Tag Archives: journalism

Writer’s Block – Pros and Pretenders

For better or for worse (usually worse), I’m involved in a lot of groups on Facebook, Linked In and the like, where writers of varying descriptions flock together to discuss various aspects of ‘the craft.’ The one topic that crops up more than any other in these groups is writer’s block.

The thing is, and feel free to fight me on this if you want, but I don’t think writer’s block exists. It’s a myth perpetuated by hobbyists with delusions of grandeur. The kind of people who sit in the corners of cafes and coffee shops with expensive tablets and skinny lattes because ‘that’s where they do their best work.’

You’ll find these pretenders haunting most establishments. The trendier the better. They’ll sit quietly, smoothing their beards thoughtfully, adjusting their beanies, and making a single hot beverage last three-and-a-half hours. A smug half-smirk will be tugging at the corners of their mouths, and if you listen carefully, you might be able to hear their inner thought process.

I am a gifted individual. People envy me. I write, therefore I am. My words will change the world. But wait, no I don’t want to write any more. Right now I’d rather be checking the Ted Baker website to see if the new knitwear collection is available for pre-order yet. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. Must be writer’s block. I’m a tortured artist! The angst! Oh, dear creative Gods, deliver me from this hell!

I recently remarked to one of the many ‘WRITER’S BLOCK. AAARGH!” comments that clog up my newsfeed most days that, in my opinion, writer’s block is something that separates the pros from the pretenders. It didn’t go down very well with the supposed victim. I wasn’t being pretentious. The point I was trying to make is when faced with adversity, pros will find a way over, around, or through the obstacle preventing them achieving their goals. Whereas hobbyists, who would just as happily be doing something else anyway, will just give up.

But here’s the rub. They don’t want to admit giving up so easily. That would show weakness, and a lack of integrity. So they pin the blame on something other than themselves instead. Something intangible and unquantifiable, some mysterious ailment that only the supremely gifted can suffer from. Writer’s block is a luxury professionals can’t afford. If they don’t write, they don’t eat and they get evicted. Simple. Have you ever heard of plumber’s block? Dentist’s block? Estate agent’s block? No? That’s because there’s no such thing. Sure, sometimes they have days where they don’t feel like going to work. Just like there are times when you don’t feel like doing the washing up, or changing the bed. That’s when you put your head down, grit your teeth, rise above it and get the job done.

Just to be clear, I have no problem with people writing as a hobby. Quite the opposite, in fact. Generally speaking, I think the human race in general could benefit from reading and writing more. Then maybe a higher percentage of people would be able to spell and punctuate properly and we wouldn’t be such a nation of fucktards.

One acquaintance of mine who complained of suffering from writer’s block said the only thing that alleviates the condition is playing video games, so he did that for three months. Three fucking months. Wait a minute, are you sure you wouldn’t just prefer playing video games? Because it sure seems that way. Incidentally, this writer was unpublished, and it’s easy to see why. I’m not knocking his ability. Who am I to judge? The guy might be a very good writer. Hell, he might even be the best writer who ever lived. The thing is we’ll probably never know, because when the chips are down, he boots up Halo. How many dentists out there do you think take three-month sabbaticals where they don’t work, they just play video games?

I understand that maintaining writer’s block doesn’t exist might be a controversial view.  Message boards and chat forums, even the odd serious article or academic paper, argue otherwise. But what’s really happening here is people misdiagnosing the condition. Writer’s block is an excuse to give up when things get tough. Or, in most cases, a convenient excuse to not do something you don’t even have to do in the first place. Some people just like to blame their inadequacies on things that are supposedly beyond their control. It makes them feel better about being crap at their job or just plain fucking lazy.

I want to leave you with this thought. Real writers write. They don’t sit around pissing and moaning about how hard it is. Those that do it on a regular basis know it’s hard. It’s not the exciting, romantic existence some people seem to think it is. If you’re not enjoying it, or you’re struggling with your latest case of writer’s block, the one that stops you from ever actually writing anything, go find something else to do. Don’t take to social media to bare your soul every ten minutes. It’s boring.

If you want to be a professional, or at least acknowledged as such, act like one. Grow a backbone. Learn about sacrifice, resilience and endeavour. I’m sure Stephen King, Dan Brown and Robert Ludlum would love to kick back and spend three months at a time playing computer games, or watching Friends, or whatever the hell else floats their respective boats. But they don’t. If they did, they wouldn’t have written all those books.

You see? Pros and pretenders.

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This article first appeared on the Deviant Dolls website.


Mick Wall – UNCENSORED (Part 2)

Apart from being a bona fide rock star, being a rock journalist is possibly one of the coolest jobs imaginable. Mick Wall, ex-Kerrang! writer and founding editor of Classic Rock, is one of the best in the business. And his stories never disappoint.

