song from Colin Hay. If you like it, go buy it on iTunes. Do it now.


Patty Blount said...

Words to live by: "'s the lure of just doing what I love that keeps me going."


Julie Weathers said...

This is one of the best posts you've ever written.

I'm good with doing what I love.

Patrick Alan said...

I don't understand this possibility of writing a book that isn't a best seller. If I write it, everyone will buy it. Right? You'll buy it. Just to read the scene in the sushi bar where the protagonist yells Fenske over and over at the sushi chef to see what he makes.

Fenske! Fenske! Fenske!

I come from the land down under and women throw their underwear.

Elizabeth Ryann said...

Yeah, at this point I'm really looking forward to only having one job. But the goal is to be a runaway bestseller who looks down on the little people like J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Nora Roberts. Just to keep things in perspective, you know?

Jennifer Foushee said...

Wow - "timely" just doesn't say it. This topic seems to be the recurring theme in my life this week.

With culture/society saying that our success is defined by how much money we make, it's hard for all of us not to have the fingers-crossed, pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top, I-will-bust-my-can-if-the-stars-can-just-align-right-to-help-me-make-it-big hopes of unadulterated grandeur. What you've said here, Tawna, is right on: there's nothing wrong with hoping, but what if we make up the 90+% of folks who don't hit the big time?

The thing I've discovered in writing is that I not only love it, but I actually feel like it was what I was *meant* to do. And that's huge. So if that's all I get - just the sense that I am blessed enough to get to do something that feels like home for me, then that's enough.

Linda G. said...

Well, it would be a burden, but I'd try my best to bear up. ;)

Though seriously? (Yeah, I CAN be serious. Shocking, I know.) Just to be able to write what I love writing, and to have the possibility that more than my small group of loyal betas and CPs will read it one day...well, I am remarkably content with the prospect. :)

Candyland said...

I've yet to throw a bra and I'm a concert whore too. I'd want it back after I threw it...
And yeah, I do think we're all working towards some form of superstardom...

Sierra Godfrey said...

You know, I think I used to define my success by whether I'd sell a book or not. But that was before I'd really learned about the industry and learned more about writing fiction. Now, I define success by my ability to complete an engaging story that doesn't miss the mark or make people want to vomit (unless that is my intent of course).

However, the goal of selling my work and making it available for others to read via publishing is an excellent motivator.

Shain Brown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shain Brown said...

There are many levels of stardom and each of us dream where it lies for us. For some is it oprah, others want rights sold to hollywood, some even dream of creating a new genre of writing. But so long as I dont have to resort to free downloads of an ebook I wrote when things were good then I'm ok. So to do what we love and make a moderate income sounds pretty good. Doing what we love vesus wishing to do what we cant. Suddenly the choice is clear.

Sounds like you had fun. Thanks for such a great post.

Anne R. Allen said...

Great post. My role model is Betty White. I want a nice, solid career, building to superstardom when I'm 89.

BTW, do you know Janet Reid is using YOUR name in her contest today?


Patty, aw, thanks! :)

Julie, and thank YOU too! I knew what I wanted to say when I left the concert Wednesday night, but had a hard time getting the words just right in my brain. Wasn't sure I'd managed to do it, so I'm glad it worked for you!

Patrick, my parents are visiting this evening, and I'm going to take them out for sushi so we can yell our last name over and over at the chef. Thank you for the suggestion.

Elizabeth, I think there's gotta be a balance between dreaming big but making sure you're satisfied even if you don't hit that level.

Jennifer, great sentiments all around! I sometimes wonder if my rather bumpy road to a book deal was all part of making sure I came to terms with the idea that success isn't easy to achieve, so I needed to learn to appreciate every tiny success along the way.

Linda G, well, you and I are pretty much guaranteed success by virtue of having the most amazing agent on the planet, right?

Candyland, believe it or not, I HAVE thrown a bra at a concert. But it wasn't mine. Someday I'll explain that in a blog post.

Sierra, I hate to say writers need to lower their expectations, since that's not what I mean exactly. But you do ensure yourself a lot more happiness if you learn to just be grateful for every achievement you make, big or small.

Shain, amen to this: "Doing what we love versus wishing to do what we can't." Very true!

Anne, Betty White -- what a great role model! I did see my name on Janet's contest (well, I briefly wondered if there's another Fenske out there she could be referencing, but it's not the world's most common name, is it?) Hope to see your entry up there!

Thanks for reading, guys!

Elisabeth Black said...

"Oprah and Letterman bitch-slapping each other over the first interview"

This is the fantasy image of my LIFE.

I like this post. I'm still getting used to the idea of trying to get published. When I first started writing, it was because I just had to write. Now, I am having this whole new world in my thoughts about sharing my work with other people. If I wanted bestsellerdom, it would be for that reason. The notion of popularity scares me. I'm shy. But if I could write a worthwhile, a really amazing book, and share that and make people feel feelings - that would be incredible.

