Archive for the ‘Creative Writing’ Category
If you’ve passed by Deciphering Culture with any regularity, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a serious fan of Haruki Murakami. The blog 99% posted a short piece on Murakami’s thoughts on the essential traits needed for successful as a novelist (excerpted from Muraakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running). The insights Murakami learned from running are applicable to all creative endeavors: you need talent, focus and endurance. An excerpt from the excerpt posted on 99% (Haruki-Murakami-Talent-Is-Nothing-Without-Focus-and-Endurance?).
…what’s the most important quality a novelist has to have. It’s pretty obvious: talent. Now matter how much enthusiasm and effort you put into writing, if you totally lack literary talent you can forget about being a novelist. This is more of a prerequisite than a necessary quality. If you don’t have any fuel, even the best car won’t run.
The problem with talent, though, is that in most cases the person involved can’t control its amount or quality. You might find the amount isn’t enough and you want to increase it, or you might try to be frugal and make it last longer, but in neither case do things work out that easily. Talent has a mind of its own and wells up when it wants to, and once it dries up, that’s it….
…the next most important quality is for a novelist, that’s easy too: focus—the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that you can’t accomplish anything of value, while, if you can focus effectively, you’ll be able to compensate for an erratic talent or even a shortage of it….
After focus, the next most important thing for a novelist is, hands down, endurance. If you concentrate on writing three or four hours a day and feel tired after a week of this, you’re not going to be able to write a long work. What’s needed of the writer of fiction—at least one who hopes to write a novel—is the energy to focus every day for half a year, or a year, or two years….
Fortunately, these two disciplines—focus and endurance—are different from talent, since they can be acquired and sharpened through training. You’ll naturally learn both concentration and endurance when you sit down every day at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point. This is a lot like the training of muscles I wrote of a moment ago. You have to continually transmit the object of your focus to your entire body, and make sure it thoroughly assimilates the information necessary for you to write every single day and concentrate on the work at hand. And gradually you’ll expand the limits of what you’re able to do. Almost imperceptibly you’ll make the bar rise. This involves the same process as jogging every day to strengthen your muscles and develop a runner’s physique. Add a stimulus and keep it up. And repeat. Patience is a must in this process, but I guarantee results will come.
- Ethnographic Storytelling – another lesson from Haruki Murakami (decipheringculture.com)
- Ethnographic Fiction – a lesson from Haruki Murakami (decipheringculture.com)
- Edinburgh Festival 2011: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, King’s Theatre, review (telegraph.co.uk)
- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – review (guardian.co.uk)
Brian Eno has been a creative force for decades now, producing a wide range of entertaining and challenging music with an admirable collection of collaborators. Thanks to 99% (Developing Your Creative Practice: Tips from Brian Eno by Scott McDowell) for pointing me to a new e-book by Eric Tamm, BRIAN ENO, HIS MUSIC AND THE VERTICAL COLOR OF SOUND, that “delves deeply into Eno’s creative process.” What Eno himself calls (from Tamm’s book):
…a practice of some kind … It quite frequently happens that you’re just treading water for quite a long time. Nothing really dramatic seems to be happening. … And then suddenly everything seems to lock together in a different way. It’s like a crystallization point where you can’t detect any single element having changed. There’s a proverb that says that the fruit takes a long time to ripen, but it falls suddenly … And that seems to be the process.
McDowell presents a list of tools Eno has relied upon to assist the creative process when he gets stuck — No 5, the Oblique Strategies deck of cards is the bit of whimsy, something all creative workers needs to get the juices flowing again.
1. Freeform capture. Grab from a range of sources without editorializing. According to Tamm, one of Eno’s tactics “involves keeping a microcassette tape recorder on hand at all times and recording any stray ideas that hit him out of the blue – a melody, a rhythm, a verbal phrase.” He’ll then go through and look for links or connections, something that can form the foundation for a new piece of music.
2. Blank state. Start with new tools, from nothing, and toy around. For example, Eno approaches this by entering the recording studio with no preconceived ideas, only a set of instruments or a few musicians and “just dabble with sounds until something starts to happen that suggests a texture.” When the sound texture evokes a memory or emotion that impression then takes over in guiding the process.
3. Deliberate limitations. Before a project begins, develop specific limitations. Eno’s example: “this piece is going to be three minutes and nineteen seconds long and it’s going to have changes here, here and here, and there’s going to be a convolution of events here, and there’s going to be a very fast rhythm here with a very slow moving part over the top of it.”
4. Opposing forces. Sometimes it’s best to generate a forced collision of ideas. Eno would “gather together a group of musicians who wouldn’t normally work together.” Dissimilar background and approaches can often evoke fresh thinking.