Part 2:

The biggest rock magazine in the world, dropping bollocks, Axl Rose and and THAT Guns n’ Roses track…

PARENTAL ADVISORY: CONTROVERSIAL VIEWS AND NAUGHTY WORDS THROUGHOUT.

How did Kerrang! come about?

“When I was writing at Sounds it covered the whole spectrum of music. Pop, rock, punk. We did a pullout once and called it Kerrang! Just for a laugh. Little did we know that a few years later it would become a magazine in it’s own right. Whenever anyone rang the office you might go through to any of the Sounds team. We all had our little genres. If the call was for our part of the office guys – me, Geoff Barton and Pete Makowski, when we answered the phone we would go ‘Kerrang!’”

What made it such a huge success?

“It was the eighties, and record companies had never been richer. But in the UK, nothing was more unfashionable than rock and metal. It wasn’t on telly, or the radio, except in special slots. The record companies had these massive budgets and no one to spend it on except us. If, for example, Aerosmith or Van Halen were doing a UK tour, a few weeks before they’d be in New York or LA and we’d get flown out to review the show to drum up some publicity for the UK leg. We’d go off on the road with bands for weeks on end. When they finally came to the UK there would be a guest list, and then a Kerrang! guest list. We’d take the whole office. We’d have special parties and dinners, for a brief period it became this outrageous little club. The publishers had no aspirations for the magazine. They still saw the money going through Sounds, Record Mirror and Music week.”

Were you under any pressure from the publishers to deliver?

“Not at all. We were basically left to our own devices. When you work on a launch you have lots of meetings about content and covers. We didn’t have any of that, because nobody really cared that much! We’d stick the Texas Chainsaw Massacre on the cover. It just got bigger and bigger and bigger. We were speeding some of the time, drunk a lot of the time, and stoned all the time. We’d do coke whenever any passing rock band stopped by and dumped a load of the stuff on the table.”

What has been your biggest faux pas?

“There’s been a few! I interviewed Phil Lynott just a few weeks before he died. I don’t know what the fuck possessed me but I asked him if he regretted not making it in America. He looked at me as if I was the biggest twat in the world and said, ‘Oh yea. But then I always regretted that I never fucked Kate Bush as well, so there ya go!’”

Why do you think tour revenues are now outstripping album sales?

“The business has evolved so much now. We can all get on our smartphones and YouTube whoever you want playing live anywhere. You can get it in a second. But what you can’t get is that authentic, once-in-a-lifetime moment that live gigs often provide. If you can have a ‘I was there!” moment that you can’t experience via the Internet, It’s something that you will take away and keep forever.”

What’s Axl Rose’s problem?

“So many things people accuse him of being – controlling, alienating, they are all symptoms. That man needs help, and I mean it in the most heartfelt way. I chatted to him a lot when I was writing books about him and he talks about being bi-polar and suffering from Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autistic spectrum. One of the characteristics is you don’t understand social interaction and you get a lot of anxiety. To a normal person, if someone tells you you are due of stage at nine and it’s already ten o’clock, they would think, “Fuck, that’s bad, I’d better get a move on.” But an autistic person might just shout, ‘fuck off and leave me alone!’”

Why did he call you out in the song Get in the Ring?

“I knew Axl for a long time, before he was famous, and during. We were close. I still have gold discs that he gave me, and his brother Stuart used to sleep on my couch. The whole thing stemmed from a fight Vince Neil and Izzy Stradlin had over a woman. I interviewed him, at his request, and he was in a rage about that incident. I transcribed the interview for Kerrang! I rang him up and ran it past him because it looked very heavy on the page, he agreed to it, and the story ended up on the cover. The next thing I know I got a call from his publicist saying he didn’t believe he said those things and that he wanted my tapes. I was a bit of an arsehole by that time, too. I was 31 and my head was buried up my own arse from years of globe hopping with magazines and at the time I was truly fucking offended. What the fuck? There were stories I could have written about Guns n’ Roses but never did because they were so heinous.”

Did you have any prior warning?

Yes, before the Use Your Illusion albums came out a mutual friend tipped me off. I already knew the track well. It was a Duff McKagan song called, ‘Why Do You Look At Me When You Hate Me.’ Axl hijacked it.”

What did you think when you first heard it?

“By the time the song came out I’d left Kerrang! and moved into management. I had found what I truly believed to be the next Def Leppard called Cat People. We were talking to EMI and Capitol in America about a major deal. Then Nevermind came out and suddenly being the manager of the new Def Leppard was the worst fucking thing I could be in the world. Talk about backing the wrong horse! So when Use Your Illusion came out and somebody played me the track I just pissed myself laughing. It was brilliant. But then it escalated and haunted me for a long time. People still ask me about it to this day. Lawyers were coming up to me and asking me to sue. I was like, ‘No, fuck it. Life’s too short.’”

