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.
Ok, most writers love their home atmosphere, the consistency of their writing space and their daily routine. Somehow, it seems to secure them the ability to think, come up with ideas, write… But then, what happens when you do your writing on the move, or move to do your writing?
Travel writing is, and it seems was always very popular, and in many cases is quite effective for its readers. What ‘always stay home’ writers seem to miss are the reasons why that is the case. On one hand, the readers itch not only for new experiences they get from travelogues but also a new perspective or set of perspectives. On everything. They expect that not only from themselves but from the writers too.
Joni Mitchell, one of the best singer/songwriters in modern music wrote (and sang) in “All I Want”, one of her most impressive songs:
“I am on a lonely road and I am traveling
Traveling, traveling, traveling
Looking for something, what can it be
Oh, I hate you some, I hate you some, I love you some
Oh, I love you when I forget about me
All I really really want our love to do
Is to bring out the best in me and in you too…”
And that is exactly what travel writing does. It brings out the best in writers and readers because it makes them both look at everything from a different perspective. It doesn’t matter whether it is a never-ending journey or stepping away from your comfort zone for a day or two. The moment you step away into unknown or into a place you moved away from a while ago, you sense the differences, you pair the similarities and your perspective shifts. So does your writing.
It can only become better. New and unknown people and experiences bring along new ideas. Re-visiting places you have known give you not only the chance to compare the changes in them and the people that remained, but also give you a chance to clear your focus, like cleaning your glasses from all the muck you didn’t even notice was there. It revitalizes you and your writing, or as to quote the title of a song by Arthur Alexander a brilliant Sixties soul singer — “You Better Move On”.
Running out of writing ideas is probably one of the scariest things any writer can experience. The more the feeling that there’s nothing more to write about creeps in, the scarier it gets and even a scent of an idea seems to rapidly evaporate.
You start feeling that you need a magic wand that you tap on your computer screen, notepad or whatever that will suddenly bring you that life-saving idea, a magic carpet that will transport you from the desert to an idea plentiful oasis.
But if you can imagine that, you are already on an idea recovery track. But then, there’s always the possibility to run back and grab your security blanket, or you could borrow Linus’ one if he can be without it for a few seconds.
Usually, that is all it takes. A few seconds with your (writing) security blanket. Whether it is a person or persons, present or away, or a dear object, a blanket for that matter, it makes no difference, the inspiration is back and the ideas start to flow again!
Now, no matter how disconnected or obscure the initial idea(s) might seem, they tend to lead you on a path of a renewed creativity that produces real results.
Commenting on the reissue of Furr, Blitzen Trapper’s most coherent album so far, the band leader Eric Earley explained that in the preparation of the album he simply recorded seemingly unconnected images that even he initially didn’t know what they meant. In the end, he and the band came with a series of musical vignettes portraying Old Portland, where the band is from; vignettes that actually make sense even to listeners that may only have a vague idea where Portland is located.
Whether he was aware of it or not, Earley’s hometown served as that safety blanket that produced writing ideas. So if that idea-less time starts to creep in, maybe it is time to see where your loved ones are or start digging through the cupboards to see where all your childhood stuff is hiding…
Walter Kent the songwriter is probably best remembered for the holiday classic “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and the Forties hit “The White Cliffs of Dover”. But there’s a song he wrote that is really a jazz classic — “Love Is Like A Cigarette”. Quite a few artists covered it, including Duke Ellington and in more recent times, there’s a memorable version by Caroline Henderson.
Personally, the version that hits the mark was the one from the late Eighties by the jazz composer/producer/arranger Kip Hanrahan, where, in a mostly instrumental version, the sultry female vocals suddenly appear and in the same manner disappear, as they weren’t there:
“Love’s like a cigarette
You know you had my heart aglow
Between your fingertips
And just like a cigarette
I never knew the thrill of life
Until you touched my lips
Then just like a cigarette
Love seems to fade away
And leave behind ashes of regret
And with a flick of your fingertips
It was easy for you to forget
Oh, love is like a cigarette. ”
As with love, it is the ideas, particularly writing ideas that suddenly appear and as quickly disappear, or fade away. It doesn’t matter; they are gone. If we don’t record them down. In any way we can — sitting down staring at whatever screen we have in front of us, recording them on the telephone answering machine as we pass by it, on a napkin in a cafe, or in any manner possible, just making sure it isn’t lost forever.
