Joni Mitchell came up with “Both Sides, Now” almost fifty years ago and it still remains one of her most known and re-recorded song. A lot of people love it, nobody hates it, a lot of people heard it too many time to care about it.
As far as its connection to writing goes, Joni might have been a bit too young when she wrote it to realize that along with the two sides, there is that middle ground for writers. After all, she wrote music and lyrics, hopefully, she still can and does.
Doesn’t sound reasonable? Ok, lets put it this way - every writer has his highs, days when words just simply keep pouring out of you, more than you ever thought you could come up with in weeks, let alone a single day. But then there’s that other, darkish side when nothing plausible comes to mind, let alone come out of it, not even boredom, emptiness or figuring out whether you’re actually procrastinating or not.
Of course, you want and need those (natural) highs, not only do they produce abundance, but usually come with your exemplary work. The only problem is they only come once so often.
On the other hand, lows were here, have gone, but will be back at some point again. The best way to handle them is to accept them as an inevitable moment(s) of your writing (as well as other) life. Ignore them in that manner and they’ll be gone sooner than you were afraid they would. After all, fear is the thing that feeds them.
And that you get that third side, the one Joni forgot or neglected, that middle ground that writers too take for granted because… well, they’re so average. But those ‘average’ days are writer’s bread and butter - you have a set pace of writing, research and ‘everything else’, from shopping to… whatever.
As a writer, you hope for more highs, but those can be very exhausting in every way, and unfortunately, when their tide leaves, it is lows that remain, and you definitely don’t want those hanging around for too long. So those might be the two sides that bookend the middle ground the place where writers usually sit in but aren’t aware of. Maybe that was the thought circling in Joni’s mind when she wrote:
“I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all” (Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides, Now”)
With all those ‘oh so successful’ writers/copywriters selling their expertise through those hundreds of emails you get every day, telling you those monetary thousands are just around the corner, it still seems really hard to get a decent writing gig, doesn’t it?
You scrape and roll, do whatnot, and it seems it only brings peanuts. Not even roasted or salted. But then, suddenly, the right offer comes in! You make the arrangements, the deal is struck, and you are flying! Might not be the dream thing, might not be something you feel totally comfortable with, but it promises to at least get you that bit closer to those promised thousands.
But then, a sense of fear creeps in, the sense if incompetency, a sense that you might not be completely up to the challenge. A challenge that seems to be growing in its insurmountability by every second. And you simply get overwhelmed and start singing Carla Olson’s “I Can’t Fight It” in your head, even if you don’t really know it or remember it.
Here’s the thing though - that fear may actually mean exactly the opposite! It might mean that you are a responsible individual who is aware of her/his limits and who really wants to do a proper job. Steering that fear in the direction of proper preparation, research plotting and writing down all the key elements of your text, no matter how long it will be can actually make you come up with exactly what is needed.
That is probably the best context in which you can place that fear and turn something very negative into something positive and stimulating, something that will tell you yes you can fight it, and exactly for the right reasons.
And then you can either ‘whistle while you work’ or sing (or just listen) to Carla Olson and her “I Can’t Fight It”, she is singing that for other reasons anyway.
So you got that great, big, exciting idea for a novel… Jot down the ideas immediately, write down all the elements and… How about waiting for a while before you dive into that well of ideas, particularly if you are still honing your writing skills?
If you are not a fan of The Eagles, a band that is so much maligned these days, go for Jackson Browne’s original version of “Take It Easy”. Quite a few reasons for that.
You can start with grasping the basic elements of constructing a novel, doing the necessary research, even if (and often particularly because) it is science fiction, to all those intricate details like character, dialogue, and plot development…
But then there’s that one detail that will immensely help you with all of those — honing your writing skills. Ok, so you’ve known since elementary school that there’s a writer hiding in there somewhere, an untamed natural talent…
Yet, that untamed talent needs to be tamed — no matter how natural talent you may be, you need to develop your writing — and exceptions, which certainly exist, again, only prove the rule.
Simply put, start writing anything as a sensible, written whole, from an email to an article, review, commercial piece, anything. Just as long as it has a proper head and tail, as piece by piece, it starts making more and more sense, becomes more coherent and understandable. To everybody. Ok, maybe not everybody, but to most of the people.
Such an approach can give you one more possibility — honing your writing gives you the capability to piece up those tiny bits of ideas for that ‘big thing’ into a coherent whole — it helps you “Pick Up The Pieces”, as The Average White Band would say (actually play, but never mind).
