Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Books In the Key of Life Series: "If You Want to Write"

AaahhhHHHH... had my first band practice in two months last night.  Skunk Baxter is back in full effect.  The old engine purred like a V-6.  Felt so GOOD to play!  The reason for the hiatus was three-fold.  First, the birth of my daughter, which was in late May.  Second, the band needed a break after about six months of pretty steady gigs - in which more and more covers were creeping into our set (more on that later).  Third - it gave me a chance to read, reflect on my daughter's birth, and write a bucket load of songs as a result. 

One of the many things I have learned from playing in this band is to not force things to happen.  You must learn to submit to the ebb and flow of life.  Sometimes it is appropriate to be patient.  You feel like you're staring at a toaster, which is not fun.  But how can you force open the petals of a flower?  You can't - you have to add water, give it some sunshine, and then wait to be struck by beauty, enlightenment, inspiration.  You have to quiet your mind, then you can be creative.  Of course reading a lot and getting two weeks of paternity leave from my day job helps too. 

Last night was exciting because I was able to introduce the guys to some of the new material.  They liked everything I played. That never happens! 

I want to talk a little bit about the creative process, as I experience it.  I am not someone who can just wake up and it's 8 o'clock and say, "OK, it's time to write a song."  I have learned over many years that you have to patiently wait for that flower to open.  Inspiration strikes anywhere.  You have to become well attuned to pick up that moment of inspiration when it appears.  And you have to spend time thinking about emotions, feelings, and thoughts that are really important to you in the meantime. 

It is really difficult to put into words.  Sometimes I write a song - three verses, chorus, and bridge with music - in 15 minutes.  That is always an amazing experience.  Sometimes I write a riff down, with parts of a chorus and verse, and come back to it a few days later to finish it off.  Sometimes I write the words first, sometimes I write the music first.  I just try to remain open to where my creativity takes me.  Reading the book "If You Want To Write" by Brenda Ueland has really helped me to understand how to release my creative energy.  She encourages you, pushes you to take chances. 

She talks about Vincent Van Gogh in multiple episodes of the book.  You know, the guy who allegedly cut his ear off to impress a prostitute?  Well as with all things surrounding creative geniuses, the story gets complicated.  But Brenda Ueland focuses on how Van Gogh thought about his creative process, and how he was afraid of his gift.  That's important - because I have often felt afraid about my gift.  In fact writing this blog frightens me - but I have vowed to plow ahead, at least for a while.  I feel inspired to do it and I have set reasonable terms for myself.  That's the kind of thing Brenda encourages creative folks to do in her book. 

I have found over time that my best work is deeply personal, based on a strong emotional feelings.  Let me put it another way.  If I want to write a song about the Civil War, I don't just read a biography of US Grant.  I have to make it personal - perhaps reflect on my grandfather's death, and how he used to tell stories about World War Two and fighting in Patton's army.  That's personal - you can talk about the fog of war, the scars you carry for life, the men left behind, etc., and then the details are mere window dressing. 

Let me put it another way for my fellow geeks out there.  No one would care at all about Star Wars (Episodes IV-VI especially) if the stories were boring and stiff and full of annoying dialogue.  It's the story that makes you care so much.  The boy who leaves home with an ascetic monk after his aunt & uncle die... the beautiful young princess in command... the cowboy pilot smuggler and his man-dog sidekick... the talking robots providing comic relief... Vader... the light and dark... etc.  The special effects only serve to enhance the actual human story.  If you spend all your creative energy dreaming up the Millennium Falcon you're missing the point.  Lucas came up with it on the fly, saying it should look like his favorite food - a hamburger.  The cockpit was an olive stuck to the hamburger with a toothpick. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the creative arts - whether your outlet is writing, painting, film, or composing music.  It's a book for anyone who is interested in tapping into their creative power.

Mahalo ;)=~ 

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