Ok, so it doesn’t really have to be lost completely if we don’t record it immediately. The vestiges of our thoughts usually remain. But a question arises — is it the original idea we had in the first place? Sure, we can develop it from what we wrote (or record) down, but there will always remain that nagging feeling that something is missing from ‘the original’ one.
It is usually the case that the original idea is the best one we had. We can always develop it in any direction or direction the idea takes us from there, but like in Kent’s song ideas, like love “seem to fade away” and if not recorded will “leave the ashes of regret” behind.
After his initial surge of creativity at the end of the Seventies, Elvis Costello, as he personally stated, came to the conclusion that he needed to constantly and on purpose invite chaos into his life so that he could continue his creative streak. It seems that worked, at least for a while — some of his best albums like “Get Happy!!”, “Imperial Bedroom” and “Blood and Chocolate” came during that period.
On “Punch The Clock” from 1983, one of the albums from that period he came up with probably one of his best songs — ‘Everyday I Write A Book”, where, among other things he (writes) and sings:
“The way you walk, the way you talk and try to kiss me
And laugh in four or five paragraphs
All your compliments and your cutting remarks
Are captured here in my quotation marks
I’m giving you a longing look
Everyday, everyday, everyday, everyday, everyday
Everyday I write the book
Everyday I write the book”
So Costello thought that it was chaos, his own and personal, that was needed to inspire him to write. Some other artists and writers didn’t necessarily need to invite it — chaos came on its own volition.
In both cases, it was inspirational. And certainly damaging in many aspects. But while on one hand, such events and people that create them, including yourself, can become an eternal source of inspiration, the effects of chaos oil your life could also have a damning effect on your inspiration and writing.
Dire circumstances, whether it is Costello or Charles Bukowski are not something that somebody should purposefully invite onto themselves to have them as a source of any kind of inspiration. At some point, they will arrive announced anyway. It is just a matter whether you will be able to use them as something that will produce meaningful writing or something that will force you to abandon writing completely. Everybody should certainly hope it will be the former.
There has been a quite extensive debate going on recently whether listening to audiobooks is the same thing as actually reading the book. Quite a few arguments are presented claiming that, on one hand, just listening might be a step closer to illiteracy, while on the other, it is said that listening to audiobooks is actually the same, even better.
[Listening to Audiobooks Is Just As Good As Reading, If Not Better, So Back the Hell Off | The New Yorker](https://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/listening-to-audiobooks-is-just-as-good-as-reading-if-not-better-so-back-the-hell-off)
It is probably a debate that is not going to be over soon — which is ’the real thing’ and which is just a bad substitute, as The Who would sing about in one of their best songs, that unfortunately turned out to be great, but just a substitute for a popular hit.
On the other hand, the debate, if there is one, whether writing by hand and even typing are the same as text processing is quite subdued. No matter the fact that text processing sounds as such a mechanical term, as you are sticking your words into a meat grinder or a food processor, with disregard what will come out, as if it something that doesn’t really depend on the writer, but on the manner in which he is coming up with his writing.
The thing is, we have no full comprehension yet in which manner a new technology or just a new technique has on our thought processes, including the one of creative (or not so creative) writing. Is one methodology a natural progression, does it only bring something new and advanced or does it phase out things that might be something we are so grown and accustomed to? Is text processing just a shoddy substitute of writing by hand or typing (nobody seemed to complain much when that switch was made), or is it just an outdated process that belongs to an old, or again, as The Who would say just a thing of the past, something that belongs to “My Generation”?
As with audiobooks vs. reading, with writing vs. text processing, there probably is no straight answer. To get to your computer and start ‘text processing’ those words you have to learn to read and write first. There’s at least ‘the obstacle’ to be able to recognise the letters on your keyboard, or screen. At least for now. There is a certain process involved in your conceiving and coming up with your thoughts materialising in front of your or somebody else’s eyes and that process evolves. Along with it so do the thoughts that we would like to present on paper or the computer screen, whether we like it or not.
Artificial intelligence is taking over everything it seems. Will it also take over writing?
