Elizabeth Gilbert talks about creativity at TED
It’s 1.47am and I can’t sleep. TMoTH is away at a family wedding. The Offspring are asleep. Even the critters are asleep. Only I am still awake – and really I shouldn’t be, since I need to be up in a few hours for boxing training…..
I didn’t intend to still be awake at this time. I watched DVDs with The Offspring then came to bed thinking I would check my email and turn out the light. Then I remembered I hadn’t watched the keynote speech from SXSW . Why would I want to watch that you ask? Well, because the speaker was Bruce Springsteen.
The key note speech is amazing - it’s funny, it’s touching, it’s smart – and so much more. In it Springsteen talks about the things that influenced him, the things that made him want to do what he does. He talks about hearing The Animals and how, when he listened to them, he wanted to do what they did. He wanted to make people feel the way they were making him feel.
I sat here in bed, listening to the wind drive leaves around our front lawn, my mouth open in amazement. You see I’ve heard those words before – except usually I’m the one saying them and I’m talking about Springsteen.
When I was 12 we lived on a farm in a fairly remote area of the east coast of the north Island of New Zealand. My father had died the year before and my mother was working every hour of daylight to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table while lawyers do whatever it is lawyers do with wills and estates.
We had no television and our nearest neighbour was about two miles away. We did however have a radio and every Sunday afternoon I would sit at the table with my ear pressed to the radio listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40.
This particular Sunday, not long before my 13th birthday, Kasem announced a new song from some guy I had never heard of. As the song began to play I remember very clearly being mesmerised and forgetting completely about my French homework.
The singer was Springsteen and the album was The River. Springsteen wasn’t big in New Zealand at the time and I was only 12 – too young to really understand the themes in his music – so it’s not surprising I didn’t really know who he was. But I loved what I was hearing and by the time Fade Away was released I did know two things: a) whoever he was, I was hooked and b)I wanted to do what he did: I wanted to write things that made people see images in their head and feel something they didn’t know they felt.
That was 33 years ago – and today I feel exactly the same way. There is a joke in my family that Springsteen is ‘the other man’ in my life and luckily for me my partner Dennis is as big a fan as I am – although he does have a rule that there are to be no pictures in the bedroom. I have no idea why….
Springsteen’s lyrics inspired me- and still inspire me – to start writing. My dream is to one day interview him – if only to get the chance to thank him for all the joy his music has brought me over the years. So it felt a little surreal to hear him say the very things I’ve been feeling all these years.
Many of Springsteen’s songs have inspired in me ideas for stories – both short and long – but I have never had the courage or the confidence to write them down. They are, afer all, his songs. His stories. I have this weird, unwritten rule that while his music and lyrics are possibly the greatest influence on my creative writing, I can not use them as a spring board for that writing. Why? Who knows?
So, when he went on to not only explain, but demonstrate, how “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “Badlands” were (and I quote) “the same fuckin’ riff, listen up, youngsters — this is how successful theft is accomplished.” I, unlike everyone else, did not just laugh.
I got excited.
Not that kind of excited – get your minds out of the gutters. Okay maybe a little but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
I got excited because Bruce Springsteen gave me a green light to use all these characters who have been living in my head all this time; he may not have looked up and said “hey, the loopy red head down there in New Zealand, get over it, it’s just the same fuckin’ riff, write it already” - but he may as well have.
It’s funny, his new album Wrecking Ball makes me feel that same breathless wonder I felt when I was 12 and hearing him for the first time. I sit and listen to it, sometimes (often) in tears, and I wonder “how does he DO that? I want to do that.”
My next thought is invariably “I am so grateful he does that.”
For so many years, his music has held my hand and my heart, and played the background music to my life. Like I say, since the age of 12 I’ve wanted to interview him - partly so I could say thank you for all his music has brought to me.
But maybe the way I say thank you is to use that riff…
The fabulous Sue Fitzmaurice has dropped in to talk about … finishing a writing project. So with no further ado, take it away Sue….
Finishing a Writing Project
There are three especially difficult parts to writing anything – the start, the middle and the end.
Sorry to say.
No-one who writes for a living will tell you different, albeit that there will be different challenges in the different parts. Me, I have no problem finishing. I have a problem starting. Which of course becomes rather a challenge for the finishing…
The biggest writing project I’ve had to complete has been the publication of my first novel. You may think you have finished at a certain point, but the process goes on and on and on; by the end of which one is very lucky if one does not completely hate one’s own work. And therein lies an important key to successful completion: don’t start something unless it’s a project or topic you enjoy, or in the case of something especially large: if you’re not really and truly in love with it.
These are a number of practical things that help me to write and to complete my writing – some of these may be of assistance to you, but we must all experiment with, observe and understand our writing processes to come up with what works for each of us.
- More likely if you’re a woman and you work from home: you WILL do housework instead of writing. Fantastic. Do the housework. It’s similar to being in the shower – you do it without thinking about it, so your mind is free to wander and be creative while you’re vacuuming. And when you’re done you’ll have the proverbial tidy desk to sit down at and start writing.
