Matt Wilson: “Aim to write precisely”

Aim to write precisely. As I moved through the editing process, I learned that I chose words approximately. In one instance, I described what a singer’s voice feels like when performing without a warm-up. I used the word plodding. Descriptive, yes. Plodding creates a visual; however, it’s not a precise description. A voice cannot plod…if […]

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Aim to write precisely. As I moved through the editing process, I learned that I chose words approximately. In one instance, I described what a singer’s voice feels like when performing without a warm-up. I used the word plodding. Descriptive, yes. Plodding creates a visual; however, it’s not a precise description. A voice cannot plod…if you will. I changed the word to awkward. I believe we use words all the time in our conversations that fall within the category of, “You know what I mean!” Make sure the words you choose are exactly what you want to say.


As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Wilson.

Matt Wilson is a consummate professional performing musician and writer. He first gained national exposure wowing sold-out audiences as the “Piano Man” in the first national tour of Billy Joel and Twyla Tharp’s Tony-award-winning musical, “Movin’ Out.” In 2005, the Texas State Senate honored Matt with a resolution for his achievements in Fine Arts, and in 2016 he was accepted to the Texas Commission on the Arts Touring Roster. His band routinely tours, headlining numerous public, private, and social events of all sizes. His original music has been placed in TV and film, such as Shameless and Once Upon A Time.

In his recently released first book, Hooks: Lessons on Performance, Business, and Life from a Working Musician, Wilson shares life lessons from decades of experience as a performing musician and business owner.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

As a young man, my career trajectory thrust me into the bright lights of Broadway. Although exciting and the opportunity of a lifetime, landing the role of Piano Man in Movin’ Out was quite a jump. I describe my leap as “barroom to broadway.” During this time, I began to learn how to maintain composure onstage and perform under pressure. By necessity, I continued adding tools and strengthening my ability to focus onstage well past my time in the show. In 2014, I began drafting an outline for a seminar on how to prepare mentally and remain focused during high-pressure performances. Although I never completed the seminar, my effort was not in vain. A couple of years later, a wave of inspiration flooded over me to write down what I’d learned about performing, creating, and managing a business over my thirty years in the music industry. Combined with what I’d compiled years prior, these simple one-to-two sentence aphorisms became the foundation of my book Hooks: Lessons on Performance, Business, and Life from a Working Musician.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I played piano with Billy Joel.

During my time in Movin’ Out, Billy Joel came to the show a few times. We were performing at The Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, and Billy was there to promote the tour. After finishing his interviews and press, he headed backstage to pass the time before that evening’s show. I was standing outside my dressing room and saw Billy go into our rehearsal room. The rehearsal room was no bigger than a large closet and furnished with only a keyboard. I knew Billy’s road manager, who was standing at the door, and asked if I could go in. He said yes.

At this point, a few of my bandmates and some dancers in the show noticed Billy was hanging out backstage and filled the small room. Now with an audience, Billy sat down at the keyboard and started playing “What I’d Say” by Ray Charles. We all sang, “Hey,” following and responding to his lead. Since I was the first in the room, I stood right by the keyboard and the legend. When the song reached the solo section, I said, “Take a solo!” I also sat down on the piano bench and took command of the lower half of the keyboard while Billy Joel surfed the treble keys. Four hands playing on the keyboard, mine and Billy’s, making rock n roll magic. Well, you get the point. It was magic to me!

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

I’m sure we are all familiar with the saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” As a first-time author, I learn something new daily. My biggest challenge to becoming an author was staying focused on the project. It was easy to allow just about anything else to take my attention away from writing. Only when I made the conscious decision to finish the book and then tell everyone who would listen that I was “writing a book” and then invest resources into finishing the book did I get serious. In essence, I created an environment where I didn’t have a choice but to finish the book. In Hooks, I write that our most valuable resources in business are talent, money, and time. We must learn to manage and allocate these resources efficiently. I aimed all of my resources (talent, money, and time) toward finishing the book, thus forcing me to give the project my attention. It worked!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’ recall a funny mistake along the way. I will say that proofreading the book became comical. Comical in the sense that the number of corrections was so absurd you almost had to laugh. The team chuckled at a couple of words that made it through spell check incorrectly, like balling rather than bawling and illicit rather than elicit. Every time we proclaimed the book was finished and declared victory, we would find another mistake. I compare the process to moving out of an apartment. The moment you think you got everything, you see you left a comma under the stairs.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Other than promoting Hooks, I’ve started a podcast called On The Hook with Matt Wilson. My guests read Hooks and then choose a few topics in the book they want to discuss. I’m also working on a presentation/show that incorporates the ideas in Hooks along with live music.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