I’ve no idea what the answer to that question could be. Probably nobody can really give it at this point in time, and this question and its answer as such certainly belong in the category of whether artificial intelligence can completely take over anything from humans. Turn us into any of the visions Kraftwerk were expressing through their music some forty years ago with their visionary album “The Man Machine”.
As AI is being developed, its lighting speed of development and capabilities of taking over human traits have left the debate mostly split into the camps of those who think it will enhance us and those who think it will destroy us. And that certainly includes our ability to think, create, write.
The AI is here, it certainly will not go away and it is obviously taking over human traits at a staggering pace. That is also quite obvious in the field of what we call creative arts, visual, musical and writing will be no exception. Still, it will up to humans to steer the development of AI and the direction it takes.
Yes, quite possibly the dangers are there. AI can maybe ‘take over’ human creativity, it can come up with better writers than we are ourselves. It will possibly make no grammar or syntax mistakes, it could possibly synthesise and digest all ideas it comes across.
But then, there are two questions that arise here as far as writing is concerned — can’t the human writers actually benefit from all the advances AI brings in, turn it into some form of a parallel writing competition, that will in essence make them better writing, in essence better humans, if you will?
And then, there’s maybe that more important question — isn’t actually that human fallibility, that is the essential ingredient of brilliant writing, or any writing at all that element that will keep the humans over the top?
Or, if the AI picks on the fallibility too, it will not be any better or stronger than us, will it? Writing will possibly show.
In essence, Sofia Coppola was right — there’s quite a lot that is Lost in Translation. Of course, she wasn’t only thinking about the literal process of translating something, whether it was a simple thank you note or Jorge Luis Borges’ Circular Ruins. The essential meaning, the intended one, the sense of relations or the way relations are handled or things are perceived, I could go on, all those things can be lost. In Translation. Literal or otherwise.
But what can be the result if we reverse the question and ask — what can be gained in translation, particularly when one’s personal writing is concerned? Of course, it is not a new question, and a lot of writers have tried to answer it by being translators themselves. From above mentioned Jorge Luis Borges to the likes of Charles Baudelaire, Haruki Murakami and Anthony Burgess or even Nostradamus. The list is quite extensive.
It is not only gaining insight into another concept of thinking and set of human relations but also into another concept of writing, arranging words, even their meaning and use of words that completely correspond between languages or words that completely differ. For writers, translation shows the possibilities of transforming, even transfiguring, not only the meaning but also the vessel it is transported by — words.
In a way the process can be compared to the one the brilliant guitarist and composer John Fahey used when he practically invented a new set of ‘folk music’ expression terms with his Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death, by not only inventing a character but by ‘translating’ existing musical terms into something completely new.
So it might be no wonder the founder of the British “Translators Association” prize for translation in his article for “Guardian” claims that translators are the vanguard of literary change.
Of course, not all writers are versed in one or more other languages than their mother tongue to be in a situation to translate works from other languages. But parallel translations of same works, particularly in English and in different English speaking countries do exist and can not only serve as a source of comparison but also as a source of inspiration, transformation and even transfiguration.
“It’s like a heat wave” sang Martha Reeves (with or without The Vandellas), a song about love, but most certainly inspired by some summer heatwave back in the Sixties. A great Motown classic, an inspirational song, but was it easy to write, particularly if a real heatwave is on?
Probably not. But then, the composer and the lyricist of “Heatwave” obviously made it and came up with a song that still resonates today and will continue to do so.
There seems to be one of the hardest and longest heatwaves going around the world at the moment. Everything seems to be melting, including your brain, and air-conditioning and cold drinks, showers or whatever don’t seem to be much help. How then can you write in such conditions?
Obviously, very hard, but then, you can always find an excuse not to write. Why not turn the tables on the heat and use it as a cause and inspiration to DO write?
Whether you try the counter-attacking style and counter the heat with heat — steaming coffee, hot showers or simply make the heat and inspirational source, and it can be a multitude of things. What goes on during a heatwave, what caused it, what is its source…
You can search for the causes in the climate change and what causes it, from real solid facts to conspiracy theories of all possible influences — from political meddling to aliens. Some of those might even turn out to be real facts.
Makes no difference, just so that all that sweat and mind-melting doesn’t go to waste and comes up with some meaningful, readable writing. You never know, someday you might come up with yet another “(Love Is Like A) Heatwave” and all that sweat and tears (with hopefully no blood) will be worthwhile.
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