Prolific is a weak word to describe Authority Rainmaker 2015 keynote speaker Henry Rollins. In fact, most words fail to capture his many dimensions.
In August of 1981, young Henry got his start, joining the seminal punk band Black Flag. Following the band’s breakup in 1986, he started 2.13.61, a record label and publishing company. Shortly after that, he formed the breakthrough Rollins Band.
He went on to become an author and spoken-word artist. Endless work in print, film, radio, and television followed.
But you might find yourself wondering why The Writer Files would showcase a punk icon. Simple …
The unapologetic content marketing punk
Content marketing is do-it-yourself media, and Henry was doing DIY media while some of us were still kicking the slats out of our cribs. And he was doing it in a way that makes us all look like slackers as adults.
Black Flag recorded, financed, and distributed their own records; set up and promoted their own shows; and created their own merchandise.
Henry published his own books (nearly 30 at last count) on his own imprint, and toured the world multiple times as a spoken-word artist under his own initiative.
And at 54 years old, this unapologetic punk is showing no signs of slowing down.
The hardest working man in show business
He’s got a weekly radio show in Los Angeles, and he writes for the LA Weekly and Rolling Stone Australia. A few months ago, he launched his hilarious podcast, Henry & Heidi.
The Washington Post said he was a “diatribist, confessor, provocateur, humorist, even motivational speaker.”
NPR’s Morning Edition called him “a solitary traveler with insatiable curiosity, bypassing the resorts in favor of places like Siberia, Senegal, Burma, and Bangladesh.”
The History Channel (where Henry hosts the show 10 Things You Didn’t Know About) probably got closest to the truth, though, by calling Henry a “workaholic.”
With all due respect to the late James Brown, Rollins remains the hardest working man in modern show business. And he deserves to be a household name.
Enough of the introductions. On to the writer, Henry Rollins.
About the writer …
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Henry Rollins. I do a weekly radio show on KCRW FM and have columns in the LA Weekly and Rolling Stone Australia. Voiceover work here and there on commercials, cartoons, documentaries. I am in front of a camera now and then with film, television, and documentary work. I own and operate a small publishing company for my written output.
What is your area of expertise as a writer or online?
I don’t think I would use the word expertise in conjunction with anything having to do with myself. I think I am best suited writing about what I see and experience. That is to say, I am not gifted with the imagination to invent characters for a novel. I think what I do is basically low-grade journalism and op-ed.
Where can we find your writing?
My books can be found on my website, HenryRollins.com. Some of them are in bookstores. The LA Weekly articles are all on their website for free reading.
The writer’s productivity …
How much time per day do you spend reading or doing research?
It depends on what I am up to. If I am about to leave on a journey into the world, especially into a place that is troubled, I will do a lot of research before I hit the trail. Sometimes for months beforehand.
I wanted to be in Bhopal, India for the 25th anniversary of the Union Carbide India Limited gas explosion that killed thousands. I researched that for about a year before I went.
Like I said, it depends on the task, but I have found that preparation is key to good results and efficient use of time.
What’s your best advice for overcoming procrastination?
Have a schedule so densely packed that you just can’t afford it. Lincoln advised to never put things off. Getting things done isn’t always easy for me, but as soon as I am in motion, I am good to go. I just tell myself “this is what you’re doing” and do it.
What time of day is most productive for your writing?
I usually edit by day and write at night. Something about darkness and the idea that you have the world to yourself has always occurred to me as really cool. However, if my schedule only allows me to write during the day, that’s what I’ll do. As soon as I start working, I forget about what time of day it is.
Do you generally adhere to a rigid or flexible writing system?
My schedule is often all over the place so I have to fit it in when I can. When on tour, it’s usually a few hours before show time, and if I have the energy, post-show/post-meet-with-audience, I’ll write on the bus. Days off are usually writing heavy. I find I get a lot done without a show hanging over me.
