Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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Guest Post: My Life In Music – A Memoir

A hand writing music. (I presume the hand is attached to an off-screen body, otherwise the image would be down-right creapy)

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Hello all. While I’m enjoying the summer sun of England (and I’m not being sarcastic, it has actually been sunny here!) I have another guest post to share with you. This one comes from my good friend and writing buddy, Amber Seah. She’s one of the most intrinsically literary people I know and she’s here to tell us about her life, from growing up in the USA to living in Australia.

Have you noticed that, whether for therapy or profit, memoirs are all the rage?

With such a title as “My Life In Music-A Memoir” you might expect this post to entertain you with the memories of a seasoned musician, or at least an accessory to musical production, but there you error. The only thing I can play is the radio and the only musical I was ever in involved singing along to the rousing chorus of Newsies. This fact is much to my Creativity’s lament. She is certain she could be a concert cellist, if only my fingers agreed.

However I would like to put the case that each of us has a life in music.

Music is like fragrance – it can trigger long dormant memories with startling clarity. I was driving one day when “Walking On the Ceiling” by Lionel Ritchie came on. Suddenly I was a six year old hurrying my little brother to the front window of our Wyoming home. Faces pressed against the icy glass we watched the bachelor next door come out, rugged up head to toe against the whirling snow, to turn the meat on the BBQ. These same neighbours knew my Mom’s weakness for Lionel Ritchie and would on occasion crank-up one of his records for her benefit.

My Creativity got to musing about this connection between music and memory. It worked her up into a regular flurry of brain storming but I have tied her down to just one avenue.

Can you tell the story of your life with a song for each chapter?

I believe you can.

Here is a sample from my CD of life.

1. Songbird—Kenny G

A few notes of this and all I see is the green glow of dashboard lights as we make our interminable way home from Ogden after an unending day of shopping; tired, achy and nauseous the saxophone becomes like a bad dream.

2. Lollipop—The Chordettes and Everyday—Buddy Holly

This is the soundtrack to my first California Summer. I’m riding in the back of our pick-up with the boys, singing songs and cracking jokes, from Sugarpine Campground to the Eagle Lake trail head; or trying to covertly listen to it in our tent. It didn’t work.

3. You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling—Righteous Brothers

I’m cruising around Lake Tahoe, the boys, me and Aunty singing at the top of our lungs in her fancy new car, reaching to stick our hands out the sunroof on the high notes.

4. On Top Of the World—The Carpenters

My best friend and I are doing dishes at her house, singing while the dishwater goes cold. Her house is the only place I’m still free to be a kid. We are on top of the world when together.

5. Thunderstruck—AC/DC

I’m cutting class to go cruising with a friend after her classmate committed suicide, a tough time calling for tough music.

6. Yes Sir, That’s My Baby—Lee Morse

My Grandmother, dressed in her leather jacket and leopard print trimmed hat, demonstrating the Charleston while hanging onto her cherry red walker.

7. New World Symphony—Dvorak

This song gave me a feeling of hope during my Grandmother’s long illness. When the whole world seemed a dark swirling mass of suffering I would lay, eyes closed on the bed and imagine a new world dawning.

8. This Kiss—Faith Hill

This song is the exhilarating feeling of turning 20, finishing college, moving out of home and falling in love for the first time.

9. All I Ask of You—The Phantom of the Opera

This might be cliché but I grew up on Phantom and it is the only song my husband has ever sung karaoke to, so it reminds me of him, our courtship and those honeymoon days.

10. Give Me A Home Among the Gumtrees—John Williamson

Driving home through the beautiful Swan Valley of Western Australia. I love this song and I love my little home even without the gumtrees, plum trees and rocking chair. Instead I look out at banksia and grevillea and my straggly dwarf apples. This is the happy present of my life.

Yep, that is about the sum of my life in 10 songs.

A photograph of AmberHow about you?

What songs are on your CD of life? What songs define the stages or relationships in your life?

Why not start with a song, write about the memories it triggers and see where it takes you?

Amber Seah has always loved the wonder of the written word – be it prose, poetry or song. She lives with her husband, daughter, dog and extensive alphabetized library of favourite books.


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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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8 Things I Learned From Kina Grannis

I recently came across a very interesting post and I have to share it with you. It’s written by Kina Grannis.

For those of you who haven’t heard of her, she’s a singer songwriter. You can visit her website for more information. Her upbeat songs went a long way toward keeping me sane when I was housebound during Beijing’s winter at the beginning of this year.

The post I want to share with you is called Behind the Video: Message From Your Heart in which she describes her journey from making her first YouTube video to having the video played on TV during the Super Bowl.

Once you’ve read the post, come back and read the 8 things I learned from her story.

Bulk Up on Experience

Although this was the first YouTube video Kina ever made, it wasn’t the first time she’d ever sung to an audience. She’d been doing ‘every gig she could’ for some time leading up to this point, which developed her repertoire, confidence and experience.

