By Andrea Lani
As a teenager, my musical tastes tended toward the Duran Duran end of the spectrum, so when my son went through a hard rock phase a couple of years ago, I was surprised I knew the lyrics to so many songs I had never intentionally listened to. I was also surprised to find, buried among the scratchy singing voices and really long guitar riffs, useful advice for writers.
I decided to delve deeper into the glam rock genre to seek out more helpful hints with hairspray from the '70s and '80s. This journey was like a stroll down memory lane—or, more accurately, a stroll through the smoking section at my high school. Feather your hair, writers, shrug on your Levi's jeans jacket, and get ready for some rockin' wisdom from the bands you once loved (or loved to hate):
- New writers often wonder where to begin. Look no further than Guns N' Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine which urges us to look back on and linger over our childhood memories. Writers from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Augusten Burroughs have followed this advice to great success.
- Once you get started, some writing days are better than others, and on days that the words don't flow like honey, you might consider this helpful hint from Quiet Riot's iconic anthem, Metal Health (Bang Your Head). Banging your head might not get the words flowing, and could potentially result in permanent brain damage, but it will make you feel better.
- Writers are nothing if not imaginative, and some will fritter away their writing time daydreaming about reading from their novel to a packed audience at AWP or practicing their acceptance speech for the Pulitzer Prize. You can beat yourself up for this bit of time-wasting, or you can revel in exercising your imagination and, as Aerosmith so cogently said, Dream On.
- At some point, however, you've got to stop dreaming and get to work writing, and keep on writing to the end. Whether you're a Hagar fan or Roth-or-nothin', you've got to agree that Van Halen offers probably the best piece of advice on this list: Finish What Ya Started. A drawer full of half-done stories has never won a Pushcart Prize.
- Def Leppard was the only glam band I ever listened to on purpose, so I was determined to find some philosophy among their discography and I was thrilled to find that, 32 years before Frozen, they released a song called Let It Go. After three years of every preschool princess singing those words, that advice might sound tired, but like "murder your darlings" and write "shitty first drafts," it's a timeless tip, and, unlike guys who wore paint-on pants and eyeliner in the 1980s, will never grow old. Let go of the rejections, let go of your writerly angst, just let it go.
- If you've been in the writing world for more than five minutes, you've probably figured out (and your mother has probably told you a hundred times) that if you're not Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, writing will not pay your bills. You now have to make a choice about whether you'll be working a sucky day job to support your writing habit or, like Bon Jovi, Livin' on a Prayer. Keep in mind, however, that people who live on prayers usually starve to death.
- Some people who are tired of living on a prayer are taking to the streets—or at least to the internet—to protest the poor treatment of writers, the cheapening of literature into "content," and the refusal of outfits like Huffington Post to pay for words. These writers have joined Twisted Sister in shouting out from the rooftops (or the blog pages) that We're Not Gonna Take It! Yet most of us keep on taking it, trading our words for "exposure" and nice emails from our moms.
- Your writing has been accepted for publication. This is the goal you've been laboring toward for years, but instead of elation, you feel…let down. You thought they had accepted your essay for their print publication, but they post it on their website. The magazine lops off the last two paragraphs of your story. Your poem landed in an obscure journal that no one will ever read. And now your work is used up—"previously published"—a scourge. Don't swallow poison; it's not that bad and Poison has the antidote, or at least commiseration, with the reminder that, just as every cloud has a silver lining, Every Rose Has its Thorn.
- You've gotten your MFA. You've published a few stories. Maybe even written a book that's been well-received by critics. But you're not a household name, and you have to work two lousy day jobs just to pay your contest entry fees. If you ever start thinking things should have been a lot easier than this, you'd do well to remember the immortal words of AC/DC: It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll). The same goes if you wanna write.
- Speaking of long ways to the top, my son tells me that Led Zeppelin doesn't belong in this genre, but every high school dance ended with Stairway to Heaven; it was part of the headbanger zeitgeist, so it's only appropriate that it close out this list as well. I have no idea what the song is about. Suicide? Drugs? Sex? But if you think of climbing a stairway as really hard work (a long, steep stairway, with blind turns, missing steps, and no handrail) and heaven as the reward at the top, it's the perfect metaphor for writing. Heaven could be a Rome Prize fellowship or a slot on a bestseller list, but more often than not, it's that feeling that comes when you get in the flow and the words fly out of your brain and onto the page. If that's not heaven, I don't know what is.
Andrea Lani's writing has appeared in Brain, Child, SaltFront, and Orion, among others. She lives in Maine with her husband and three sons, the oldest of whom vigorously objects to the classification of Van Halen as a hair band. She can be found online at www.andrealani.com.