What the History of Country Music Taught Me About writing.
The History of Country Music is an eight-part, 16-hour film by filmmaker Ken Burns about an art form unique to the United States: country music. It asks the questions, “What is country music?” and “Where did it come from?” It focuses on the many stars who created it and helped it evolve.
The questions are intriguing, but what struck me most about this film was the lives of the people who made the music, their humble beginnings, and their struggles.
The saga begins with the Carter Family, who recorded between the years of 1927 and 1956.
They lived in a place called Poor Valley, VA, aptly named to reflect the economic status of the town. They weren’t stars for years; they were just musicians. They had day jobs and played music on nights and weekends.
A similar story repeats itself again and again.
Born in a shack with no electricity, no running water. The youngest of 16 the oldest of 12. The family didn’t own the land they were living on, and the children often quit school to work. They grew the food they ate. They had nothing.
Except for music.
It was their sole source of entertainment on The Grand Ole Opry. All they needed was a radio, and if someone didn’t have one, they found someone who did. It was not a matter of if they would listen, just where. And sometimes those lucky enough to own a radio had to plug it into the car battery.
These ordinary people listened. They sang and made music together, passing down the music and the stories generation to generation. Music was their way of connecting and celebrating life. An outgrowth was fame, but fame was secondary to the music.
Not once during the film did I hear that someone didn’t have time to listen to or practice music. No excuses. Quit wasn’t in their vocabulary.
Many hit the stage at a young age and had successful careers early on, but not everyone. Willie Nelson left Nashville and didn’t go back for ten years because his style didn’t quite fit in. But he kept on playing his music.
And it paid off.
When it comes to Medium and writing, we as writers need to have the same attitude. Our goal should be to share stories and improve our skills through practice so that we produce the best pieces of writing we are capable of.
Writing that reflects our experiences and the life lessons we’ve learned. Writing that connects to others. Writing that instructs or touches the heart.
Curation, payment, and claps are the results of hard work and are great sources of encouragement. But if they become your goals, then the writing will become secondary. You need to tap into your heart space and the energy that makes writing yours uniquely. Because without that unique quality, your writing is just words.
I have been writing on Medium for almost a year now. I haven’t met with great success or hit any jackpot. Yet. Maybe I’m not doing enough on social media. Perhaps I haven’t found my niche.
But I’ve found my voice, and I write about whatever I want to. Often I write about how I have nothing extraordinary to say. Sometimes I am curated, and sometimes I am not.
Medium is huge, and I consider it a compliment that any of my pieces are curated. I am grateful when others clap or comment, and I’m humbled when someone says my writing has helped them.
That’s the connection I want to make and what keeps me going.
Like all of Ken Burn’s films, the quality of the film itself is unsurpassed. It is comprehensive and meticulously done. But the way it makes you feel is what you’ll remember.
These humble, seemingly insignificant human beings whose love of music, and storytelling transcended their hardships, and created a genre, a legacy that influenced greats like Ray Charles and the Beatles.
And this was the result of being genuine.
Our stories can be this way, too, if we are committed and keep our pens to the paper, so to speak.
We all have similar experiences. What is different is what we see, how we see it, and the words we use to describe it. Our goal should be to touch that creative spark and say it as precisely as possible.
And this means practice and putting writing first.
It’s not only the music in country music that creates this connection. It’s the words in the songs.
So take a lesson from country musicians. Keep your day job, but write, no matter what.
Revel in the small victories along the way, but don’t dwell on the outcome. As any good Buddhist will tell you, attachment to outcome leads to suffering. But if you write for the joy of it, it will bring you happiness.
And better writing.