He has played with, arranged, and conducted for B.B. King, Robert Plant, The Saturday Night Live Band, The Blues Brothers and others. He also spent years leading the rockingest late night band while showing off his Vegas lounge shtick on Late Night with David Letterman. And while you'll never see him with his own HBO special or selling out Madison Square Garden 20 nights in a row, you'll be grooving to tunes he created, inspired or influenced wherever and whenever you listen to popular music.
I don't know Paul Shaffer personally, and I even have less of a clue about his writing skills. But I do know that his approach to music is the perfect approach for writing. Here's what writers can learn from the musician's musician:
1. Be versatile.
There is no signature Paul Shaffer style. He tunes in to the particular artist or group he is working with, and adapts his musical style to theirs. As a writer, you will work with a wide range of clients with different styles, approaches and strategies. So you'll need to adapt your writing style to match your client's voice. To do that, you should get comfortable with all styles of writing: formal, conversational, colloquial and more. If you find yourself predominantly writing in a formal style for, let's say, a client in the financial industry, find creative outlets to work on your conversational writing skills. You can submit articles or skits to comedy sites, write engaging how-to articles for sites like Linkedin, or hone your conversational writing skills on your social media postings on Facebook, Blogspot and elsewhere.
2. Be ego-less.
Paul Shaffer never clamors for the spotlight. He's usually a step or two behind it, letting his music do his talking. That's a good strategy for writers as well. Ultimately, your client will judge you by your work, so make sure to keep all of your focus on your writing. Even if you have no client other than yourself as you write your novel, screenplay or documentary, your work will be your best calling card. So focus on your story and characters, not on your mastery of alliterations, soliloquies and sonnets. The amazing writer, Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, Glitz), believed that he should remain invisible while he wrote, preferring to let the characters stand out. When advising writers about writing, he would say, "Skip the hoopdedoodle."
3. Be happy.
Paul Shaffer is a musical genius who works hard on the details of his craft. But every time you see him, he's got a giant smile on his face as he grooves with the music. Writers take note. Yes, putting pen to paper is hard, and it never gets easy. But there's a joy to crafting a piece. To creating something from nothing. To bringing a story to life, whether it's a story for your financial client, your ongoing web series or your new screenplay. Take pride in your writing, work your craft and enjoy the process. Just like Paul Shaffer does.x