Usually, one of the things that overflow everybody’s electronic mailbox (quite often the standard one too) is piles of polls, questionaries and other requests for your opinion — from politics and climate change to which garbage bags you use. You even get offers to be paid for one or all of these, for seemingly pitiful sums of money.
For most writers, as for anybody else, these are the nuisance they can’t seem to get rid of, more unnerving than a message of rejected manuscript/story/article. Who wants to waste time and effort on telling somebody about which shampoo you use most often when you get better things to do.
But what if you don’t have better things to do? What if you are still waiting for that publisher’s response or all ideas have gone down the drain or are not coming up at all, or when pitiful money is better than no money at all? Turn to polls and questionaries!
No, I’m not kidding. I did not have the time, I did have better things to do, but people that create the polls and questionaries are writers too since they are usually quite good at what they do, they manage to reach and intrigue anybody at any level of intelligence and education. So I decided to try my hand at answering as many of these in 30 days. On top of everything else, from writing to throwing away the garbage (with no polls in it).
Let's get the question of the money out of the way first. No, you can’t get rich out of it, but any money is exactly what it is — money. The second thing to always have in mind is that the people that composed those polls and research questions are marketers, with a specific goal of extracting the targeted information out of the polled audience.
Sometimes they are very open in the direction their questions are going, more often they circumvent and they lead you towards the information they really want from you. In a way, sometimes it is an open market, other times it is like that great fusion jazz band Weather Reports would say “Black Market”.
To do that they use practically the same techniques any writer would use in building their plot, story, even a set of characters. Usually, they try to keep you in ‘suspense’ who their lead character (the company which wants the information from you in the first place) is. To be able to get straight answers from you, to get the reaction they are aiming for from you as a ‘reader’, they really have to be good at it, and quite a few of them are.
As a writer, you can approach the whole process with this question — isn’t information, your thoughts, and opinions, the thing that you want to offer your readers after all? And secondly, isn’t researching other methods of building your plot and characters something that you need?
Not really the conventional writer’s way, but certainly useful. Oh, and after a month, I was able to cover a full supermarket shopping list.
Finding similarities between writer’s research and writer’s exploration wouldn’t be that hard, both can fit into each other like a glove (unless it is the O.J. Simpson trial glove). The key connection there is finding facts, information, and ideas to a theme you have already pre-set. No problem, unless it comes down and doing it. It is often time consuming, can be tedious and boring when you find everything else except what you nee, but is immensely rewarding when you reach upon the exact material that you need.
Still, are there any differences? No matter how every writer is conscious of the importance research has for what they do, exploring is in my mind a broader concept that is contained in the term itself — you can go in search of something when you know exactly or close enough what you are looking for, or you can just throw yourself into unknown — unknown set of information, facts ideas…
Sure, exploration can often be as time-consuming or tedious as ‘focused’ research but it is the unknown that can surprise you, bring about a new writing idea or make you stumble upon a fact that you weren’t able to find when you were looking for it. But writer’s, or any artist exploration can be even more rewarding, put you in a place exactly where you need to be and give you exactly the angle for your writing that you might have not been aware you need.
I’ve no idea how the leader of South Carolina band The Explorers Club came to the idea how to call his band, but he and his band members started out by exploring the sound of California’s The Beach Boys. That gave them a chance to make a brilliant summer harmony album “Freedom Wind” (2008). But that didn’t stop them to further expand their exploration of ‘California sound’ their follow-up “Grand Hotel” (2012) looking and sounding like a meeting with Herb Albert & Tijuana Brass and their “Whipped Cream & Other Delights” (1965). Maybe soon their club will explore something else.
As a writer, there should always be a time and place for exploration. Even when you are doing focused research, you may stumble on something new and unexpected, something that can be that writing spark. Don’t abandon it or overlook it, the results will probably be better than you’ve expected.
Merriam-Webster, our dictionary fave says that “meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique, such as focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity, to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state”. If you go into more detail, you can find almost infinite concepts of meditation, depending on culture, religion, even social circumstances…
Concentrating on your work, and that definitely includes writing can be a double-edged sword. The idea is to clear your mind, and besides all the health benefits meditation brings, to tie all the loose strands that will make a certain piece of your writing exactly what you want it to be. Exactly as it should be. But concentrating too much on it can become confusing and can lead you into a thinking stalemate.
Meditating, concentrating on a certain piece from another art form, might lead a writer to see his work through the eyes of another artist, another thinking person and help him find his way through the maze of his personal thoughts.
Music seems to be one of the favourite art forms that are advised and used for meditation. There’s even a separate branch labeled meditation music, usually instrumental, of a calm nature that is intended to clear your mind and focus your thoughts. Sure, if it works for you. It doesn’t have to. As writing is such a personal, individual process, so is the music that can clear your thoughts and inspire a writer to tie all those loose threads or steer him in a right direction.
Learning recently of the death of Marty Balin, one of the founders of Jefferson Airplane, a great songwriter, singer, musician, led me to listen again to “Coming Back To Me,” one of his masterpieces from the Surrealistic Pillow album. The moment the quiet passion of Balin’s voice came in, contours of an adulthood story set in, within an hour and repeated listening to the song, the story was there.
Now, I’m not sure if the whole process of ‘pure’ meditation was involved, but the trigger, focusing on a piece of ‘another art’ was there, and so was the writing.
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