How many hours each day do you spend actually writing (excluding email, social media etc.)?
One to four hours. Sometimes longer, but that would be average.
Do you write every day?
Pretty much, yes.
The writer’s creativity …
Starting with nothing and ending up with something. Interpreting something you saw or experienced and processing it so it comes out different than how it went in.
Some people walk to work and all they see are cars, people, etc. Creativity is seeing all that along with other things as well, and turning it into something.
Who are your favorite authors, online or off?
I am not aware of anyone I read who is exclusively online, or someone I consider to be an online entity. Well, actually, one comes to mind. Jason Leopold, the great investigative journalist. He’s an online guy.
I read Matt Taibbi’s work with Rolling Stone, but I also read his books.
Writers I like, let’s see. They have changed as I have aged. Years ago, they would have been literary types like Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, fictional works of Camus, Bulgakov, Kharms.
Can you share a best-loved quote?
The veteran sitting in the bar in Deer Hunter. “Fuck it.”
Do you prefer a particular type of music (or silence) when you write?
I prefer instrumental music or songs I know so well, the vocals don’t distract me — but mostly instrumental, which is more than half of what I listen to anyway.
How would you personally like to grow creatively as a writer?
I am not all that interested in being more creative. I would like to be clearer.
At this point, if I were to be creative with writing, I would be taking liberties with the truth.
I can’t see going back to the writing I did years ago, the more emotional type. That’s where I was more creative. Now I am trying to write better sentences.
Do you believe in “writer’s block?” If so, how do you avoid it?
I don’t believe in it. If you have this problem, just forget you’re a writer because the truth is, you’re probably not.
Are you Hubert Selby, Jr. or Henry Miller? Those were writers. You have to be a writer to have writer’s block. Are you John Fante or Ryszard Kapuściński? You’re not. Therefore, you don’t have any writer’s block to worry about, dummy.
Now, get back to work and write. Or don’t. This is how I would approach that problem. Knowing I am not a writer, I never have this problem.
Who or what is your “Muse” at the moment (i.e., specific creative inspirations)?
The Iraq War made me do a lot of writing. I was doing a lot of USO work at the time and was in some of those areas and it became somewhat personal to me.
Sometimes, the season becomes the muse. I have found that my writing metabolism picks up with increased temperatures. So, at the moment, it’s seasonal change.
American intolerance always gets the mind working. Indiana and all the dumbfuckery these people get up to, that’s all grist for the mill.
Would you consider yourself someone who likes to “take risks?”
I am not sure. I have done a lot of things that had some steep downsides, but it was curiosity that got me into those situations. It was never a matter of thinking, “This is risky, I’ll do it.”
Perhaps the relative disregard I have for my life has put me in some of these situations. Risks creatively or artistically, I don’t think there are any risks to be taken if you are doing what you want. If someone doesn’t like it, that’s their problem.
What makes a writer great?
When they take you somewhere you have never been, or where you have been but can tell you more about it than you could tell yourself, or tell it to you differently and make you look at something you’ve been looking at for years and see it in a new way.
When they tell a story that inspires you or makes you think deeply. I don’t think there is any one thing, but many things. Writers I consider great have inspired me, kept me from feeling so alone in the world, kept me moving — all kinds of things.
The writer’s workflow …
What hardware or typewriter model are you presently using?
I have a few Matias Tactile Pro keyboards that I use. They remind me of the old Mac extended keyboards, which were great.
Whenever I can, I handwrite. A blue ink Pilot Vball 0.5.
Do you have any tricks for staying focused?
A deadline I must, or feel I must, adhere to. That definitely helps.
The pain in the ass of mortality and not getting enough done.
Knowing that everything I do competes for attention from others and it has to be the best I can make it.
Knowing that I am not all that good and have to work harder than most to even hang in there. Desperation is the corner I often fight out of.
Have you run into any serious challenges or obstacles to getting words onto the page?
