When I open my email every morning, or anytime during the day (or night) for that matter, check the regular bookmarks in my browser, I constantly get the impression that there is more advice for writers out there than people doing ‘actual writing’. Ok, writing advice counts too but then…It seems practically everybody has a piece of advice (does that include me?), about how you should approach your writing, when, in what conditions, what writing and research methodology you should use, how to overcome fear, procrastination. Everything.
Even other people doing something creative, painters for example, and particularly musicians have advice. They put it in their art, songs… Remember that great soul/blues tune, “Night Time Is The Right Time”, probably best done by Carla Thomas & Rufus Thomas duet? Let’s count that as some form of writing advice. So does any and all of this advice knocking at your door work? It doesn’t, and yet it also does.
Following any of it literally and to the full certainly doesn’t. It can get close, even very close to what you need as a writer, but then, after all, it is not YOUR way, not if it is a sublimation of a number of writing approaches. And then, it certainly does because there is always at least a tiny bit that complements and suits your ideas, daily agenda, approach to writing, style, and anything that will let you commit words to paper or your word processor.
With all that, you might be the writer that doesn’t want any advice, you can just sit down and the words start pouring out of you. But then, all writers have been in such a situation, sometimes less, sometimes more often. Still, the point is that there are more of those times than not when you need to think things out in detail first, do some research, consult, eat, sleep…
And then it is all connected to one sole individual and all that makes him. There is no absolute general approach. Close to it, maybe. And if you still need and want to know what it is, you can sit down and make your writer’s roadmap, whether it is connected to a certain type of writing projects or the one you are concentrating on at the moment. Whether there is even a personal general one, I’m not so sure.
Personally, I often start by putting on “The Night Time Is The Right Time”.
Somehow, my personal writing trail leads me back to two themes I already expanded on in my recent Writing Co-operative posts dealing with whether it is worth writing ‘for free’ and what it takes to write reviews of books, music, etc. Personally, at the moment, I do both. To delve further into my reasoning behind it, I am taking as the example my writing for the music site Soundblab.
Soundblab is a music review website for the alternative music community. Covering all aspects of underground music from indie, alternative rock, hip hop, ambient electronica and everything in between. The site was launched in 2009 and posts album, gig, book and movie reviews, alongside news, articles and interviews.
During this time over 100 writers have contributed to Soundblab and the site prides itself on giving aspiring music journalists a platform to launch their career. There are currently 35 writers contributing from the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
As the site is continuously looking for new writers to help expand its coverage, I decided to contact them a year so ago. The attraction was the content it covered, free style of writing that is prevailing and as a music fan, the possibility to preview music for free. No small expense in itself, for sure.
The writing logic behind it, besides constantly honing your writing skills, and covering the subject you are passionate about (if that is not a writing stimulus, what is?) is the possible exposure of your writing to a wider audience. Having in mind that, for example, Soundblab currently 250–300,000 visitors per year and continues to grow, it is a definite possibility. But what about the logic that drives the site in trying to attract writers bearing in mind that since the heyday of music PR in the Nineties the recording industry has severely cut back on its PR budgets and is rarely financially supporting even the most established music publications and sites?
The more reviews you publish, the more review offers you receive, and only when you reach a certain level of readership and clout is there any possibility to jump that key hurdle when you would be able to actually generate an amount of revenue that will enable you not to simply just cover your costs but start offering your writers some kind of financial remuneration. In essence it all comes down as in that old early Sixties Motown hit ‘Money’.
So basically, for sites like Soundblab it is a kind of a Catch 22 situation — when the people who write for you actually do it on a volunteer basis — you have to let them pick and choose the albums, concerts and subjects they want to write about. Of course, the tendency will be for the writers to opt for something they know or guess they will like, and the predominant number of reviews will tend to be positive or very positive. But this is a great place to express yourself and improve your writing skills, it’s much easier to write about something you like than something you don’t like.
So it is quite obvious that the more a site like Soundblab diversifies (for example, it also includes sections like Classic and Lost classic albums), the more advantages it offers to its readers and itself, but also to its writers. And I must tell you, after a while other writing offers do start coming in, convincing me that I took a right decision.
If you contact Soundblab at email@example.com as a Writing Cooprative member, they’ll certainly be glad you’ve done so. New writers are always welcome and you may find it will lead to greater exposure.
For those who don’t know (and that is probably quite a number of people) John French, also known as Drumbo, was the drummer for Don Van Vliet, also known as Captain Beefheart, in his Magic Band from its beginnings to the day until Beefheart, due to his illness quit music altogether.
