Posts tagged “creativity

It’s November…Here we go again…


It’s National Novel Writing Month…again.

“The World Needs Your Novel” the event’s webpage proudly proclaims.

Amateur scribes everywhere are being encouraged to put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard and bang out a novel, that most complex of art forms, in 30 freaking days.

I think this is very stupid.

I realize my opinion will not be very popular. But seriously, I don’t see the point of a 30-day deadline. I know some people need deadlines, but why 30 days, which is unrealistic.

Sure novels have been written in less than 30 days. Hemingway slammed out The Sun Also Rises pretty quickly, though not quite in a month. Kerouac penned On The Road in about 20 days, though he’d traveled for seven years, saving up his thoughts, before starting, so maybe that’s not a good example. And I don’t know if he finished any books in less than a month, but Isaac Asimov certainly was prolific.

So what?

There are the slowpokes, too: Flaubert and Larry McMurtry. Junot Díaz and J.R.R. Tolkien. Jonathan Franzen supposedly took years on Freedom and his friend David Foster Wallace took even longer with Infinite Jest, but those are tomes and it’s easy to understand why. However, Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, a slim and lithe work, took many years, and I believe his next (and most recent) book, The Dog, was also slow in coming. And I have a friend who’s been working on a novel about two lovestruck jazz musician college students for at least ten years!

In short, novels, like all forms of writing, can be born rapidly or gradually, with a few revisions or many. But I don’t see why you should try to make yourself write one in a month. You should take however much time and space you need. You don’t get medals for speed.

If you can write a masterpiece in a month, more power to you. I wish I were you. But if it takes you as long as Mitchell or O’Neill, that’s fine too. And I have a feeling that most great novels take a while. Remember what Orson Welles used to say about wine? It’s true. Maybe not about that particular wine, but it’s true.

My biggest problem with making it 30 days (why not 90 days, or six months?) is that this short-sighted deadline will encourage most people to quit before they’re really done, while thinking they’ve done it, they’ve done the same thing that Richard Yates or Amy Tan did. It’s 30 days. Did it! But you’re not going to look at it dispassionately and see what you really should do with your idea, because it’s over. It’s 30 days, after all.

So you’ll never take that work to the next level to see what it actually is. It’s your second and third drafts where you really discover what you’ve written. Often the real story’s inside the one of the first draft. Often the best idea is hidden in the supporting actor, not the star chewing the scenery.

But you won’t discover that in 30 days. Heck, when you’re finally done your first draft, no matter how long it takes, I believe you should set your novel aside for at least 30 days. Maybe a lot longer. Then reread it. After you pour yourself a nice stiff drink.

Those kinds of novels the world needs.

There are plenty of…the other kind.



Taylor Swift shakes Apple off…

Taylor Swift

I never thought I would become a member of the Taylor Swift Fan Club, but I am.

The pop diva took on Apple, the world’s biggest corporation, and won.

For a quick recap, Apple decided it would not compensate artists for a three-month trial of its new streaming music service. Apple didn’t say it would eat the cost. It passed the burden on to the people supplying the content.

Any freelance writer or other creative person should know what this feel like, even if they’re not in a band or a pop star. Content so often is supposed to be free.

I’ve seen social events that paid DJs nice sums for standing in front of a laptop and clicking buttons but expects schooled musicians playing live music to work for free. And the event planners don’t see anything wrong with that.

Taylor had another opinion, and she voiced it in an open letter to Apple. She withdrew a new album from the service—not because she can’t shoulder the financial burden of no royalties but because it disproportionately impacts new artists who really do need every dollar. “We don’t ask you for free iPhones,” she said. “Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”

It worked. In less than a day, Apple reversed itself. Well, what it actually said was it hadn’t really planned on stiffing artists after all, it was just going to pay them more later and that would make up any difference. Right.

This is hardly unique to Apple. A while ago McDonalds was the recipient of ire when it refused to pay for music at a major event. As is typical in situations like these, they say the “exposure” is worth more than hard cash. Try that one on your landlord.

Time coverWhile I’m indifferent to her teeny-bop music, I’m glad someone of Swift’s magnitude is calling attention to what’s becoming a very common assumption: that creative people—unless they’re megastars—should give away their efforts for nothing or very little. From Amazon’s unfair deals for authors to various publishing house ebook controversies, the much-ballyhooed “creative class” is largely getting the short end of the deal, while people who bring little to the table but control the pipes make rules that benefit only them. Taylor Swift brought that to the national consciousness yesterday, and despite petty carping from a few quarters most people are praising her actions. Keep shaking, baby.