When she decided to make a video every day to encourage people to vote for her video, she already had the power in her voice and the singing experience to produce videos day in and day out.

What do we learn? If you want to make it ‘big’ one day, expose your art to the locals. Take every local opportunity you can to get feedback from an audience. The confidence and experience are invaluable.

Put Your Work Out Into the World

At some point you have to bite the bullet and upload something – be it a video or a post or an e-book – even if you don’t feel ready. In fact, especially if you don’t feel ready. You could spend the rest of your life tweaking things until they are perfect and miss out on all the opportunities in the meantime.

Look at what you’re working on. Could you put something up for others to see? What medium would work best for you? Written posts, audio podcasts, YouTube videos? Think about it.

Be Creative in Getting Your Message Across

One of the things which really stands out about Kina’s first video is her creative flair. She’s not just another girl playing her guitar in front of a camera. She cuts to other shots of herself, includes a t-shirt and even made a cardboard heart.

When you’re putting your work out there, don’t go with what everyone else is doing. Stop and think how you can find ways to let your Creativity shine through.

Let Go! A.K.A. Sleep

After she put the video up, she didn’t sit there and wait for the response. She went to bed and slept.

Lesson? Once your work is out there, you have to let go and do something else with your life. Sleeping is a really good option.

The Response May Not Come Immediately

Without realising it, Kina had uploaded what was to be a contest-winning video. But she didn’t get responses right away, even though it was her family and friends who were viewing it.

If you’re not getting the response you expect, hang in there. Keep positive and keep producing. It may just need time.

Don’t Do It For the Fame

When the video did actually air on TV to an audience of 97 million and Kina was signed to a record company, she says she was ‘too sleep-deprived and adrenaline-filled to register any of this.’

If you’re doing all of this for the high of getting on TV or getting a contract, you may be too exhausted by that time to actually appreciate what you’ve accomplished. Do it because that’s what you want to do with your life and you enjoy creating.

Be True to Yourself and Your Art

I have great respect for someone who can achieve something just about every person in their field wants (in this case being signed to a record label) and walk away because it’s not going in the direction they felt comfortable with.

Creativity works best in a safe, accommodating environment where you don’t have to conform too much to other people’s expectations. If your creative freedom is being stifled, sometimes you have to stand up and walk away.

Be Supportive

If Kina’s family or friends had been harsh with their reaction to her video, chances are she would have taken it down and never even contemplated entering it in the competition. Thankfully, they were supportive and made her feel confident enough to take the next step.

They were also there for her at her first gig, which she describes as “really awkward” but her friends turned it into a great success because of their kindness.

So if you’re around someone who is starting out in a creative endeavour, learn from this example. Be supportive. Be positive. Don’t point out the flaws and the awkward parts. Find the points you love and emphasise them. Be a cheerleader for your fellow creatives!

Okay, that’s what I learned. What about you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.


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4 Ways Song Lyrics Can Boost Creativity

Redheaded girl listening to music through headphones

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Hi, I’m Jessica’s Creativity and I’m here to talk to you about music!

There are many different opinions on whether music is helpful or harmful to the creative process. To a certain extent, it depends on what you and your Creativity feel comfortable with.

In my experience, whether music helps or harms your process depends on the day, the weather, the project, your socks and what’s in the oven at the time.

We’ve previously discussed how instrumental music can help your Creativity. Now allow me to wander through some ways I have found song lyrics to be inspiring.

The Influence of Cadence

Whether you are writing lyrics, poetry or prose, cadence plays a big part in the composition and structure of your sentences. Words have a music all their own, created by syllables and word stress. Great prose lilts to a melody in your mind as your read. (We’ll talk more about the details of this in another post.)

Listening to lyrics can inspire you to experiment with different and creative combinations of words to form unique cadence.

For example, Poisoning Pigeon in the Park by Tom Lehrer (a comedic song not at all to be taken literally) has these gems:

When they see us coming, the birdies all try an’ hide,

But they still go for peanuts when coated with cyanide.

…..

My pulse will be quickenin’

With each drop of strychnine

We feed to a pigeon.

It just takes a smidgen!

To poison a pigeon in the park.

The jaunty tightness to these words is further enhanced by the brilliance of rhyming ‘try an’ hide’ with ‘cyanide’ and many others. Just listening to this makes one want to rush headlong into a piece of paper and follow suit!

Other Songs With Addictive Cadence

  • Private Investigations – Dire Straits
  • Taylor (On and On album, track 4) – Jack Johnson

Exposure to New Words

While we are often exposed to new words in books, there’s something special about coming across a new word in a song.

The first advantage is that you immediately know how to pronounce it. Anyone who has first stumbled across a word in written form, and had to decipher dictionary squiggles in order to sound intelligent when using it, will appreciate this.

Another plus is that music lends new words magic – the swelling strings or gentle piano behind them become like a soundtrack to your very own discovery.

My favourite example of this is Tim Finn’s Winter Light which led to my discovery of the word Fantasmagoria. Listen to the song and see if you don’t fall in love with the word too!