Those brilliant, immediate novels that a writer can spill into one go come once in a lifetime, or never. Even to the best writers.
So pick up the pieces by taking it easy, it is a good combination, like following a great soft rock tune with a great funk instrumental, as is the case with The Eagles (Jackson Browne) and The Average White Band. Just like a combination of a hot cup of coffee with a cold glass of sparkling water.
"Friends Little Helpers". Well, that’s not exactly how the title of that song goes. But then I’m sure you’re aware it is “With A Little Help From My Friends”, even if you are not a fan of either The Beatles or their “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. Now, Ringo Starr is certainly one of the more underrated drummers, let alone singers. But with such mercurial music figures around him, it can be understandable.
But that is not the point. Ringo certainly used a little (and a lot) of help from his friends. So should any writer. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a friend. It could be anybody that is willing to share their ideas, stories, views, images, even the people that are trying to earn money from it. Today, at least, it is not a problem to access all that. Look at all the online and printed resources available!
From the more ‘mundane’ as sources like Facebook (as some might think) to specialized journals, all those books…
Of course, the point is not to just simply pick up somebody else’s idea and copy it, but let it serve as an inspiration to develop your own, upgrade it, simplify it, whatever. Just as long as it doesn’t turn you into a copycat.
If you solely take a look (and that is an extensively large look) at the online source of ideas available, the choice is staggering. The most widespread social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and often maligned G+ do not have to be a source just to watch what your not so good friend who you are connected to anyway had for breakfast or whether your neighbour’s cat peed on his carpet (even though those can also come in handy) but a goldmine of good ideas that somebody intentionally or inadvertently put up.
The large idea and news sources such as Medium and Flipboard which you can usually tailor to your needs are a given. Let alone some specialized sites, where your writing needs and political/social affiliations play a part, like, lets just mention three out of million possibilities — Futurism, Bandcamp or philosophically inclined Aeon.
Or, how about that deluge of e-mails you get from thousands of writing guru’s you don’t even remember you subscribed to? Sure, they want your money for their course, webinar or the book(s) they wrote, but then, even if you just read their pitch, there’s an idea or two hidden there. Not much time? But, if you’re out of ideas, you should have some time to fetch one, don’t you?
The key is that writer’s need ideas, they simply don’t come out of thin air, and any help, even little help (from your friends) from Ringo Starr will do.
Way back in the Seventies Pressure Drop, a song by The Toots and The Maytals was one of those songs that helped Reggae music make a wider breakthrough it deserved. With all those juggling, happy-like rhythms, not many people paid any attention to not so happy-like lyrics, which included lines like these:
“Sometimes you feel alone
And the things that you're doing
People tell you that it is wrong
Life gets rough, life gets tough
So tell me what you gonna do about it?”
There, Toots and the guys pose a very serious question for any writer, as for anybody else for that matter. There are certainly going to be times when, as a writer, not everything is going to go the way it either should or you think they should go. From not being able to write anything meaningful, to your writing being rejected for an explicable or inexplicable reason, to you simply hating the thing you have to write about. It could be something uninspiring, something you don’t know much about, or simply something that in essence contradicts your views.
Usually, one of the key reasons you pick up to write something out of your comfort zone is that one size fits all explanation: “because I have to”. Probably the only really lovable thing there falls in that “I don’t know much about it category”. That one should be easy - learn more about it, you might get to like it, and as a writer that usually happens anyway.
All the other stuff falls in the category, “I need it as much as stress and everything it brings along” - the pressure drops, and it can really be a heavy drop with deep consequences. For you and for everybody else involved.
So, if the writing doesn’t fit, don’t do it, no matter how good the financial reward may be. The pressure should drop off, not on you. Basically, turn that on/off button to off. You writing should concentrate on what flows naturally, what really fits you and what you really know (or have learned in the meantime).
The reward that is sought will come, eventually. The more natural your writing is the more chance it has to get you where you need to be.
At that moment, you may truly enjoy those Toots and Metals rhythms and forget about their heavy lyrics. At least for a moment.
Way back when (1968 actually) Tom Rush came up with one of the well-covered ballads, “No Regrets”. It got covered so many times (Rush himself re-recorded it in 2009) for a good reason. It still stands as one of the better ballads around, no matter whether you think the lyrics are corny or not.
Actually, the lyrics can come quite handy as a message to any freelance writer when they themselves have to terminate a work agreement - there have to be no regrets.
