Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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Have You Watched Parkinson: Masterclass?

An image from the television show Parkinson: Masterclass

Michael Parkinson and Jamie Cullum

I don’t usually talk about television programs on Creativity’s Workshop, but I couldn’t help myself with this one.

Parkinson: Masterclass has just started airing on Australian TV and I’ve really enjoyed the two episodes I’ve seen so far.

If you haven’t heard of the show, the basic premise is Michael Parkinson interviewing a number of artists who each specialise in a different creative field. During the interview they’re asked to explain their creative process.

It’s a wonderful change from the usual TV interviews because the setup provides artists opportunities to demonstrate how they create, rather than just spouting the usual cookie-cutter answers to questions like ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ There are also questions from the audience which can lead to interesting comments from the interviewees.

So far I’ve seen two interviews: one with Michael Morpurgo (a writer most famous for his novel War Horse) and Jamie Cullum (a singer/songwriter whose speciality is jazz piano).

Here are a few points I found especially interesting.

Interview with Michael Morpurgo

My family enjoyed this interview so much we actually clapped at the end as if we were somehow part of the studio audience. It was an insightful interview with interesting nuggets for both writers and readers alike.

Here are some points I especially liked:

  • As soon as Morpurgo started interacting with the members of the audience you could tell that he understood his readers and connected well with young children. He used to be a school teacher and tell his stories directly to the children. That experience definitely shows through his work and when watching him in person.
  • He didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer. The success of telling stories to children that captured their attention eventually lead him into the writing profession. He did, however, fall in love with reading at an early age. It is his love of reading and storytelling that keeps him writing.
  • Being around children (his reading audience) helped him to know what worked and what didn’t.
  • Just because something has been done before, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it again if you feel it serves the story. Because Black Beauty had been written from a horse’s POV, he was hesitant to do the same thing with War Horse. The event that changed his mind (watching a small child interacting with a horse) is so touching I can’t do it justice in this post.
  • He has a wonderful eye for detail and is always open to learning something new. The story of the child talking to the horse impacted him because he was paying attention to his surroundings, even on a dark and rainy evening. You never know when inspiration will hit or where you’ll learn something new. Being open to what’s going on around you can lead to all sorts of amazing experiences.

Interview with Jamie Cullum

I didn’t expect to get as much out of this interview because they focused on musical composition, but I was pleasantly surprised by what Cullum had to say about the creative process.

My favourite points are as follows:

  • Cullum sits at his piano for 45 minutes at a time, playing with chords and lyrics that take his interest. He records the session and then plays it back later. He may only use 10 seconds of what he came up with, but it’s worth the 45 minutes to find that 10 seconds.
  • You have to trust the process. Some days nothing happens, but he still sits at the piano anyway. He says you never know when you’ll get that idea. You have to turn up and play.
  • His enthusiasm for music comes across immediately. He loves jazz especially, but he enjoys music in general – whether it’s old or new. Some of his musical ideas come when he’s listening to recent pop songs while others come from the likes of Cole Porter.
  • When he plays the piano, you can tell he’s spent hours experimenting with the tune and the instrument. During one song he drummed on the wood of the piano and reached into the body of the piano to strum the strings. He’s not shy about experimenting and playing around with his art.

The two interviewees are quite different to each other in age, art and character, but there were some interesting similarities between them.

  • Both have a passion for their art. They enjoy creating and are always looking for ways to make their work better.
  • Both immerse themselves in their chosen field. Morpurgo loves reading and Cullum loves listening to music. They’re not afraid that this exposure will taint their unique voice. In fact, they use the inspiration to create new ideas and drive themselves forward.
  • Both are aware of their environment. Morpurgo was inspired by talking to a man at his local pub and watching a child speaking to a horse. These things turned into the novel War Horse. Cullum was inspired by a new song he heard at a nightclub that lead to his own rendition of it (during which he drummed on the piano as mentioned above).

I’m sure there are other similarities. Have you spotted some? Share them in the comments below.

I’m looking forward to watching the next interview!

What about you? Have you been inspired by a television show recently? Let us know which one.


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The Musical Tints of Your World

Woman listening to headphones

Music changes the way we view things. It can wake you up in the morning or slow you down in the evening. It can bring sunshine to a rainy afternoon or intensify a scorching day. It can transport you to far off places, or reveal intricacies in familiar surroundings.

I especially love experimenting with different types of music as I walk the streets of China. One rainy evening I was walking past bright malls while playing cool jazz. For a moment I truly believed I was in New York.

A quick change to the Bourne Supremacy soundtrack (by John Powell) and I’m being chased through the streets of Moscow.

Another change to Bluehouse and I could swear I was in Sydney Chinatown.

My point?

Music enhances or highlights nuances of your surroundings, even embellishing them in places to fit the tone. This gives you a surprising amount of control over your perceptions.

So why not give some thought to your choice of music? Experiment with changing the style of music you listen to in certain places or at certain times. You may be surprised by the results. Ideas often come from new ways of looking at ordinary things.

You can put this to work in your writing as well. Compile a playlist of tracks for scenes, moods or characters you are working on. Sometimes just the lilt of a tune can help you put your finger on the phrasing you’re looking for.

Have you had any interesting experiences with the power of music?

For more suggestions on how to use music while writing, jump over to Copywrite and read The soundtrack of my muse.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art


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How Music Can Boost Creativity

Little girl listening to music through headphones.

Silence is golden.

But the right music is platinum.

While I’m the first to admit to the necessity of silence at certain times in the creative process (sometimes having to insist on it when Jessica’s not paying attention), I’m also heavily addicted to music. The right music at the right time provides the catalyst for new ideas and the bridge to overcome creative blocks.

The trick is to find the right music for the right time.

Instrumental

For times when absolute silence only helps you hear the whistle of the wind blowing across the arctic tundra of your mind, soft instrumental music can provide just enough noise to help you along – the same way that the first few words on a blank page suddenly make the page far less imposing.

Baroque music (a style from around 1600 to 1750) is supposed to be very good for concentration. More modern equivalents could include Enya and Ottmar Liebert.

Movie Scores

When searching for the pacing or emotion in a scene, movie scores can provide a template or musical shorthand to build on. After all, their purpose is to tell a story.

Some of our favourites include Master and Commander: Far Side of the World, How To Train Your Dragon, the latest Star Trek movie and National Treasure.

Jazz

Recently Jessica and I discovered that jazz also has an influence on our creative endeavours. A lot of jazz is improvised, and this encourages independent thinking. Each musician makes the song their own, creating a unique interpretation of it, while still keeping the tune identifiable.

When you write, you’re using the same words as everyone else uses – just as musicians are using the same notes as everyone else. What matters is the way you use them.

What tune are you playing with your words? Are you sticking to the notes exactly as written on the page, or are you improvising, exploring and enjoying the act of playing?

When it comes to jazz, like listening to Manhattan Transfer, Katherine Whalen, Billie Holiday, Natalie Cole and, of course, Ella Fitzgerald.

Now, over to you. What kind of music do you like listening to? How/why does it influence your Creativity?