In his book “Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic” and in interviews recollecting his life with an eccentric that Van Vliet, aka Beefheart, was, he recollects that while they were preparing their first album, “Safe As Milk”, Beefheart would write down pieces of lyrics for the songs on almost anything — from scraps of paper to napkins, matches, anything. French would then collect them and put them in order and meaningful lyrics. With Beefheart’s approval, who probably then got new ideas. Like the one later on when he decided to incorporate the sound of his almost exhausted windshield wipers into a song.
Every writer probably has a pile of such scraps of ideas, lines, sentences, even full passages lying around or hurried somewhere on their hard disk, USB, whatever… Sometimes we don’t even know where they are or what is in them. And actually, it is those almost forgotten or simply unconnected ideas that can bring an outpour of not only new ideas but writing that would actually, as another pair of musicians, Richard & Linda Thompson named their album, “Pour Down Like Silver”.
These old scraps are a perfect antidote to any possible fear that you’re out of ideas, that no words will come out. The ’scraps’ can let you remember when and where these ideas and would ‘poured’ out of you and simply pull out new ideas and words and make them settle down into a cohesive whole.
Collecting these old and/or forgotten ideas as if doing a pre-spring cleaning, even changing a spot where you go through them might not only turn into a cohesive whole but possibly into one of the best things you have written until then.
Writing a review of a book, movie, piece of music, visual art or anything connected is easy as a pie, isn’t it ? All you need is personal taste a bit of extra knowledge you can easily grab online these days and off you go! You can be ecstatic about that piece of art, or hate it immensely. You can keep your tone cool, calm and collected or you can jump from joy or be ironic, or even condescending. Of course, all that is quite possible, but not really.
Presenting an opinion about of a piece of art (‘good’ or ‘bad’) is exactly that - an opinion, and as such has to take into consideration any number of elements - knowledge and/or adequate research, accumulated reading, viewing, listening experience and the capability to present the reasoning behind the expressed opinion.
Of course, then there’s that question of whether you should be objective or opinionated. In essence, the question of objectivity in any artistic review can solely rely on the level of reviewers knowledge and correctness of the facts he presents. In the end, he is expressing an opinion about something that is not exactly fully fathomable and certainly depends a lot on personal taste.
And tastes can vary. Sounds a bit trite when you say that, but here’s a telling example. John Coltrane’s landmark album “A Love Supreme” is considered one of the best (some critics naming it the best) jazz album of all time. Last year, when the Coltrane documentary “Chasing Trane” was in full swing , renowned British daily “The Guardian” pulled out of its archives a review by one of its jazz critics from August 1965, titling it ‘An exercise in musical monotony’.
Who knows, maybe the original critic would stand by his review today, even though time has proven him wrong (and that is my opinion talking now). But the point of this example is that by reviewing, expressing an opinion, you at the same time are presenting a review (or re-view) of yourself, not only your taste(s), but also about your approach to somebody else’s imagination, views, tastes. Can turn out to be quite tricky…
We all got and use some kind of time measuring mechanism — watches, cell phones, computers, wall and pocket calendars, you name it. We set our obligations and work habits according to those tools and try to abide by them as strict as possible. No exceptions. Unless you need to be reminded about that now almost trite expression — time is mo…
The problem is, your writing urge, inspiration, and all things connected to it usually doesn’t care much about watchers, calendars or any other time measuring device. It comes and goes, quite often at ungodly hours, with no respect for Christmas New Year’s Eve, kids birthdays…
And what’s worst about it, the moment you get that bug, it becomes like love, you know, like in that Roxy Music song “Love Is The Drug” (you might prefer any of its versions, like that of Grace Jones, for example). You just have to do it — at any moment it rushes to you, whether you’re eating, in the shower, you name it (or not). You just have to sit down (or stand up, whatever) and do it, even just to jot down the idea on the bill you have yet to pay.
What’s worse, if you don’t get to it at that very moment, you feel that emptiness that makes you almost tremble, like the lousy actors in those Fifties (we still don’t specify the century for that decade) anti-drug documentaries. Basically, you’re hooked, and it is no more a question if you want to write or not. You have to.
You also realize that you can practically draw inspiration out of anything -people sitting across your table in a cafe, who at some point might start wondering why you have your gaze fixed on them (like an addict?). Anything, like a nagging Roxy Music song that comes back to you after you hear its first refrain and starts pushing you to somehow write everything down. Again and again.
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