Of course, there could be any number of serious reasons to do that - from a very favourable one - you have too much on your plate and the money’s overflowing (something which happens only in ads for all those writing courses), to god, forbid, something bad has happened to prevent you to continue. But in most general cases you do that reluctantly, since after all, as a freelancer, you never know when the next job is going to come up or how much it is going to pay.
In the good case scenario, you’re not going to regret it, even if the other party seemed like a good one to work with, while in the bad case one, you don’t really have a chance to care, just hope things turn for the better.
But in most cases, it is a more general spectre of reasons why you want or need to quit - you simply don’t like it, find it too demanding, it is paid poorly, and in most cases, the other party treats you like a hired hand stereotype in Western movies - as a disposable entity.
It can be in any and all forms of changing the terms of the contract and/or agreement, changing the due dates, not paying enough, on time, or ever, not responding to your messages or giving you the answers to questions you posed (even if the definitely know the answers), setting vague goals, and giving you lousy or no guidelines whatsoever, should I go on?
So, yes, you may need that job, but yes, you are much better without it. There Tom Rush’s great song definitely comes into play, in one of his version, or for example the great Walker Brothers one, even though Scott Walker himself disowned practically all of the early stuff he recorded. Guess he walked away from it with no regrets on his part.
Back in the Eighties Gordon Gano and Violent Femmes were one of the better, surprising bands to come about and produce a series of quite remarkable albums. Their third in that line was “The Blind Leading The Naked” from 1986. It even had a great version of T.Rex’ “Children of the Revolution” on it.
As a writer, the title of the album should make you think though when you start preparing your next story, none, article, copywriting anything… Certainly, you start writing your outline, put down your ideas and what kind of research you need to do, even if it is a personal story or just a flash of inspiration (you do your research, don’t you). Of course, it is your initial ideas that are the driving force behind what you are about to write - you start out with some preconceptions, even if they are just general ones.
And then you get to your research. Bit by bit, it turns out that this research starts either bringing down your preconceptions, changes your ideas or brings about new ones. What then? Do you stick firmly to your initial ideas, strictly follow where the research leads you, or abandon everything and pick up on the newly developed ideas?
Doing just one of those might put you in a situation Violent Femmes spoke of with the title of their album. You need to think about a possible balance with all of the above possibilities, with one exception.
Your idea is yours, even if it is a bad one. As such it can certainly be transformed with re-thinking, particularly if it is stimulated by quality research. If it seems implausible, see what is needed to make it a plausible one. That is certainly one way to turns facts into fiction. The new ideas you get… you will write them down, won’t you and pick up on them at some point.
Of course, the only time you’re going to stick to the results of the research is when strictly fact-based writing is involved, particularly if it is journalism or copywriting. You don’t want to be the blind or the naked in such a story, do you?
When The Rolling Stones came up with “Mother’s Little Helper” in 1966, one of their better singles of the era, the controversy arose about what kind of a helper were they had in mind. Some radio stations even refused to play the song. Maybe the song hit the exact spot it wanted to hit.
As far as the writers and writing are concerned the helpers these days go beyond a set of well kept and annotated notebooks, scrapbooks, piles of dictionaries and books marked with the research needed.
With all the software aids available these days, things might seem simpler. But only just. First, you’ve got that Mac, Windows, Linux, Android compatibility thing, and some aids being not compatible between platforms. Here though, I get the impression that Mac users are in a bit of an advantage since almost all writers tools are compatible with the user's Macs, iPads, and iPhones. Certainly, as a Mac user, I might be biased and/or unknowledgeable, but I’ll stick to what I know.
The second restriction comes with the fact that, no matter how nice and useful certain writing, note-taking or info gathering application is, it never can fulfill exactly what you need in a manner you need it. All that means one thing - you need a few of these and often you need to use them simultaneously.
The research and info gathering applications are certainly easier to talk about since they are usually cross-platform oriented and can be used on most systems, including Android phones. That particularly concerns Evernote and Pocket.
Evernote is more widespread and certainly efficient. You can save practically any information you need with it. Text, image, video, whatever. But a few down points - it can be slow, in the application form it eats memory like crazy, and can be hard to navigate sometimes. It also has the strange need to always ask you whether you want to leave Evernote when you press a web link.
Pocket does more or less the same thing as Evernote but is quicker, much easier to navigate and has full integration with some known information aggregator sites.