How do you feel about the episode now?

“I’m over it. So he did the song, so what? He wasn’t the first artist to do that, that dubious honour went to Gary Numan. I’d given his first big album an almighty hiding in Sounds so in the title track of his next album, Replicas, there’s the scathing line, ‘So I turned to the crowd and I said, ‘do you know Mister Wall?’ and the crowd all turned away.’

“That fucking showed me.”

Read Mick Wall: UNCENSORED (Part 1)

Mick Wall’s latest book, Foo Fighters: Learning to Fly, is out now on Orion.

Visit his website


Mick Wall – UNCENSORED (Part I)

Apart from being a rock star, being a rock journalist is possibly one of the coolest jobs imaginable. Mick Wall, ex-Kerrang! writer and founding editor of Classic Rock, is one of the best in the business.

Part 1:

Morrissey, luck, the Gods of rock, and Dave Grohl.

PARENTAL ADVISORY: CONTROVERSIAL VIEWS AND NAUGHTY WORDS THROUGHOUT.

“No one’s either a nice guy or a cunt. We are all mixtures of both.”

What attracts you to rock music?

“When you go back to the eighties and you had people like the Smith’s and the Jam banging on about how shit America is, then on the other side of the coin was people like Def Leppard who were like, “Yes! We want to be zillionaires, we want the swimming pools, the private jets, bring it on!” I found that approach more honest and real. Not to mention more fun. Rockers have this unashamed lust for fame and fortune and all that comes with it. The people that sail on that journey and sometimes sink on the way, whether it’s Picasso or Elvis, forms an interesting narrative to me.

Who would you rather have a night out with, Ozzy and Lemmy, or Morrissey and Paul Weller? I interviewed them all. Morrissey is a nice enough guy, but dreary as fuck. What a moany bastard. And Weller is one of the biggest tossers I’ve ever met in my life. I think the man was born with a rolled-up NME up his arse. They talk about not selling out. Don’t form a fucking band, then! There’s more of a challenge in making an album that would appeal to 10 million people than it would be do make one that sells 100,000 and gets you on the front of NM fucking E.”

What part does luck play in global megastardom?

“If you ask any rock star how much they think they owe their success to sheer luck, most of them will agree that there is definitely an element of it. And then add, but ‘I believe you make your own luck.’ Personally, I’m still waiting for that knock on the door from someone who’s going to say, ‘Come on, who do you think you are kidding? Game’s up. Get your laptop and fuck off!’”

Who’s the most grounded rock star you’ve met?

“Ozzy Osbourne. He has his ego like we all do, but he’s very self-deprecating to the point where he just can’t believe his good fortune. He isn’t really a songwriter, or a singer in the accepted sense, but he’s a fantastic character. I interviewed him when Bark at the Moon came out in 1982/83. He had the album, this was in the days of vinyl, and on the back it said, ‘written, sung, arranged and produced by Ozzy Osbourne.’ He looked at it and said, ‘Fucking hell, Mick. I couldn’t produce a fart, me. It was all Sharon. She tells me I wrote the songs. Well I can’t fucking remember writing any songs.’”

Who is the biggest star of all?

“It’s not strictly true, but I used to say that if you meet one rock star you’ve met them all. Lemmy is the exception to every rule. He is beyond rock star. He isn’t as successful or famous as Guns n’ Roses or whoever, but they all worship him because he’s the daddy. He’s Mr. Supercool who never sold out. Of course he fucking tried to sell out, but spectacularly failed and is still bitter about it. I’ve known Lemmy for years and years. We got to the stage where he would be faxing me reams and reams of his poetry. It would be one long stream of greasy A4 bog roll. I’d get up in the morning and there would be this massive pile of paper spewing out of the fax machine in my office, all written in this gothic script handwriting. He had clearly been speeding out of his nut all night writing poetry about blood falling from the skies and dragons weeping. It so happened I was also writing poems at the time. I thought I’d send him some of mine. Guess what? I never heard about it again. You know when you don’t like something and you are like, “Yea, yea, it’s pretty good.” Well I never even got that. I got fuck all.”

Who is the biggest cunt?

“No one’s either a nice guy or a cunt. We are all mixtures of both. Life is very complicated, and there’s no such thing as a fucking nice guy in the music business. Deals are there to be done and they are not done by people saying, “What would be the nice thing to do?” Its dog eat dog and every band for themselves. Some of them can write songs or play their instruments like nobody else in history. So yes they are completely self-absorbed arseholes some of the time and most of them aren’t too fussed about helping others, but they are immensely interesting, unique characters. Jimmy Page has gone mad but the Zeppelin albums are timeless. People will still be listening to those a hundred years from now and think, ‘Wow, what a time that must have been to be alive.’”