5. Creative prompts. In the ‘70s Eno developed his Oblique Strategies cards, a series of prompts modeled after the I Ching to disrupt the process and encourage a new way of encountering a creative problem. On the cards are statements and questions like: “Would anybody want it?” “Try faking it!” “Only a part, not the whole.” “Work at a different speed.” “Disconnect from desire.” “Turn it upside down.” “Use an old idea.” These prompts are a method of generating specifics, which most creatives respond favorably to.
- Brian Eno Oblique Strategies (itsnicethat.com)
- Listen: New Brian Eno Non-Album Track (pitchfork.com)
- Genius at work (theage.com.au)
- Brian Eno Readies New Collaborative Album (pitchfork.com)
After a minor medical emergency and a ridiculously busy week, I am back to my major endeavor for the month of March, rewriting the first chapter of my manuscript on Moroccan alternative music. It opens with a musical vignette that introduces the music, sets the scene and sets up the theoretical framework for the book. It’s a tricky section to write: writing about music is always tricky. Attempting to capture a primarily aural experience in print is an exercise in capturing lightning in a bottle, especially if you are writing for an academic audience. Too often “serious” writing on music loses the immediacy of the musical experience in overly careful prose designed to maintain some misguided allegiance to accurate representation — misguided because losing the truth of an experience is a high price to pay for obsequious fealty to maintaining the real. And is it a choice we have to make? This is one area where ethnographic fiction opens up possibilities that call out for exploration and new sources of inspiration.
Some the best writing on music is found in fiction and James Baldwin’s work abounds in striking descriptions of musical experience. The following excerpt is from his story “Sonny’s Blues” (an extended excerpt is featured in the Sun magazine this month).
all i know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. and even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. but the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. what is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. and his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours. i just watched sonny’s face. his face was troubled, he was working hard, but he wasn’t with it. and i had the feeling that, in a way, everyone on the bandstand was waiting for him, both waiting for him and pushing him along. but as i began to watch creole, i realized that it was creole who held them all back. he had them on a short rein. up there, keeping the beat with his whole body, wailing on the fiddle, with his eyes half closed, he was listening to everything, but he was listening to sonny. he was having a dialogue with sonny. he wanted sonny to leave the shoreline and strike out for the deep water. he was sonny’s witness that deep water and drowning were not the same thing-he had been there, and he knew. and he wanted sonny to know. he was waiting for sonny to do the things on the keys which would let creole know that sonny was in the water.
and, while creole listened, sonny moved, deep within, exactly like someone in torment. i had never before thought of how awful the relationship must be between the musician and his instrument. he has to fill it, this instrument, with the breath of life, his own. he has to make it do what he wants it to do. and a piano is just a piano. it’s made out of so much wood and wires and little hammers and big ones, and ivory. while there’s only so much you can do with it, the only way to find this out is to try; to try and make it do everything.
and sonny hadn’t been near a piano for over a year. and he wasn’t on much better terms with his life, not the life that stretched before him now. he and the piano stammered, started one way, got scared, stopped; started another way, panicked, marked time, started again; then seemed to have found a direction, panicked again, got stuck. and the face i saw on sonny i’d never seen before. everything had been burned out of it, and, at the same time, things usually hidden were being burned in, by the fire and fury of the battle which was occurring in him up there.
- HW Pick: James Arthur Baldwin (harlemworldblog.wordpress.com)
- Poetry Analysis:Langston Hughes’s “The Weary Blues” (brighthub.com)
Excited that the first piece of my “ethnographic poetry” was published on January 7, 2011 by the UK literary journal The View From Here. The poem, “My Father Chased, Never Caught” is based on family history but as my biography in The View From Here says,
Jeffrey Callen is an ethnographer and writer living in San Francisco. Along the way to receiving his Ph.D. in ethnomusicology, he learned the bracketing of reactions, the deep hanging out, the willingness to be surprised that are the sine qua non of the ethnographic method. An ethnographic approach is integral to all his work as a writer, including his fiction and poetry. His writing on music and popular culture regularly appears in scholarly publications and popular outlets, such as PopMatters, The Beat and Afropop Worldwide. He is currently writing a book on alternative music in Morocco and can be contacted through his professional blog Deciphering Culture.
Gorgeous, Eye Catching, Coffee Table Worthy! The View From Here – The Best of the Best in the new and emerging literary scene!
Interviews with … Naseem Rakha, Michael Kimball & Penny Legg.
Original Fiction: Kirie Pedersen, Lauren Butler & Iain Campbell.
Original Poetry: Magdalawit Makonnen , Jeffrey Callen & Rich Murphy.
Chapter 1 of our serialisation of Death Knell by Kathleen Maher
Reading Underground by Jane Turley
Book Review: You Against Me by Jenny Downham.