Thursday, September 8, 2011

Reflections on an open mic night

A while back, a group of us went to an open mic night where Ben was going to perform. Each musician (or group of musicians) got two songs or ten minutes, whichever came first, on the stage. People appeared in the order in which they had signed up.

I expected to enjoy Ben's performance, because I've heard recordings of some of his songs.

I expected to grimace a lot at the rest.

The first expectation was, of course, correct. Ben has good stage presence, was the best guitar player of the night, and sang two good songs. I very much enjoyed his turn on stage.

To my pleasant surprise, my second expectation was wrong. The worst of the acts was pleasant enough, and most of them were quite enjoyable. They sang covers and they sang originals. They sang with guitar and a capella. They sang for love and only love; no one was making any money.

In the breaks between performers and in the days since the show, I've been struck again by the bravery and dedication of those artists. They performed because they had to, because the art in them needed to find a way out. I'm sure they all dream of more, of platinum records and major awards, but in that night, in that small restaurant, on that barely raised stage, they sang for the love of singing.

They sang because they had to.

That is, in the end, the only correct reason to sing. Or to paint. Or to write.

After a convention in which I listened to writers discuss marketing and sales and promotions and agents and almost everything except writing itself (and even that on my last panel), I can't help but think of that open mic night. Yeah, I want to be a New York Times #1 bestselling author, and I want to win every major award, and all of that; I'm just like everyone else. What I must always remember to do, though, is to ignore all of those desires, all of that nasty clutter in my head, and simply write, write to let out the stories in me, write for the love of writing.

Write because I have to.

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