Way back in 1972, when some avant-garde rock sounds were coming out of Germany, British rock journalists named the genre ‘Krautrock’ . At the time, Can, one of the seminal bands coming out of that scene came up with a track named “Vitamin C”. A mantric song, with the band’s Japanese singer Damo Suzuki, who usually sang in a language known exclusively to him, continuously repeated, in clear English - “Hey, you’re losing, you’re losing your Vitamin C!”
While in no way truly musically connected, it also harked back to Terry Riley’s late Sixties modern classical masterpiece “In C”. A note. A vitamin. Ideas connected. But, what has all this to do with writers and writing anyway?
Well, it has to do with vitamins. C, B12, the lot. Or with the method in which you access your writing ideas and what stimulates them. Besides the fact that writers, as anybody else for that matter, need to have a regular intake of ‘physical’ vitamins, they often need a dose of those unfathomable idea vitamins, stimuli that would push them forward and formulate words, sentences in their minds and transform them into something comprehensible and worthy of reading.
Sometimes it is just good old, plain observation that does the trick. People, relations, moods, atmosphere. Good, solid and diversified reading. Music. Any music. Often, just solid personal concentration will do the trick. More often, its is good solid and steady research - sometimes without a strictly set goal - that will represent that stimulus that will lead the writer in a good direction.
Other times, that might be the good, old, ‘boring’ TV. Particularly the ads. Usually, these contain a concentration of possible ideas in brief seconds or minutes than complete feature shows don’t contain in an hour or so.
All it takes is afresh mind and a penchant for picking up ideas, even from people, places and situations that seem to contain none. It can lead to a multitude of directions of thinking and writing that do not necessarily have to do with the original context. Like that Can song, which seems to have been intended as a warning to drug users, alcoholics…
But then, why not use an already formulated idea, re-shape it, transform it, turn it into a completely new one and start your writing from there?
Oh, good old vitamin supplements, in healthy doses will do the trick too…
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.
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