Sure. My limitations often jump up quickly and slow things down. Depression also slows things down to a crawl. Having something looming, like a show, makes writing without distraction difficult. This week, I have some acting work. The night before, I will be too all-over-the-place to do much else than rehearse.
How do you stay organized (methods, systems, or “mad science”)?
I let my schedule form the day. I have a lot of hard ins and outs that I can’t miss, so I have no choice but to be organized.
Avoiding clutter in the work area helps me a lot. Just clearing the desk of anything that doesn’t need to be there is helpful.
How do you relax at the end of a hard day?
If I can get time alone, that’s all I need. No matter what I’m doing, if I am alone, I am good to go.
I like to hunt for records on the Internet, listen to music. Make notes on things I want to do, travel plans. Space out and think about things. Tea or coffee is enjoyable.
A few questions just for the fun of it …
Who (or what) has been your greatest teacher?
Travel. The road. Touring, being in places all over the world. I have been to 85 countries and all over America. What I have seen — what Mark Twain referred to as “the territory” — has been very instructive. All that, as well as failure, humiliation, death.
What’s your biggest aggravation or pet peeve at the moment (writing related or otherwise)?
That the work isn’t better. That it is rarely as good as I hoped it would be. I get these ideas to work on and several hours in, I find that the idea wasn’t all that good to begin with, and I wasn’t able to spot it, and I was just high on my own fumes.
Choose one author, living or dead, that you would like to have dinner with.
I avoid pretty much any situation that has me sitting at a table with someone.
Do you have a motto, credo, or general slogan that you live by?
What do you see as your greatest success in life?
I’m pulling my weight in the world. That’s it.
If you could take a vacation anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go (cost or responsibilities are no object)?
I never take vacations. I am not trying to vacate anywhere.
I’d like to get back to Afghanistan. I would like to go to Chad and see what’s happening with the relocation camps filled with people from Darfur. I would really like to get to the Kolyma concentration camps in Siberia and see what’s left of them.
After I went to Syria, I wanted to go back and visit Aleppo, but I think it’s too hot now. I would like to get back to Vietnam but into the more central region like Hue or Da Nang. I have never been to New Guinea but really want to check that out.
This kind of thing, I have almost endless ideas for. But sitting on a beach or something, not all that interesting to me.
Actually one time, I was in Madagascar on its eastern coast and lived in a small, hut-like structure for a few days only several feet from the ocean. There wasn’t much to do except stay cool, watch your water intake, look at geckos, and stare at the water.
There was no one around and it was pretty cool. I had a Kōbō Abe novel and some food wrapped up in napkins, which I had taken out of Black Sabbath’s dressing room a few days before in Birmingham, UK.
What would you like to do more of in the coming year?
Work. I’ll take it.
Television or film. Scripted or not. More voiceover. I would like to get a harder start-and-end date calendar, so I can plan travel around hard ins and outs. Basically, I like to be busy all the time.
Can you offer any advice to writers and content producers that you might offer yourself, if you could go back in time and “do it all over?”
More notes. Every date, record played, show gone to, what he said, she said, what songs they did at practice, etc. Hard information. You can never take enough notes.
Please tell our readers where they can connect with you.
Connect with the work, not with me.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
You know all those people you admire? They didn’t wait around for anyone to tell them it was okay to go. They just went.
And, finally, the writer’s desk …
Every serious writer builds a shrine of some sort with hope to entertain the Muse, whether he crawls into his closet or plants a lounge chair beneath a mature ginkgo tree.
Henry Rollins is no different. This is where he parks it to write.
Join us in Denver this May …
Henry Rollins will get you absolutely fired up about your own new media efforts with his closing keynote at Authority Rainmaker May 13–15, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.
Authority Rainmaker is a carefully designed live educational experience that presents a complete and effective online marketing strategy. Immediately accelerate your business with integrated content, search, and social media marketing (plus invaluable networking).