Of course, the ultimate plus is that songs help you remember your new words, which is essential if these words are going to do your creative work any good. Usually you can hum it back into your memory or at least remember what it rhymes with.

Other Songs With Interesting Words or Phrases

  • Gossip Calypso – Bernard Cribbins (you have to love a song that can work in ‘oxy-acetylene welder’)
  • The Tip of the Iceberg (track 10) – Owl City (there’s something about the phrase ‘sub-zero tundra’ which transports me every time)

Playing With Connections

Often we come across song writers who are fantastic at using analogies or creating connections between everyday things.

A perfect example of this is Owl City. Among my favourites is this verse from Dental Care (track 6):

Golf and alcohol don’t mix

And that’s why I don’t drink and drive

Because good grief, I’d knock out my teeth

And have to kiss my smile goodbye

Start listening more closely to your favourite songs. You’re bound to find amusing and inspiring connections hidden (or not so hidden) in the lyrics.

Then start making clever connections of your own.

Other Songs with Interesting Connections

Envisioning a Story

Music elicits emotion, which makes it a brilliant storytelling device. The storytelling becomes even more incredible when your get a lyricist like Billy Joel on the job. The Downeaster Alexa (about a fisherman who is struggling to make ends meet) is one of my all-time favourite songs, because of lyrics like these:

And I go where the ocean is deep

There are giants out there in the canyons

And a good captain can’t fall asleep

….

So if you see my Downeaster “Alexa”

And if you work with the rod and the reel

Tell my wife I am trawling Atlantis

And I still have my hands on the wheel

Just listening to that song conjures up clear images of the sea, the boat, the birds, the waves. Take that picture and write about it.

Look for the stories other songs conjure up and let them grow inside your imagination. Perhaps your next novel is waiting between the lines of a song.

Other Stories in Song

  • Sailing to Philadelphia – Mark Knopfler
  • The Best Day – Taylor Swift

What song lyrics do you find inspiring? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

A practical note from Jessica: You may notice that not all the songs mentioned here have links. For the older songs we linked to the YouTube versions (as there may not be too many easy ways to find that music anymore), but with the newer songs we’ve either tried to direct you to the performer’s own website or to an official music video. Where that hasn’t been possible, we leave you to find your own way to the music rather than send you through to a copied version.


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How to Write By the Seat of Your Pants Through NaNo WriMo

A little girl squealing as she shoots down a metal slide.

Okay, we’ve had several posts now about how to prepare your novel, your Creativity and yourself for NaNo WriMo, but what if you’re one of those people who writes by the seat of their pants?

Well here are some suggestions for you on how to make November a success.

Set Aside Time to Write

Keep to a writing schedule as much as possible. If you don’t plan your writing time, it’s all too easy to just let things slide and end up realising it’s November 25th and you’re facing an insurmountable deficit.

Ideas will come if you have a consistent schedule. First you need to get into the habit of sitting down and facing the page.

Expose Yourself to Plenty of Writing Fodder

While it’s all well and good to keep your head down and dutifully pound out the words, don’t forget to actively look for ideas during the process.

  • Watch people as you walk along the street.
  • Pay attention to shops, houses and back alleys during your travels.
  • Notice different forms of employment – postman, window washer, air hostess, bank clerk. Perhaps even take the opportunity to ask your friends or acquaintances for more information on their typical day at work.
  • Read! Read articles you normally wouldn’t be interested in. Read classic books. Read new books.

Find time to get away from your computer and absorb some of the interesting world around you, then inject it into your story.

Select Music for Your Writing

As mentioned before, music can help your Creativity. Soundtracks are created to tell a story, with interesting changes in pace and emotion just waiting to fit your scene. Different tempos evoke different moods, so listen to a variety of genres to find the sound you feel fits with what you’re working on.

Each character’s choice of songs will reveal their personality, age, likes and dreams. Spend some time considering what kind of music would interest them.

Once you’ve got this collection together, why not create a playlist of songs you feel capture your story and characters. Listen to it during your day to provide ideas for your writing.

Keep a Notebook

Once you get into your story, it’s a good idea to have a notebook or a document on hand to record things. Okay, you may not want to write down your plans for your characters, but at least record the details you’ve already written about.

For example, if your character is an orphan, make a note of it so further down the track you don’t suddenly have him call his father asking for money.

Jot down descriptions and history in your notebook so you can refer back to the details easily, instead of having to scroll through your whole story trying to find them.

Enjoy the Process

Have fun while you’re writing, without worrying too much about the outcome. The beauty of writing by the seat of your pants is that you never know where you’ll end up. And if you finish up somewhere completely different from where you started, you can always go back and rewrite.

After all, this quote is very true:

If you haven’t got an idea, start a story anyway. You can always throw it away, and maybe by the time you get to the fourth page you will have an idea, and you’ll only have to throw away the first three pages. —William Campbell Gault


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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?