Narcissistic self-doubt

Narcissism vs. Doubt

If there’s ever a phrase to describe the artist, I think that’d be it.

Mind you, I don’t mean the entertainer. That’s one of the qualities where artists and entertainers differ–the latter have little self-doubt. Oh, they may wonder if they can “perform the steps” or “cut the book,” but they don’t look into the mirror and wonder “Why me?” and “Do I make a difference?” The entertainer suffers no such doubts–lucky they!

But the creative person wants to do something that’s different from the pack. They want something on their tombstone that’s unique. It can be many things–it doesn’t have to reside in the arts or “creativity” the way we typically think of creativity. Warren Buffett is said to think of his investments as a giant canvas, a work of art, and who’s to argue?

I don’t know if Mr. Buffett suffers doubt, but I can say that almost all creative people do.

Yet it’s ironic, because arguably it’s the narcissistic people out there who are flinging themselves on stage publicly. What gives?

Perhaps it’s sort of the way hackers are obsessed with security. There was a movie back in the 70s called The Conversation that starred Gene Hackman.  He played a security expert who bugged other people for a living and yet was so paranoid himself that he made all his own phone calls from a public booth. He didn’t like the fact that his own landlord had a copy of the key to his apartment.

Opposites attract, I guess. That which does not kill us can only make us stronger. I guess that’s what runs through the head of any creative—subliminally, at least—whenever he or she begins a creative undertaking that could end in disaster. At a round-table of actresses once, Glenn Close commented that you really want to rally behind someone up on stage, no matter how badly they are doing. It’s you and me against the world, kiddo!

So the graphic up there, the one that looks like a Mastercard logo? It means people who charge into creativity without a second thought are doomed to narcissism. And narcissists are a dime a dozen. Especially in this Facebook/Twitter age.

And people who have too much doubt to stand getting burned will never be seen either. Franz Schubert was a great composer—one of the best ever. But he lacked Beethoven’s balls to get in front of the aristocracy and royalty. So he slaved away in obscurity, his genius not being discovered til after his death.

Beethoven got in royalty’s faces, but he also had self-doubt. Lots of it. Don’t let the scowl fool you. Have you ever seen a Beethoven manuscript?

Beethoven Manuscript

That’s your model. Keep scowling. But keep checking yourself too.



Roger Ebert

Most films make the unspoken assumption that their characters are defined by and limited to their plots. But lives are not about stories. Stories are about lives. That is the difference between films for children and films for adults.  —Roger Ebert


I did something kinky today…

No, I didn’t see Fifty Shades of Grey.

I went into a bookstore and browsed for half an hour. Aimlessly. From shelf to shelf. Without an agenda, or an intention to buy anything.

The woman behind the counter asked if she could help me. When I told her I was just browsing, she seemed pleased, and just left me alone.

Sadly, I was the only person in the store.

Granted, it was a Monday, it was in the middle of the afternoon and it wasn’t at a high foot traffic area like a mall. Still, I couldn’t help notice that the phone center store on the same block was mobbed with people—mostly Millennials—swiping and caressing little plastic monoliths, their heads bowed in secular prayer.

I roamed among titles old and new. I was surprised that an author who hadn’t written anything since the 80s had a new book out, and that another favorite, Richard Ford, had added a fourth volume to his Frank Bascombe saga, though after the slightly disappointing third book I’m not sure if this is necessarily a good thing.

Alice MunroI flipped through the books. Flipped through them. Something you can’t do online. Not just every third page or the first five. And in a store, one can also assess the quality of the paper, the print, the binding, and so on.

Just six or so years ago, doing what I did today was not the slightest bit unusual. Recently I was talking to someone at a family gathering and he was extolling the virtues of Amazon to me, “I love ’em,” he laughed. “They had these earbuds for three dollars and I got them delivered to my door the next day! I buy everything from Amazon. I hope they drive everyone out of business.” He thinks he’ll still get things for three dollars the next day after Amazon becomes a monolith. It’s amazing how some people do not understand how the world works.

I had just gone into that store to browse, but I bought a book. And was very pleased I supposed the local economy instead of ordering online, even though, yes, I could have gotten the title forty percent cheaper if a robot had filled the order from a mega-warehouse.

It was honestly the most fun I’d had in a long time. Doing something I used to do all the time and never think twice about…