I was watching the 30 Seconds to Mars documentary ‘Artifact’ recently when lead singer Jared Leto said something that really stuck with me. The documentary, for those who haven’t seen it, is about how 30 Seconds to Mars had been signed to some ridiculous contract whereby despite their global success, the band members were not actually making any money at all. The band then sought to change the terms of their contract and were subsequently sued by the label for $30 million. The film looks at the challenges of the modern music industry and the issues faced by artists in trying to make money from their work, and it’s a really well made film. Their music doesn’t do it for me (though I’m not the target demographic) but the film was compelling and definitely made me empathise with the situation.
So there’s one scene where Jared Leto is talking to one of the other band members – they’re lamenting their position and debating whether they even go on as a band. They’re facing building legal costs in a battle they aren’t likely to win, things are not looking great. Then Leto says this:
‘Don’t you wanna’ make something that lives forever? That’s phenomenal. That’s great. That’s undeniable.’
For some time in writing my second novel I’ve been trying to think of a way to describe what’s been the problem with it. I’ve written several drafts, and at least one of them was okay. But it wasn’t brilliant. I’ve been working and re-working and trying to get it on track – my view is that it’s alright, but it’s just slightly off target, like a train running with its wheels off the tracks. If it were on the tracks, it would be smooth, it would flow and it would be not good, not great, but perfect. It would be undeniable. When Jared Leto said this I was like ‘Yes, that’s it, that’s what I’ve been aiming for’.
I imagine this is both the strength and weakness of writers – you want something to be great, so you do all you can and the more work you do, the better it gets, but as your own worst critic, you’re also thinking ‘is it that good? Could it be better?’ I don’t ever want to read great literature and think to myself ‘I’d be happy if I could write something close to this’, because I wouldn’t. My work should hold up when compared to other great work, that’s the way I view it. And of course, brilliance is in the eye of the beholder, one man’s genius is another man’s trash. But I know my ‘brilliant’, and I know I haven’t hit it yet with that book. I remain ever confident that I will. .
Maybe it won’t be a literary classic known the world over and held up as an example for decades to come, but as long as it is, in my eyes, something that I can honestly say ‘that is the absolute best book it could be’, that is what I aim to achieve.
The aim is to create work that is undeniable.
Jared Leto gave me to words to express that desire. Who’d have thought the drug addict from ‘Requiem for a Dream’ would serve as a source of wisdom?