“Jean Rhys said to an interviewer in the Paris Review, ‘Listen to me. All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake’.” ― Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation. – Graham Greene
ed. Silverberg, Robert
“Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.” — S. King, “On Writing”.
“Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells, to the love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him”
What’s up bearcats and gentlefolk. Took a bit of a break from blogging the past month. Lotsa stuff flying down the stress sewer. The most important one is that I put out a new record on Tuesday, UNRELIABLE NARRATOR!
And it feels real good. It’s been a year since I’ve have started recording it, and I can now breathe a big sigh of relief that the album baby is slick with placenta and out floundering about the planet!
Big THANKS to everybody(!) especially if you’ve been a purchaser! Right now you can check the record out by clicking on SOUNDS in the above header menu, or just clicking HERE. And for all you Spotify and Rdio heads, full digital distro is coming next week!
In the next number of weeks I’ll probably take some time to flesh out the stories behind some of the songs on the record; I love to geek at other writers when they do that dishing. but for today, I wanted to wrap up some thoughts I talked about in my last post. So I also just finished my first NaNoWriMo, where one attempts to write a draft of a 50,000 word novel (think about the length of The Great Gatsby) in 30 days. There were a handful of times I almost gave up, but I broke the 50,000 words on time, and “won”. Absolutely was a blast. There’s no way I’ll do it again for a couple of years—I have enough editing to do for probably that long—but I learned a number of cool things along the way.
FRIENDS ARE COOL
I wouldn’t have made it without my pals to talk to about the process, especially Daniel and Corey. Feedback, brain dumping, and complaining to them and competing with them helped spur me on. That’s it.
“The good seed cannot flourish when it is repeatedly dug up for the purpose of examining its growth.” – J. C. Kromsigt
My wife and I have been rabid about the Serial Podcast, and have spent many nights in our bed in the dark, languishing while my iPhone 5s spins the sordid tale of Adnan Sayed. An absolute must-listen. Produced by the This American Life crowd. Earlier this year, Ira Glass wrote a superb statement regarding the chasm between your taste and the actual work that many of us make in reality. The whole thing is worth the read, especially when it comes to letting yourself off the hook to just work and not immediately assess.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
Along with this idea is the continual reoccurring plague. No, not Ebola, but second guessing myself every few days about whether I was wasting my time. I became lost in the whole enormous project, and no longer could see the forest for the trees. I understood why Hunter S. Thompson typed out pages and passages from The Great Gatsby (you just knew this was coming back around–too clunky and Chekov’s gun-ny), to just “feel what it would be like to write the great American Novel.” There is something to this idea. Becoming another’s work for a while. It might be learning a cover song, re-reading the same chapter five times to get the mechanics, or literally re-typing someone else’s work. To inhabit another’s work is to taste the excellency of mechanics. I have a Beatles’ fakebook, and I regularly go thru and learn the songs, and I’ve already seen the impact on my own songwriting.
“For anything great to happen, there needs to be a long obedience in the same direction.” – Nietzsche
Maybe after I edit the novel I’ll throw it up on this site for anyone that likes supernatural thrillers featuring ex-priest “fixers” and evil Nephilim. But until then, you can enjoy UNRELIABLE NARRATOR!
And again, UNRELIABLE NARRATOR is available for:
- The #1 spot on your Best of 2k14 music list
- Working off those T-Giving L.B.’s
- Final Exam study soundtracking
- Digital stocking stuffers
- Making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs
1) Hamstring The Internal Censor.
Art is only a means to life, to the life more abundant. It is not in itself the life more abundant. It merely points the way, something which is overlooked not only by the public, but very often by the artist himself. In becoming an end it defeats itself. —Henry Miller
It’s not a mystical thing, but the rewarding practice has proven to break me out of a long slumber of creativity. Going to school for a creative discipline, I think I may have let my internal Censor have his way with me. Further, taking a faculty position over the Songwriting Division, I think I subconsciously felt like I needed to be the bastion of songwriting perfection, that I needed to be the shining example of luminous songwriting with every piece I wrote. That pressure became crippling. Sure, I wrote. Even released records of material. More records sat collecting dust in the 1’s and 0’s of my hard drive. It was difficult to let ideas bloom without killing them in the crib, too afraid to see them grow into “bad” songs. What would that make me, if I wrote a bunch of “bad” songs?
2) There Will Always Be Another Song. (Or another short story, novel, novella, flash fiction piece, grocery list, you get it)
Jean Rhys said to an interviewer in the Paris Review, ‘Listen to me. All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake’. ― Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
We realize your life is about committing to work, putting our hands to the plow and feeding the stream to the great lake of Civilization’s body of work. We begin to slowly, through the faithful everyday practice of writing, SEEING our writing accumulate. We see that there is always another day. Another 3 pages of thoughts, feelings, expression that no one has used as firepower to criticize us. We begin to apply that practice to the rest of our writing and Art-Work. I emphasize Art-Work, because we free ourselves to add to the lake, as Rhys says, of creative growth. Push the limits of the art form, stretch genres, movements, convention. We disappear, and with the fading of Ego, true work presents itself.
3) Practice Your Voice.
Good ideas present themselves while writing, rather than not. — Pat Pattison
Ideas don’t have to be that “good” in order to justify fleshing them out. We don’t have to wait for the perfect one to spend our energy on. Everybody knows, that when you read any advice from established writers in their fields and their first piece of advice is to write something. Everyday write. Be it a grocery list, notes from a class, a letter or email to a friend, or … the important thing is to exercize that muscle. As a singer learns a body of work to perform, their repertoire, and thusly learns their style and performance practices, we no longer second guess every creative voice (as much). You’re supposed to write the morning pages longhand, but I do it on the computer. 750 words. In fact, others feel the same, and somebody even came up with a cloud version.
Reading: No time. Just writing.
Listening: New Jessie Ware, Tough Love
Watching: No time. Just writing.
“Three can keep a secret if two are dead.” – Benjamin Franklin
2) Keep It Like A Secret: I don’t plan on showing anyone my novella when I’m finished, not even my wife (against her demands). At least, that’s what I have to tell myself. I’ve found for my personal creative process, that when I think about someone hearing the song/reading the story and judging it, it seems to cripple my creative flow and the sense of “safety” I feel as a maker. When I write in my own head, letting my feelings, ideas, and preferences flow, I am able to build a unique workflow that doesn’t let my internal Censor in a bit.
This past spring I went through Mason Currey’s scintillating book Daily Rituals (great summary points here), and it affected me to the point of changing my life in a very practical way. I started Lent with the idea of a clean start. Morning pages were already an important part of my routine. Finding a schedule that worked for me, creatively and personally seemed to be the holy grail of myself and most creative professionals (and amateurs!) that I’ve talked to. Some of the people in the book worked late into the night, so I’m not opposed to that for others, but for my lifestyle, (and because my brain is clearly more alert for the best thinking/writing from waking until-11am) that’s the time I need to employ.
Throughout my twenties I had developed a rhythm of staying up later and later, feverishly salivating for “Just one more episode!” of whatever heroin-esque golden-age-of-tv series we’re into at the time. So I moved that hour-and-a-half of usable time to the morning, when my mind is fresh. I have a duplet of two-year-olds so there aren’t normally moments during the day that I’m able to work without interruption. The key was to asses my daily schedule and discover my usable time and move it around until I found a good personal flow. We truly are soft machines, and may be programmed by yourself for the best functionality.
Reading: Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
Listening: Sloan – Commonwealth (Best lyric from new record, Commonwealth: “Did you learn nothing from five seasons of The Wire?)
Watching: Mad Men, s7