What Drives You?

When I was fourteen years old I started playing bass guitar, and I fell in love with it. That was it. I thought I’d make my living playing bass. I saw myself going all the way, getting famous with my band, making history with my band. For the next ten years I played in the same band, with virtually the same members, who became like a family. We moved across the country together, lived together, created music together. The music we made, the tours we planned, the hours and hours of practice, that amounted to our life’s work. But one day, I felt I had to walk away from all that.

What attracted me to music in the first place? It was the way I felt when I listened to my favorite bands: The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Incubus, Nirvana. I was inspired by those sounds. They connected with something inside me, and I wanted to recreate that feeling, pass it on to someone else. If I could make someone feel what I felt, then that was it, that was what I hoped for. I thought that if we could master the art of passing on that feeling, everything else would fall into place. The business side of things was never an issue, because we came from privilege, and our families helped us pay our way. We never had to operate under completely financial realities. Which might have forced us to pay attention to what was working and what wasn’t. The way we justified things was this: We don’t do this for the money, and we’re not going to pander. We’re not sellouts. And that was true, we never sold out. In fact, we had trouble selling much of anything.

That wasn’t my main problem, though. My problem was that I didn’t feel like I was transferring much of that energy, that inspiration. I wasn’t doing what I set out to do, and I felt so close to the problem that I couldn’t see how to fix it. I was part of a group of musicians, as tight as family. We were all dedicated to the music, but somehow, we couldn’t seem to rise higher than playing local shows for the same, dwindling crowds. Artistic differences and the stresses of life started driving our little family apart, and playing music didn’t inspire me the way it used to. I had to step away, rethink my life.

I retreated into my books. I remembered how much I loved to read. I was transported into science fiction stories, fantasy, and the lives of real people, doing amazing things. I started writing more. I had always kept a journal, but it took on a different aspect. Writing made me feel good. Suddenly I had this feeling that as long as I could sit down and write, I could survive anything. Some of my favorite stories were written by people who had done just that: Survived their circumstances and written it all down. Through reading, I came to write, and slowly, I started to see writing as my new vehicle for expression, my new avenue for making it in this world. There was only one problem: I sucked.

I was no stranger to starting from scratch. Time and dedication, that’s what it takes to improve. It’s like guitar, I thought, you first pick it up and you can’t make a sound; then, you can play a note; then, you can strum a chord; then, you can play a song; then, you can write a song.

I read all sorts of writing about writing: How to Write Short by Roy Peter Clark, On Writing by Stephen King, The Art of Style by Strunk & White, and the list goes on. I remember attending a writing workshop by the famous author, Nick Flynn. I remember when he read a passage from his book out loud to the class. I can’t remember quite how it went, but the wordplay was spellbinding, it took us all, collectively, to Flynn’s world. By the time he got to the end everyone sort of snapped out of this trance. We’d all forgotten ourselves. The look on his face, I’ll never forget that look. He had this smile on his face, like he’d forgotten he was reading his own words, and he just remembered, and was filled to the brim with satisfaction. I want that feeling, I thought. That’s what I’m searching for.

After that, I started a weekly writing challenge, surrounded myself with other aspiring writers. I also started writing for the college paper. I’ve continued working on short stories, studied my favorite books, and I’m working on my first novel. I’m living in South Korea, teaching English, and I intend to keep travelling, living abroad, and writing. This blog is my way of staying published, keeping my writing in the open air, keeping myself from writing for the wall. I’m hoping that as I develop, move forward with my writing career, that I can turn this blog into a conversation, connect with people, and hopefully transfer that feeling I get when I read particularly moving writing. For me, it’s all about giving back what I am getting.

It’s tough to recover from a failed dream, and frightening to throw yourself into another one. It’s hard to trust your instincts when you feel like they’ve failed you before. What it comes down to though is this: Always remember what drives you, and you’ll never lose your way.

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