Anonymous said...

This song is wonderful and I'd be happy just to become a published author someday.

LR said...

Aww I liked that. I didn't know his name was Colin Hay (thought it was Man at Work).

I have to say, the best writing I've read lately was not in big-touted bestsellers but in little online zines.

Hope you have a nice weekend (without tattered underwear on forest trails).

KD Easley said...

I'm happy I'm able to write, and making a little money off of it is just the icing on the cake. It took me a while to realize the journey was the important part of the writing business, but I finally did and I'm happy with that.

Elizabeth Ryann said...

Yeah, I get that. I was mostly kidding. I think all three are of average height, not little.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I'll still keep writing, no matter what. It's the one thing I've always been sure of, and I can't imagine a life without writing. But it would be nice if I got to the point of superstardom where people were throwing Pop-Tarts at me. Only instead of Pop-Tarts it'd be candy bars.

Delia said...

If you ever give Oprah a wedgie, I will fly to your location to throw Pop-Tarts at you. Really.

Patrick Alan said...

Please tell me what they served you at the sushi bar. I want to see how accurate I am.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

I'm also a singer/songwriter, so I know the music biz as well as the writing biz, and you're right - it's a crap shoot. We artists do what we do because we love it. And, if we win the artistic lottery? Then, bring on the bitch-slapping!

Liz Czukas said...

I LOVE Colin Hay! He frequents my iPod playlists and never fails to bring a smile to my face. Except for "Waiting for My Real Life To Begin" which always gets me a little choked up--especially since it was on that episode of Scrubs. Le sigh.

Great post, Tawna!

- Liz

Eleven Eleven said...

I must be your exact opposite; a concert virgin. At least, until last Wednesday.

I saw Jamie Cullum, who mesmerized me. That man is music incarnate.

I also made parallels with musical performance and writing. Who cares about the fame? Jamie was ALIVE on stage, the joy of his art just pulsed through him, and I felt like he had let me in on his secret happiness.

Isn't that why we write? Because it's a secret happiness we want to share? Something lights up when we put words to paper, and those words can spark something in other people, too.

Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing.

Bona Fide Betty said...

This was a great post. And the song is awesome.

My goal used to be to sell a book. Sell, sell, sell... I thought about that so much that it stopped me from actually writing. So now, I am just focusing on writing the story that's in my head, writing the best story I can. It's a freeing feeling.

Jan Markley said...

great song. maybe he'll play at a festival in a mid-sized canadian mountain city. Great post. at the end of the day you have to love what you do and that's what gets you through the frustrating times.


Elizabeth Black, I wake up every morning with that image in my mind of Oprah & Letterman bitch-slapping each other. It's what keeps me going.

Suz, isn't that a great song? Another nice one is "Wayfaring Sons."

LR, I was pleased to be one of the few people in the audience who was already a fan of his solo stuff before he took the stage. Truly amazing talent!

Elizabeth Ryann, speak for yourself, I'm totally planning to look down on EVERYONE. Bwahahahahahaha!

Neurotic Workaholic, Pop Tarts, candy bars...I welcome anyone who wants to throw food at me (as long as it's not rotten tomatoes).

Delia, doesn't Oprah go off the air in 2011? Guess I'd better get cracking on that goal, since my book release is also next year.

Patrick, they threw raw fish at us and started weeping.

Debra, sometimes I do wish there were an automatic correlation between hard work & talent & success. But all you have to do is flip on the radio and listen to some of the top 40 crap playing to know that's not the case.

Liz, that song was in an episode of Scrubs? Cool! He mentioned another one of his songs was featured on the soundtrack for "Garden State," so maybe he's sleeping with Zach Braff.

Eleven Eleven, I only know one Jamie Cullum song, but I like it a lot. Will have to listen to more, thanks for the tip!

Bona Fide Betty, good for you picking a new goal that gives you a bit more peace. I found the same thing over my rather bumpy road to the book deal -- making my goals a bit more achievable ensured I had a number of successes along the way :)

Jan, you might check his concert schedule -- wouldn't surprise me if he DID play some Canadian locations!

Thanks for reading, guys!

Dr. Goose said...

Nice job Tawna.

Claire Dawn said...

Did you and Kiersten White plan this goal posts thing? (Goal posts!! lol! ok- I know that was corny, but it was totally unintentional!)

Lately, I've been coming to the conclusion that I don't want to be a megabestseller, where people spend their days trying to pick your work apart, saying your books promote witchcraft or unhealthy relationships or whatever. I really want to write niche books.

If I could change the lives of a few people, I'd be happy.

Of course, I say that now. ..

Anonymous said...

No, no, I'd still like hordes of squeeing fangirls, thanks. The bra-throwing would be a welcome addition too, of course.

But I can be humble. I don't mind starting out with three squeeing fangirls and the tossing of socks.