I’ve known my friend Brent Meyer since high school.
We’ve always supported what the other is up to, even though Brent’s always been focused on music, and my focus has always been on writing.
Being friends with Brent, I’ve seen that no matter what one’s creative obsession, there are many parallels about what works no matter what you are doing creatively.
A Short Interview
Brent’s in a band called Folio, and he was recently interviewed on gearwire.com about synthesizers.
That may not sound like an interview of interest to writers, but there are several points made in the interview that apply to writers.
From the interview:
“When writing, we tried not to get bogged down in scrolling through 400 synth patches and manipulating the top five contenders to match what we’re hearing in our heads. We saved those torturous sessions for after the parts were finalized!”
– Brent Meyer
Just like it’s natural to stop while writing to do research, rework a scene or dialogue, or chase one of hundreds of distractions, there’s time for it later.
When you’re creating something new, the best thing you can do is keep moving, and get picky later.
To kill your momentum is to kill your creation.
Nope, It’s Not Over Yet!
The person doing the interview with Brent, Patrick Ogle, brings up a good point about some musicians that applies to writers:
“Some musicians new to recording think the work is all done once you finish recording. They are very shortly disabused of this notion”
– Patrick Ogle
Much like some musicians think the hard part is over once all their tracks are laid down, I’ve known writers who thought once the first draft of a novel was done that the work is over.
Anybody who’s revised a novel knows that’s not the case!
Rewriting can be painful. I have a love/hate relationship with it; many writers do.
One of the things that’s always helped me has been seeing Brent and other musician friends spend long hours poring over every little sound and working to make their music better.
As writers, we’d all do well to treat the words we write like the sounds musician make — taking time to make sure everything flows together until the words we wrote resonate from the pages.
Put the Ego Aside
Brent has produced a lot of music in his time. It’s safe to say that he knows how to bring out the best in a song.
But when it comes time to work on the masters for a recording, he often steps back and relies on others for help.
It’s easy as writers to think we know what’s best for all we do. In many ways, we do; it all comes from our heads, after all.
But we’d all do well to listen to trusted readers, editors, and other people with an ear for good writing — even if you’re a great writer and editor yourself!
While Brent knows the sounds he wants, he works with others to get there, and sometimes — because he’s open to suggestions and sets his ego aside — ends up with something sounding even better than he imagined.
In the hands of the right editor, your stories and articles won’t be totally changed (most likely), but they will be even stronger if you step back and listen to other people who know what they’re doing.
The Coming Year
I challenge everybody to step away from reading another interview with your favorite writer and seek out interviews with musicians and artists in the first part of 2011. We can all learn so much by looking at the ways other creative people get things done.
You will see many similarities, even though what you do is different. And hopefully you’ll think about things in ways you never imagined.
If you need a good starting point, I recommend Chuck Jones’s Chuck Amuck (if you can find an affordable copy or find it in a library). It’s a book written by many people’s favorite animator; it’s one of those books that changed the way I think about so much.
And speaking of turning to animation for writing/creative inspiration, you could do much worse things with a little more than an hour than listen to this interview with voice actor, Billy West.
Seek out interviews with musicians you’ve never heard of. Seek out interviews with musicians you like. And something I’ve always found interesting: seek out interviews with writers, musicians, and artists you’re not fond of.
You may find yourself with a new respect for them when you see how similar we all are in our creative obsessions.
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Oh! This is the 200th post on The Juggling Writer!
I often wonder about the similarity between music and fiction. I’ll listen to one of those amazing songs that overwhelms and completely transports me, and think, “THAT is the effect I want my fiction to have on readers!” I believe the most successful songs and stories have a clear rhythm, and also have unexpected elements which, in retrospect, seem inevitable.
Oh congratulations on 200 posts! 🙂 Keep ’em coming!
Christopher Gronlund says
CMS: I do that, too. I’m probably too too obsessed with turning to art and music and trying to figure out how I can bring elements of what I love about the mediums into writing.
You’re right: there’s definitely a rhythm to writing; I’ve seen that even more as I’ve worked on podcasting my fiction. I will now always read everything out loud, instead of staying quiet in my head.
There are certain pieces of music that I listen to and wonder what the composer must have felt when they finished it. I hear lyrics that work so well with the music and I’m floored by the blending of sound and writing. And then there are things I listen to that are just over-the-top energy and admire the guts it takes to just cut loose and do your own thing as a musician.
I try bringing all that into my writing. In many ways, doing so has made me think about minute details of writing that I never thought about when I’ve sat down to think about writing.
Last night I was listening to Steely Dan’s song “FM,” and I thought about this post. About 3/4 the way through the song, Fagan says “uh-huh.” Now I’ve heard that particular “uh-huh” countless times, but this time I tried to imagine the song “FM” had been recorded without the vocalization, with no other versions. I couldn’t imagine “FM” without it. The song I *could* imagine was a cheap imitation of a song that didn’t exist. Funny how the slightest peculiarity can become part of a framework. IMO
” . . the guts it takes to just cut loose and do your own thing as a musician.” Yes! Many times I’ve listened to a compelling piece of music and marveled at the pure creative expression of it. The musicians just get up on stage and pour out their souls, and the sound crosses all your sense barriers. Putting that kind of communication into my fiction is one of my loftier goals.
Great advice on reading stories out loud as part of editing. I finally put that on my “to do” list.
Christopher Gronlund says
I’m with you — it’s often those little things in a song that hit me, too. One note rising up out of a classical piece; a quiet or louder moment in a punk tune — I love it all! And it’s the same thing with art: it’s often a subtle brush stroke or little thing that jumps out at me.
Thinking about music and art and how it can apply to writing made me even a bit less sparse in my descriptions. I started realizing that all the advice that every word needed to advance the sentence and every sentence advancing the story in some way is bullshit. Sometimes you want a certain cadence that doesn’t go too long, but stays on one level so you can drop a line that absolutely devastates or elevates a scene.
Your musician post inspired me to research the relationship between music and fiction. I found an in-depth (albeit a bit dry) book excerpt from “The Musicalization of Fiction” by Werner Wolf http://bit.ly/gZDQCA. It may be useful if you’re interested in studying the mechanics of the music / fiction relationship.
BTW I pulled a Snooki in the comments and misspelled Fagen’s name. In my defense, spellcheck changed it incorrectly. (I always run comments through a spellcheck first.) I like to at least get people’s names right. So for all the people who will read these comments, the front man for Steely Dan is “Donald Fagen,” not “Fagan.” 🙂
Christopher Gronlund says
Thanks for the link. I just kind of skimmed through it, and like you said — a bit dry, but that’s fine. It’s a subject that fascinates me, and I’m sure there are some great points in all those pages.
And hey — you’re doing better than me…I’m bad about running spellcheck even on manuscripts!