- Know where you’re going with your project: if you don’t have some kind of idea of the end before you start, then you’ll have a hard time finding your way TO an end. There are different ways to draft a map before you start – one that you update and play around with as you go through. You could write your ‘table of contents’ – I always start a piece of research or report writing that way; or you could do a mind map of some kind. With a fiction piece I start with a large sheet of paper – poster size – and I draw 6 or 8 or so circles evenly across the middle of the page, into which I write the main events or turning points of the story. Leave a gap between the circles so that you can add more circles – smaller ones generally – that match up with the pieces of story you add. This is a little like doing a jigsaw – separate the edge pieces first and get them all joined together… get the idea?
- Immutable deadlines: ones that someone else has imposed and that cannot be changed – thank heavens for deadlines or many of us would never get anything done at all. This is tricky if you’re working to your own rhythm, particularly with a fiction piece; try joining or establishing a writing group, with a commitment to share something new once a fortnight or once a month. I wrote most of my first novel this way; I’m certain it would not have happened otherwise.
- Get feedback: Especially early on, and especially if this is your first work of fiction. An experienced writer will give you constructive criticism that WILL make a difference to your work. Learn from as many reliable reviewers as are available to you.
- When it comes to the actual ending: and especially if you’re stuck – do the unexpected. If the predictable happens then it’s less engaging for your reader. Of course it has to be believable to0, but that is more in the telling than in the plot. A good book leaves its reader wondering…
In the end though, you must trust your instincts:
“If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don’t listen to writers talking about writing or themselves.” – Lillian Hellman
Sue Fitzmaurice has been a business owner, business consultant and CEO, working in a range of different industries. She has degrees in philosophy, political science and business; her first novel is Angels in the Architecture. Her blog is at www.tryinggodspatience.com but you can also find her on Facebook at:
There are just some songs that make you go ‘yeah’ – this, for me is one of those songs. No matter how many times I hear it, that’s my reaction.
Let the broken hearted love again
On June 18 one of the shining sounds of this world went silent when saxophonist and E Street Band member Clarence ‘Big Man’ Clemons died.
With his passing came the end of something that was a massive part of my life – and the lives of many, many fans the world over. Many people reading this won’t get it – but that’s okay. Springsteen fans are used to it. Either you get it or you don’t – and if you don’t get it, there’s no point me trying to explain it. Like I say – it’s okay, you don’t have to get it.
I heard my first Springsteen song when I was 12. Sherry Darlin’ is hardly the most profound song in the songbook, but it’s fun and it was a great introduction for me, even if for the next couple of weeks, until I heard Hungry Heart and Fade Away I thought this Bruce Springsteen fella must play the sax…..I was 12, what can I say? If Sherry Darlin’ caught my attention, Fade Away turned my world upside down- and I became a lifetime member of the E-Street Nation.
Oddly enough the day I first heard Sherry Darlin I was reading my first Stephen King book – yes at 12, yes precocious – and I’ve been hooked on both men ever since. They both painted pictures in my head, made me feel things just with their words (and while I was way too young yet for half of what Springsteen’s music was going to make me feel over time, what I did feel was real). I was too young to really understand most of what I was reading and listening to, but I was old enough to understand that I wanted to do what they did: I wanted to use words to paint pictures for people.
One of the things I loved about Bruce’s music was that it didn’t seem to conform to anybody else’s ideas of what music should or shouldn’t be. One minute it was fun, the next it was sad, then it was inspiring, then it was profound. There were guitars and drums and accordions and organs. And a saxophone.
The music stood alone but the saxophone made it something – not better, just something more. Maybe it was the relationship the two men actually had that was what made it so special, I don’t know.
When I decided I wanted to be a writer, one of the top things I wanted to do was interview Springsteen and his band and write about them. I wanted to be able to thank them in person, in some way, for all the pleasure their music has brought me over the years, the friends I have made because of their music- and also for all the times Bruce and his heart stopping, pants dropping, groundshaking, Viagra taking E.STREET.BAND held my heart and my hand – through good times, bad times, dark times – even though they didn’t know it.
I wish could return the favour, and I pray they know that millions of people the world over feel the same way and that it brings them a little comfort to know they are so loved.
Suddenly I feel as though the show has got to the encore, they’re preparing to bring the curtain down and I’m not ready. I’ve not got my interview, I’ve not written my article. Worst of all, I’ve not said thank you.
Whenever I feel down, I listen to Bruce - it’s a 32 year habit I’m hardly likely to kick. Usually it breaks through my funk and helps me figure out what to do next. It makes me feel better. It’s taking a bit longer this time though.
Clarence Clemons is gone. Sherry Darlin’ will never be the same again. Things I should care about or even worry about – like my missing Kobo e-reader, deadlines, and that pile of overdue bills in the corner – just don’t seem to matter. Other things that are of no importance, suddenly seem to fill my vision. Like where the spinning wheel in my writing room should go. I’m not even sure why I have the spinning wheel in here, other than it reminds me of my mother and when I look at it, I feel …comforted.
And today, comforted is good.