Is Dave Grohl really the nicest man in rock?

“Yes, he is. He’s extraordinarily nice. It’s almost against the law not to like him, and he’s very good at making friends. Everyone from Paul McCartney to Lady Gaga. But you don’t get to be one of the biggest rock stars in the world by being a ‘nice guy.’ He’s fired people from his band without a second thought, and even though it’s called the Foo Fighters, it’s very much HIS band. If he left tomorrow, the other guys couldn’t just get another singer and carry on.

Of course, nobody is perfect, there’s a huge cunt inside all of us bursting to get out. But Dave Grohl fights that, and is a very classy guy to deal with on all levels. He cares about his audience, and he thinks about things. This isn’t a guy who thinks every night is in Cleveland. Every night since 1975, David Lee Roth has sang the first number then bellowed, ‘Wow! We gotta lotta fuckin’ people here tonight!’ But Grohl is a real man of the people. He totally gets why fans go to shows. He’s a bit like the fan who’s dream came true. The Foo Fighters are never going to be innovators, but they are huge crowd pleasers. It’s all peace and love. He knows how to work the magic.”

Read Mick Wall: UNCENSORED (Part 2)

Mick Wall’s latest book, Foo Fighters: Learning to Fly, is out now on Orion.

Visit his website


Back to Reality

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It’s six months since I came back from China. And six months since I stopped trying to be a teacher and moved to London to work for a magazine. And only now I can put things in perspective a bit. At first I suffered from a weird kind of reverse-culture shock. After the best part of six years being submersed in one of the weirdest cultures in the world, even adapting to the UK again was traumatic. One afternoon I bought a meal deal in Tesco, and got served by a robot. Surreal.

In the time I’ve been away, a lot of my friends and family have moved on with their lives, got married, had babies (some of my friends seem to have a new one every year) or got themselves divorced or dead. For more than half a decade I called different little parts of China ‘home’, eventually settling in Changsha, Hunan Province. In the meantime, in my real hometown in the Welsh valleys, which I visited for a couple of months each summer, everything changed but stayed the same. Everything of note that had happened since my last visit got jammed into two months worth of drinking time. Then I had to remember all the relevant details, file them away, and leave again.

Meanwhile, the same thing was happening in my other life in Changsha. Just because you are not there, it doesn’t mean life stops. Far from it. If anything, life moves much faster in a place where the unofficial motto is ‘Go hard or go home.’ All in all, the past six years have required a lot of adjusting. I’ve been a social chameleon. With varying degrees of success. A bit like a 21st Century Paul Young. Wherever I lay my rucksack, that’s my home. For a while.

After the shock of settling back into society wore off and I settled into the job, I got too busy to write much at home. I also spent a fair chunk of time in the pub, obviously. And a lot more time than I would like on subways and trains. When the weekend rolls around, I can’t wait to have a lie in. This 9-5 lark is pretty brutal. Especially with a 2-hour commute each way. I knew that, which is why I avoided it for as long as I could. It’s a far cry from having two classes a day followed by a five-minute walk across campus in the sunshine.

Hunan Mass Media College, Changsha

Hunan Mass Media College, Changsha

Never mind, I had a good innings out there on the edge of normal society. Time to step back in line, I suppose. This is where I belong. I’m pretty sure of that now. I think.

Some people take teaching very seriously. To some its a vocation. Good for them, but I was never one of those people. I wasn’t the worst teacher in the world. I think I got better with time. It was hard to get any worse considering that when I first started at one of the most prestigious universities in Beijing, I had no teacher training. None at all. I was just given a text book, thrown in front of a class of would-be airline pilots, and told to ‘teach something.’ As my career progressed, I would consider myself lucky to even be given a text book.

I had some pretty awful lessons. I’ve crashed and burned so many times. I almost started a classroom riot one day after making a throw-away comment about ‘the Tibet problem’ in a particularly touchy class. The funny thing is, I don’t even give much of a shit about Tibet. I said as much, in slightly different words, and that just got me in more trouble. Oh well…

I had some good lessons too. There are some students I’ve stayed in touch with for four or five years now. But you never remember the really good lessons. I like to think it’s because by the end there were so many of them, my frazzled mind couldn’t keep track of them all. But I might be wrong about that. The bad ones, however, are burned into my mind. There is no lonelier place on earth than being on a stage in front of forty pairs of expectant eyes when your lesson plan has just failed, you have absolutely nothing to say, and you still have twenty minutes of lesson time to kill.

Goodbye, class!

Goodbye, class!

But you learn a lot about yourself in testing situations. If I’d wanted a safe, easy life I would never have gone.


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