Have you ever noticed that musicians seem a lot cooler than writers? Picture a successful musician, say, Bruce Springsteen. I mention Springsteen because:
A) He's from my era and plays the kind of music I listen to,
B) He's still successful after thirty-five years, and
C) He's from my era and plays the kind of music I listen to.
But if you're younger and hipper than me - another way of saying that would be "if you're reading this" - feel free to substitute the musical artist of your choice, but it has to be someone who has been very successful for a long time.
Now, take Springsteen (or your appropriate substitute) and compare him to, say, Stephen King, a writer who is also from my era and who also has been successful for around thirty-five years.
When you think of Springsteen you think of four hour shows in front of packed houses filled with screaming fans, sweat dripping, guitar chords ripping through the night, Big Man Clarence Clemons wailing on the sax.
Now picture Stephen King, and what do you see? A guy who has become arguably the most successful American novelist ever, at least in a commercial sense, but a guy typing away in his attic, hair falling down over his glazed, manic eyes while he conjugates a verb or something.*
Let's face it, musicians have really gotten this public perception thing down while writers have a long way to go. For example, a musician says, "I laid down a couple of really hot tracks today." A writer says, "Great day today, I wrote fifteen hundred words! First draft, of course."
Now you tell me: Which one sounds like he's going to go out for drinks in his leather jacket with a different chick on each arm, and which one sounds like he's going to relax by getting out his trusty Singer sewing machine and stitching up that pesky hole in his LARPing costume?**
This is not to say that being cool is the most important thing in the world; at least I hope it's not because if it is, I might just as well hang it up right now. And we all know there are much more important things in this life than your coolness quotient, at least once you graduate junior high. But still, wouldn't it be kind of, I don't know, cool to be viewed by people as cool?
And as a general rule, I think it's safe to say that when most people think of musicians, they think, "Hip, maybe just a little dangerous." You know, cool. When most people think of writers, they think, "When was the last time that guy took a shower?"
I'm not sure what the solution is, or even if a solution is possible. And guys like Stephen King could care less whether you think they're cool as long as you're willing to purchase their books. Stephen King's got so much money he could buy the Merriam-Webster company just to eliminate the word "cool" from their dictionary if he wanted to.
But as a struggling writer, it would be sort of cool (there's that damn word again) if people pictured me like I was a struggling musician instead. Unfortunately I don't know how to play an instrument and my voice sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard, so I had better get back to my manuscript now. I really should take a shower, but I'll just get to that tomorrow. Maybe. I'll need to bang out my fifteen hundred words first.
*Note to Mr. King: I know I'm not even on your radar, but if you should ever happen to see this post, please don't crush me like a bug. When I said "glazed, manic eyes," I meant that in the most positive, admiring way possible. And remember, I did call you "arguably the most successful American novelist ever." Don't forget that part.
**This is not meant to imply that there's anything wrong with LARPing. Or that it's weird in any way. Everyone should be free to relax in whatever manner they choose, and when you can't get a date it leaves you with a lot of empty time to fill.