Does the name Chet Baker ring a bell with you? Probably not, unless you are at least middle age and are a lover of jazz music. I’m not talking New Orleans type jazz, I am referring to the first examples of west coast modern jazz. It was the beginning of the bee-bop era (Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Zoot Sims, etc.), which bridged the space between the big bands of the ‘40s and ‘50s and the smaller more economical groups of current musicians.
I mentioned Chet Baker, who made a number of recordings with Jerry Mulligan a baritone sax player, because of Baker’s devotion, maybe even obsession with making his music the best he could. He was a trumpet player. To get the best tone, in his mind, out of his horn, he had two of his front teeth removed. Now, that is dedication to one’s art.
There have been others. Van Gogh of course cut off his ear, but he was nuts and it didn’t do anything for his art, in my opinion.
My question is this: What would you, as a writer, do to make your work better or even the best it can be? You don/t have to remove any bodily parts, but what else would you do to become a really good writer?
Did you answer “anything”? You’d better think about that a minute. It is easy to say that, but my experience with life in general is that people are often inclined to overestimate their commitment = to anything.
Many successful authors have made sacrifices to make their work better. Martin Cruz Smith takes as long as five years to research a topic before he writes a novel. But his work is supreme and, in my judgment, he is the very best word smith of our age. Some authors, like musicians, have resorted to drugs which they think improves their work. We know that some of the old masters (Poe, comes to mind) resorted to Opium. Many writers are just plain drunks. Stephen King admits to writing many of his horror novels while drunk. But I don’t think that is the answer for the rest of us. I personally know that in my hard-drinking days (thank God those ended thirty years ago) I often had “wonderful” ideas or themes for novels while intoxicated and even made notes about it. But when I sobered up the notes were just gibberish.
If you are to become a successful writer you have to sacrifice. That means giving up some pleasures, some time with friends and/or family. If you are a full time worker, you might have to forego that Saturday golf game. You might have to become a weekend recluse, or write before and after work. People will begin to “worry” about you – because you won’t be acting >normal.”
But normal for a full time writer is different from any other activity. Be ready for the odd looks, the admonition of your wife or husband that you are neglecting your family duties. Writing is hard work and it takes much, sometimes overwhelming, perseverance. Chet Baker thought enough of his music to disfigure himself. Are you up to that kind of dedication?