Categories
process Writing

Turning Oneself Into A Writer Fast

Or How To Learn Anything Fast

Last November, I finished the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo ) challenge successfully with 50,000 words.   I knew it was just a start.  It was a brain dump – a hazy idea of what could later be sculpted and crafted into a novel.

My fast journey to becoming a writer
Writing is easy – just add words! Photo by Jan Willemsen.

 

But what next?

I was a bit lost.   Yes, I’ve read a lot over the years, but haphazardly.  I didn’t have a great books list.  I knew I liked fantastical stories and really resonated with HG Wells, Jules Verne, William Gibson and Kafka.  I also love the magic realists Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Italo Calvino.   I also just love the wonder of Ray Bradbury, the adventures of Robinson Crusoe and the characterizations of Dickens.  But I felt like I was trying to write a rock song having never heard Elvis.   Or a symphony without knowing Beethoven.  I didn’t have enough context.

I went to NYU for music and missed out on a lot of the great history and literature courses.  I always felt that was a mistake and am thrilled to finally be correcting that.  So I began searching for the 10,000 foot view.  I usually look for the meta book, the one that will give me the greatest context.

I found a lot about writing mindset and technique which are great.  But for historical context, I’ve found nothing quite matches the  Great Courses (formerly called the Teaching Company).  Thesea are college classes online which you can download to your smartphone or have on DVD, or CD.

So over the last few months, I’ve been inhaling vast quantities of method books, college lectures,  historical overviews and source materials.  Here’s a partial list of my consumption.  I hope you find it helpful.

  • Story by Robert McKee – the classic.  I read it over 10 years ago and recently repurchased as audio book.  McKee is an actor and he really brings to life his sage wisdom.  Highly recommended.
  • Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell – I’ve had this in my collection for over 10 years when I was originally creating a libretto for an original opera.  That project is still gestating.  But what a great book.
  • The Creative Penn podcast by Joanna Penn – Joanna is an inspiration for all writers.  I’ve discovered many great resources on her podcast including Dave Farland – see below.
  • Heroes, Gods and Monsters by Bernard Evslin – A great book that retells the old mythological tales.
  • Greek Tragedy by Professor Elizabeth Vandiver – a little dry at times, but a fast overview.
  • Some short video clips from great writers like  Robert McKee, Salman Rushdie, Paul Auster, Jonathan Safran-Foer, and others.  Good for a quick hit of inspiration.
  • Story Engineering by Larry Brooks – I like how Larry has made this easier to visualize.  You can also see hitpoints in every story, film, novel, whatever,  based on his engineering blueprints.
  • History of the Ancient World:  A Global Perspective – Professor Gregory S. Aldrete – If I’m going to be creating fantastical fictional worlds, I better know what the real history has been.   This course is wonderful and well presented.  48 half hour lectures which you can binge on as you work out or clean the house.
  • Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature -Professor Thomas A. Shippey – Wow!  Shippey actually went to school with Tolkien and he discusses so many of the great characters of the world from Bilbo Baggins to Sherlock to Beowulf to Harry Potter.  Loved it.
  • Million Dollar Outlines by Dave Farland.  Dave has taught writing to so many successful authors and makes so much sense in this book.  I also heard his podcast interview at the Creative Penn.   I was so impressed, I enrolled in his online course.  See below.

If you have any suggestions to add, I’d be happy add them to the list.  Write in the comments below.

And, if you find any of these helpful, some of them contain affiliate links so I receive a small commission.  Just so you know.

Thanks for reading!

Andrew

Categories
drawing Fiction and Poetry Hundred Heroes process Writing

One Hundred Heroes – A Daily Creative Practice

Last Friday, friend Tonya came up with an idea to reinvigorate our creative processes.  We’re both creative souls and require daily nurturing, input and output.  The idea was to work on 3 small areas of creativity because, as we discovered together, that the creative flow that comes about from actually doing the work is totally transferrable.  In other words, if you are stuck as a musician, then perhaps work on a painting.  Or if you’re having trouble finishing your Great American Novel, then perhaps it’s a daily doodle or restoring an old chair.

So I chose as my 3 small daily practices drawing, writing and reading fiction (which I never used to give myself permission to do!)

Writing Everyday

For my writing, I’ve been working on short stories – at least 250 words.  I’ve also started coming up with a list of 10 daily ideas for my stories thanks to the inspiration of this article by James Altucher.

Reading Fiction

I read fiction by Dean Koontz, Edward Bloor, Ernest Hemingway, and Daniel Defoe.

Drawing A Hundred Heroes

This past week I did a daily drawing of one of my “hundred heroes.”  I’ve had so many wonderful role models, mentors and teachers over the years, some who I personally knew and others who I’ve only touched from afar.

Here’s who I drew:

Robin Williams Day 1 – Robin Wiliams

The world is still in mourning for his loss.  I’ll never forget how hard and loud I laughed when watching Mork and Mindy as a teenager.  My neighbors must have wondered about the wild cackling coming out of the house.

 

 

 

IMG_2381Day 2 – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

It was as if the world was in black and white before I read One Hundred Years Of Solitude.  Since then I’ve read almost all his books and was led into a world of magic realism and writing of others like Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Salman Rushdie and Isabel Allende among others.  It also helps that my late mother-in-law gave me this book and said, “Now that you are dating my daughter, you need to read this.  He is the national treasure of Colombia.”

And what a first line for a novel: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

 

 

Good eeevening...
Good eeevening…

Day 3 – Alfred Hitchcock

I never went to film school, but watching Hitch’s films makes me feel like I should sign up today.  So wonderfully artful and chilling!  I also love the music scores by his many wonderful collaborators like Bernard Hermann and Alex North.  Did you know that Saul Bass (another hero) actually conceived, storyboarded and directed the Psycho shower scenes?

