Three Lessons Dave Grohl Inadvertently Taught Me About Writing

Thursday night I took a break from writing my newest novel to watch Off Camera, an interview show with host Sam Jones.  Sam Jones is a podcaster and interviewer who usually interviews film industry moguls (directors, producers, actors), but since Dave Grohl recently directed a his documentary Sound City, Jones was interviewing him for that.  

As in any interview with Dave Grohl, the conversation gravitated back toward music, his time with Nirvana, his founding of The Foo Fighters, but Grohl said something so profound about creating and making art that I had to share.

I will paraphrase, but basically Grohl started talking about how he learned to play guitar and drums.  He learned to play guitar on a bunch of old boxes and pillows, didn't hold the sticks "just right" or follow proper form.  He found his own way of learning.  When it came to guitar, he thought of the upper three strings as the drums and the lower three as symbols.  This method informs all guitar riffs he creates.  Secondly, he said that people who create should bypass the "machine" of creation (i.e. producers, agents, record labels) and just make good music.  In his opinion, if you are good at what you do and you play enough live shows, people will follow you.  People will buy your cds, listen to your music, become fans.  

As an indie novelist this translates to three basic concepts:

1. We have to be really good at writing.  Above all, your writing can't suck.  You've got to focus all of your energy into making the prose you write the best prose you can write.  Send yourself to classes, get input from other writers, allow people to be critical of your work and then listen to them.  You are only as good as your ability to make yourself better.  Focus more on making good writing than you do marketing your stuff or hanging out on social media.  

2. Get Your Stuff Out There.  The more stuff you publish either by yourself or short stories you send to magazines the better.  Your secondary focus behind writing good stuff is to get your stuff in front of readers.  If that takes giving away a few books then by all means do it.  People will buy books that are well written and really engage them.  The more pieces you have out there for people to consume the better.

3. You Don't Need the Middle Man.  Dave Grohl is known for creating his own label to get his work out there even though he was already famous for being Nirvana's drummer.  His first Foo Fighters album was a complete solo effort.  He recorded drums, guitar and bass and then sang songs that he wrote without any help.  Indie writers are kind of like this.  We create our own work, publish our own work, sometimes creating our own publishing labels to give ourselves more clout.  However, we have to understand that we don't necessarily need to publish traditionally to have success.  Success can be (for some) selling a few copies of our books a week (or in my case a month).  

Above all, I was inspired by Grohl's words.  He is someone who is, of course, pretty lucky.  But he also understands that what it takes to become great is being great at what you do, having the grit to be passionate about our craft enough to make it the best we can produce.  I take great encouragement from Dave Grohl.  You should, too.

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