I tell a lot of stories in the book. Yet, the format does not lend itself to long in-depth accounts. The short stories serve as quick anecdotes for the Hooks. Retelling just one here may be out of context and therefore not qualify as “interesting.” So rather than single out one short story, I’ll say that I write about my time performing at Disney World, on Sixth Street in Austin, and Broadway. I recall a few memories from my first year in New Orleans. I share insight from my experience as a manager to up-and-coming artists, as well as seasoned professionals. I also share about my time growing up as a preacher’s kid, a few memorable moments from high school, and my life-long struggle with anxiety. There’s so much more, but that’s a good start that I believe you’ll find interesting.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

In the book, I write:

“Throughout, I welcome you to challenge my wisdom and to develop your own. In the end, we should strive to be content with who we are, and yet, also to have the desire and the knowledge to be better. We should long to recognize what we can offer to others and how to share. Most of all, we should aspire to live a discerning life, liberated from fear and doubt, and free to share our gifts to the world, unencumbered.”

That sums it up perfectly.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Aim to write precisely. As I moved through the editing process, I learned that I chose words approximately. In one instance, I described what a singer’s voice feels like when performing without a warm-up. I used the word plodding. Descriptive, yes. Plodding creates a visual; however, it’s not a precise description. A voice cannot plod…if you will. I changed the word to awkward. I believe we use words all the time in our conversations that fall within the category of, “You know what I mean!” Make sure the words you choose are exactly what you want to say.
  2. Be influenced intently. Hook #77 in the book is “Choose an environment that inspires. Read, listen, and watch for what moves you.” We think about what we see, hear, and read. So we should be purposeful with our intake.
  3. Pay attention to proper grammar and punctuation. Maybe I should advise, as in my case, relearn proper grammar and punctuation. Influenced by constant informal email and texting and realizing the consequences of not being the most attentive student during my school days, I’d developed a “close but not exactly’ application to punctuation. Add to that, I aim to write in a conversational tone, so I take some grammatical liberties. That said, these are now liberties I’m taking by choice rather than ignorance.
  4. Realize that independent book publishing is a market unto itself. Unless you are writing the book for friends and family only and have no aspirations for promotion, research how to market and sell a book early in the writing process. The most valuable lesson I learned too late is that one needs to start marketing a book at least six months before release. I had no clue, and I was only focused on finishing the book. A week after I released the book and recovered from all the congratulatory slaps on the back, I realized I didn’t know what to do next — and I was late doing it!
  5. Write something meaningful. Hook #46 is: “The pursuit of a meaningful life begins with seeking what is challenging.” I believe the same can be said about writing. Initially, I intended to release a coffee table book. Through inspiration, I had the Hooks ready to go. (Sometimes the inspiration is the easy part.) The challenge began when I realized that the Hooks needed explanation and a conversation. I knew at that moment that a lot of work was in store. Committing to that work changed my life, and I am better for it. If you are writing a book, you must believe you have something to say. Make sure you say it clearly and make it meaningful.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

My habit of determination and drive to pursue my inspired path propelled me forward. I realized I couldn’t achieve all of my goals any longer by limiting my voice to just being a musician. I needed to expand and change. I believe I have something to offer that extends beyond the stage and the song. Writing the book was an essential step in my pursuit.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I enjoy good stories and interesting topics. Yet, the voice and style of the writer often draw me in, no matter the story. Many times, I’m inspired to write a song after listening to a tune that moves me in some way. Of course, more times than not, my new composition matches the style and feel of the song that caught my attention. The same can be said about my writing. I tend to write more technically after I read textbooks and journals for research. I’m more conversational and match the tone of the author after reading creative writing. Again, I follow my advice: “Choose an environment that inspires. Read, listen, and watch for what moves you.”

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Find Your Freedom! Again, I’m inspirited by the concept of freedom and liberation — freedom, as in to overcome obstacles, liberation from fear, freedom to identify the choices in our lives and then having the resolution to make a decision. Ultimately, the movement would charge us to accept the challenge of working through our struggles and limitations, share our experiences as a resource for others, and find a way to succeed and thrive. I believe I can do this, and I believe you can too!

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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