Thanks for the crazy ad today, dearest internet. As Nicolas Cage himself said in the classic movie The Rock – “”Uh, yeah, okay, that’s about the most awful thing I’ve ever seen.”
It would have been my father’s 77th birthday today. He is gone almost 10 years now. I wrote this piece after BB King passed away and it is as much about my dad as it is about him.
When I was a kid we listened to a lot of music in my house. My dad had a vast record collection and introduced me to countless great artists from the world of jazz and blues. BB King was one of those. I can still picture the yellow gatefold double vinyl with BB King on the cover, caught in the spotlight, sweat on his brow, wearing a full suit, eyes closed in enchantment as he played Lucille, his beloved guitar. I still remember the first time the needle hit the groove on that record. Energy. Emotion. Everything.
“Every day I have the blues”
As the years went by my music tastes broadened, narrowed and changed. I remember the strange joy of hearing BB King appear on an album by my beloved U2. Two favourite worlds colliding in real harmony. My friends shrugging their shoulders at it. Me knowing it was the height of cool.
“As the music played I saw my life turn around
That was the day before love came to town”
But the reason BB King always sits in my heart is because of what his music meant to my dad. Whenever we had a big gathering or party at our home, you knew how good it was going to be based on the records he picked out to play. For the really special, really rare out-of-this-world parties, he would put on BB King to close the party. That was the sign that everything was really cooking and there was only one way to close out the night. No one follows BB King. No one.
“Oh I’m free, free, free now
I’m free from your spell
And now that it’s all over
All I can do is wish you well”
It’s ok to fail. Bob Dylan said so.
Having one of those days where I need to remind myself that you can’t force yourself to be creative. These things take time. So, I am going back to some writing exercises and idea starters to just kickstart my brain. I often find that I just need to ease myself into a state of flow. Go easy on yourselves, sometimes you either need to walk away (literally) or give yourself some simple prompts to boost your creative brain.
One of my favourites is to pick a place (e.g. a bakery), a character (a journalist) and a simple situation (the phone rings – its her dad), and then just start writing, and see where it goes. Also, Writing Prompts on Reddit can be a fun place to get good ideas to get your ideas flowing.
Such a great reminder to not be bound by rules and traditional forms. Play with it. Beyond Godard, modern cinema has so many great examples of it – like Memento by Christopher Nolan, Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino or Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa – and contemporary television shows like True Detective and Westworld thrive on non-linear storylines.
Hate writing, love rewriting.
So much of the creative process is about crafting a good story that resonates and reverberates with your audience. The art of storytelling is something we have been raised with since we were kids – almost every one of us had someone who read to us at night before we went to sleep – and when it is done well, there is nothing quite as spellbinding. And that sits deep within us.
The quote above is from Ira Glass, host of the highly regarded podcast and National Public Radio show This American Life, which chronicles stories large and small from all walks of life. Of the many radio shows and podcasts out there, This American Life is perhaps among the greatest at weaving a tale that draws you in. Ira’s quote really sticks with me, because the simplicity of what he is saying is also absolutely true.
And I think it applies not just to writing, but can equally be applied to other creative forms where the narrative is placed at the heart of it, and draws the audience in, and takes them on that train.
The quote actually comes from a longer extended interview with Ira Glass ,where he goes deeper on the art of good storytelling, and I strongly recommend listening to it below. It’s full of nuggets on storytelling and the creative process.
This quote has always resonated deeply with me. As with so many writers, I much prefer rewriting over the act of writing. That first draft of something can be such a tough thing to create, but I love coming back to it and starting to chop away and reshape it into something. Editing is such an artform and if you have trusted friends and fellow artists who you can bounce ideas off in that editing phase, then that is an absolute gift. When it comes to writing, listen carefully to what they say and feel about it. But always keep Neil Gaiman’s words in your mind. If you are hearing regular comments or feedback about a specific section, then clearly there is something going on there that is not connecting with the audience. But only you will have the perfect solution for the thing you are creating. At least that has been my experience.
As a sidenote, many of my friends had been recommending Neil Gaiman to me for ages, and last year I finally took the plunge and read Neverwhere in a few days. I loved his ease with rich details and sharply drawn characters in that quirky fantastical version of London. It was a world I was quickly able to immerse myself in. I found out afterwards it had been written originally as a TV series by Gaiman along with my childhood comedy hero Lenny Henry, so it seemed like the universe was bringing me into a world where many of my heroes congregated in the same corner. I love it when things like that happen.
"Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I’ve been thinking about creative patterns and behaviours a lot recently.
So often we follow tried and trusted paths for our creative pursuits. It’s easier. It’s comfortable. It works.
But sometimes it’s worth taking a chance. A risk. Doing something a bit new. A bit unexpected. Something that might even be a bit scary.
And there is never a right time for that. Do it now. Begin it now.