 

 

 

 

Steve Jobs, one if my hundred heroes
Steve Jobs, one if my hundred heroes

Day 4 – Steve Jobs

Without Steve, where would I be?  Where would we all be?  I’ve been using a Mac since 1985 and went to one of the first MacWorld conventions.  I’m an Apple fanboy if there ever was one.  Thank you Steve for all you have done and continue to from somewhere…

I had some trouble with the eyes.  I also realized that I made Steve look a bit like Freddie Mercury (another hero!)

 

 

 

 

Being peace
Being peace

Day 5 – Thich Nhat Hanh

I was trying to sign up for an acting class in the early 1990’s with a famous teacher in NYC.  She had every prospective student come in and meet with her first and then gave us a required reading list.  I thought, “how weird and presumptuous!”  On this list were many books about self-growth, identity, new age stuff and The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.  This book changed my life and continues to blossom within me.  Years ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to go on a silent retreat with “Thay” (which is what we call him – it means teacher.)

By the way, I never took the acting class and can’t even remember her name.  I thank you wherever you are!

 

I’m a self taught artist so I know there are some technical issues in these drawings such as proportion and balance.  Anyway, it’s a daily practice and I think I’m getting better!

What practices do you do to keep your creative edge honed?  I’d love to know.  Share them in the comments below.

Categories
Fiction and Poetry Writing

Stopping Time; Thoughts About Meditation

Thoughts on Meditation
My head is high above the clouds…

My head is high above the clouds. The air is cooler up here and there is a gentle breeze from my right. I can see down into the darkness the long string that is tethering me to my body. It goes down, down, down until it disappears into the dusky depths. Somewhere down below is my body seated in lotus pose. Or at least it’s trying to stay in that pose. It seems that lately it’s been easier. The clouds of thoughts drift by below. Far below I can just make out the lights of my ideas rushing past.

Sometimes I drop 10,000 feet in a sudden rush of forgetfulness and I’m in the traffic of my thoughts – loud, brash, stinky with fumes and the accompanying adrenaline rush that goes with it. But today, I’m staying afloat high above. It’s so quiet up here. It’s like the only thing that is here is the gentle wind and a slight whisper of my voice from time to time, checking to see if I’m really here.

Meditation is so strange. It’s like a stopping of time. I think today I’m closest to ever getting it all to stop. Other times I’ve thought I succeeded only to find myself deep in slumber, snoring and dreaming away.

Categories
drawing Hundred Heroes

Gabriel Garcia-Marquez

One of my all time favorite opening lines in literature.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

Part of my daily drawing therapy/practice.

 

Gabo, aka Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Gabo
Categories
growth joyful living musings photography recommended reading

Summer Is A Time For Renewal – Inspirational Input for Creativity

A glass of rose on the roof in Brooklyn, NY
Time for wine – rosé on the roof

Life is good.  I’ve been having an excellent summer.  Why?  Mostly because we planned some great recreation like a trip away to Puerto Rico, time on the beach, visit to the vineyards and just time to think and read.  Summer is a time for renewal, re-creation and getting inputs to creativity.  You can’t create if you’re empty!

Here’s some of what I’ve been thinking and reading lately.

Categories
music process

Woman Parts and Composing a Fugue

The play that I wrote music for, actually variations on a theme in the public domain, opens this weekend.  It’s part of a night of two one acts by women, Sex & God by Linda McClean and Lamentations of the Pelvis by Sibyl O’Malley.  The production is by the award-winning and always interesting Son of Semele Ensemble in Los Angeles. Get tickets here.

 

Woman Parts Poster In working on the music which were all variations on the Coulters Candy theme, also known as Ally Bally Bee, the director Barbara Kallir was describing to me a need for some thicker more complex textures and perhaps an interweaving of melodies.

“Do you mean like a fugue?” I asked.

 

Definition of Fugue from onMusic dictionary.

form of composition popular in, but not restricted to, the Baroque era, in which a theme or subject is introduced by one voice, and is imitated by other voices in succession. Usually only the first few notes of the subject are imitated exactly, then each voice deviates slightly until the next time it enters again with the subject. Generally the voices overlap and weave in and out of each other forming a continuous, tapestry-like texture.

 

Whoa, I’ve never written a fugue I thought to myself.   Isn’t Bach only allowed to write that intricate stuff?

 

 

“Sure, a fugue.  I’ll get right on it Barbara.” I said half-jokingly.

Since the melody was already written and was a very simple jingle, perhaps I could do something like this.  It’s funny because I spent a few years composing jingles and music for advertising and now I was creating a musical score based on a jingle! The original song was to sell candy, but because it was so hummable and infectious, the melody has lasted for generations to the point that all Scottish elders know the tune.

So, I thought about it a little bit, doodled on the piano and guitar and then went to sleep.  I find that my best work comes from connecting to the source, the muse, the great GoogaMooga in the sky, a.k.a. God while I’m sleeping.

At 5 am on a Saturday I awoke, went to the computer and started writing out this fugue in Sibelius.  Now I don’t claim to come close to being Bach, but I thought it came out pretty good for a first fugue.

My composition teacher at Juilliard would probably have some things to say… Screenshot 2014-04-24 12.59.39

 

Download PDF Ally Bally Bee fugue sheet music

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the final result.  I didn’t have time to record acoustically so these are actually generated right out of Sibelius 7.5 – a pretty nice upgrade from my previous version of 6.0.