The choice of specialist writing tools beyond standard text processors is much wider and start with the almost industry standard Scrivener, which has almost anything you need - form all the standard formatting elements to having all your chapters, excerpts, stories, whatever, immediately available as they are saved directly in the app itself. Of course, the more input you make, the longer it takes for the application to open, the more memory it will eat even before the electronic breakfast starts.
Two smaller apps are following in the Scrivener’s footsteps on the Mac, and that is Bear and Ulysses. Both save all your work in the app, but are neither as large as Scrivener, meaning they are much faster in their operation. Bear’s problem is that it just piles the parts, and sections one after another, while Ulysses has a nice sorting and arranging capabilities. While Bear has no instructions, whatsoever, and is sometimes hard to integrate with a personal blog, for example, Ulysses has a direct integration with pdf creating applications sites like Medium and it does have instructions. But those instructions are a bit confusing, maybe having to do with the fact that the pre-formatting itself is not easy itself.
As far as just the pure notetaking on Mac is concerned the simply named Notebook program is noteworthy. It sorts all your notes in different notebooks and those notebooks in separate pages, all reachable directly from the application itself and can also perform most of the functions Evernote and Pocket do, but can also be a memory eater.
Of course, that is just a brief overview with a Mac accent, and if anything is still missing, you can always play that Stones song.
Being blue, having the blues, whichever way you call it, one of the basic colors has become a symbol for sadness, bad thoughts, depression… Usually, it is something that stops you in your tracks, negative thoughts become overwhelming, and you can hardly do anything productive.
It is certainly something that whoever that has something to do with writing has, like everybody else, felt at some point or the other. But “feeling blue”, even when the problems that are troubling you are great, is something that can actually be turned into a personal advantage.
Again, music examples, and here the number that can be pointed out are quite extensive, if not limitless. You can start with Joni Mitchell’s simply titled, but deep “Blue”, any version of “Blue Monday”, whether it is the Fats Domino song or New Order’s excursion into electronics. If you want to get a bit more complicated you can get the way of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo A La Turk”, or even as sophisticated as George Gershwin’s “ Rhapsody In Blue”. Even one band thought that they are so permanently ‘blue’ that the named themselves the Blue States.
And that’s only scratching the surface. We can only guess, but judging by the titles it could be an educated one, that the authors of all of the above had some ‘blue’ feelings when they wrote them, or, even more importantly, were simply at some point or other, inspired by them.
The number of literary works, lyrics, poems, whatever inspired by some sort of trouble or negative feelings, whether they have ‘blue’ in their title or not is probably even more extensive.
All that points to at least two things - not only can you use your negative thoughts and feelings, even depression as an element of inspiration that can produce good writing, but trying to write down your ‘blue states’ can actually be that positive click that can turn things around for you. It could mean reaching the idea that will make you realize how you can get out of a situation that seemingly has no exit.
As far as the soundtrack to that is concerned, you can be spoiled for choices, and that is a positive thing in itself, too!
Let’s put it this way, in the case of the Davide Bowie and Queen collaboration song “Under Pressure”, the personal score is 2:1. Or 1:2 to be more precise - I’m a big fan of Bowie but not that much of Queen. And particularly not being under pressure. As far as the song goes, it actually works. So maybe the score should be 2:2 after all.
Still, being under pressure as a writer, particularly during a prolonged period is certainly not one of my personal favorite situations, no matter what. The question though is can a writer produce good work under pressure (listening to the Queen/Bowie song or not)?
Sure, the answer can be yes, but with condition(s) attached. Hitting on your keyboard, pressing those mobile device buttons or its screen (with all the mistakes that come along that way), or using that good old-fashioned pen (with the accent on good) in a hurry can bring about something outstanding, or at least worth a read, but…
And that but(t) firmly relies on whether you had that story or the article brewing inside your head (and heart) for a while and at the moment you started committing it to some writer form or other it starts flowing out of you in a uniform manner, placing every word exactly where it should be. More or less will do fine too. You are going to give it at least one check, aren’t you?
But then, how many such good stories or threads you do have in your head as a truly formed whole at one time to be able to mime a speeding artificial intelligence? A few times, quite a number of times, but certainly not always.
So, you can certainly rely on the speed of your thought and the speed of your fingers, but it certainly is not going to be there always, nor will it be there all the time. And after all, pressure does get to everybody at some point or other. Even if you are a big fan of the Queen/Bowie collaboration.
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