Brian Eno on what he learned from David Bowie in making art

The ‘write what you know’ trope works because it’s easier to write the truth. But what’s authentic isn’t always what’s best for the art.

David Bowie modified his voice when he sang “I’m Afraid of Americans.” He wanted to make sure the tone matched up with the voice of the character (himself) portraying it. He interpreted music through motion. Brian Eno said that Bowie did what was best for the song, not clinging to the usual memoir approach of a singer.

“A lot of people think that singers should always be sincere, that it has to be their own soul coming out. That’s b — — — -. What you’re really doing is working like a playwright. You’re making little plays and the singer is the lead character.”

Brian Eno

Eno encourages fictional storytelling. Making art is an act. It’s supposed to be fantasy. But some artists think that the truth is what sets them free and leave it to their fans are there to sort it out.

“It’s that ridiculous teenage idea that when Mick Jagger sings, he’s telling you something about his own life. It’s so arrogant to think that people would want to know about it. This is my problem with Tracey Emin. Who f****** cares.”

Brian Eno

Art breaks the rules. It takes inspiration from the real world to create something new. It dances with fear. Artists continue dreaming into adulthood, without taking everything so seriously.

“Children learn through play, adults learn through art.”

Eno’s modus operandi it to make stuff that’s “a continuation of what we do as children.” He recently released a new album on Warp Records called The Ship. He also created a ‘visual music’ light piece called The Zenith. Eno creates things he wished existed.

Both Eno and Bowie teach us to have fun with our curiosity by showing the world what we can see in our heads.

J.K. Rowling revisits her masterpiece

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J.K. Rowling reflects on annotating the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

I wrote the book … in snatched hours, in clattering cafés or in the dead of night … The story of how I wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is written invisibly on every page, legible only to me. Sixteen years after it was published, the memories are as vivid as ever as I turn these pages.”

J.K. Rowling

Most authors refuse to revisit their old work. Musicians avoid listening to their old albums. Some actors refuse to see their own movies after they hit theaters.

Art reminds creatives of their daily battles with the blank page, canvass, or script — a craft fraught with sweat and tears, pain and pleasure. Even more, all that work was yesterday's genius.

“There’s always more to be said, more to be felt,” Henry James once remarked. We can always do better. Yet finishing and moving on is the point. And so we buckle up and start the next one.

art via giphy

The World According to Garp

Below is an excerpt from John Irving's 1978 novel The World According to Garp:

Garp threw away his second novel and began a second novel. Unlike Alice, Garp was a real writer—not because he wrote more beautifully than she wrote but because he knew what every artist should know: as Garp put it, “You only grow by coming to the end of something and by beginning something else.” Even if these so-called endings and beginnings are illusions. Garp did not write faster than anyone else, or more; he simply always worked with the idea of completion in mind.

Finish what you start, or throw it away and start something you'll finish. Ship it.

On the other hand, you can put it aside and let it marinate.

Everything comes to use, eventually. You can only connect the dots looking backward after the experience.

art via giphy

Making peace with fear

Image of women lying in bed with anxiety

We can make peace with the anxiety of anticipation. But it's the hope that kills. What we need to gauge the nerves is preparation.

One way of accomplishing this is through fear-setting, a practice which requires that we envision the worst outcome. By going toward the fear, we undermine its strength and power our resolve. 

The counterintuitive nature of the fear-setting approach is why it works. Using our imagination, we literally live through something before it happens. The mere process of visualization provides action steps that tame the monkey mind. 

Wrote the Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger: “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” At least we have mental exposure to help stem the tide. 

art by @rebeccahendin

All writing is in the edit

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Like photography, all writing is in the edit.

When you fall into writer’s block — a myth, by the way — you should move freely between devices, formats, and even different places in order to shake out of it. Here's one recommended writing approach I encourage you to try: 

First, start writing on paper to help generate ideas. Anything goes. Then type out what's worth keeping on to your phone to finesse your text. Better yet, throw the first draft onto different apps like WordPress (read why I recommend WordPress for blogging here), Byword, or iAWriter and then process it for grammar through the Hemingway App or my favorite writing assistant, Grammarly.

In summary: 

  1. Write everything out on paper
  2. Type your notes out on your phone or computer
  3. Copy-paste written text into an app like Grammarly for proofreading

Blogger Michael Lopp sums up his writing process nicely in How to Write a Blog Post:

Repeat until it starts to feel done in your head. If it’s handwritten, type it into a computing device. When you are close to done, print it out on paper. Sit somewhere else with your favorite pen and edit your work harshly. If this piece is important, let someone else edit harshly.

That’s right! Print it out and edit it in a different place altogether. Some writers think better to the hum of the coffee shop, JK Rowling included. Others need absolute silence, preferring to stare at a wall so that the only work to look at is the one being created in the mind’s eye.

The writing process is a messy one that includes not only different formats but also different writing environments. Sometimes a great sentence starts on paper; other times it starts on your smartphone. Just be ready to review it a few times before you hit publish.

Hopelessly absorbed

We photograph everything and observe nothing. We consume the Instagram feed, and then feel inadequate for doing so.

Human behavior is predictable, robotic. Acknowledging peak screen further cements a broken will — even the most mindful urge won't let us put our devices down.

We've officially extended digital into our cells, with the reality forthcoming. From the iWatch to iSkin, the future is implanted. From neuron to neuron, we'll check email and change the tv channel with the flick of a thought.

Digital succeeds in numbing the pain, without acknowledging what's going in our own heart.

Mind over matter, what's the matter with our mind?

Thinking without thinking 🤔

Thinking without thinking

Work is the practice of gathering string. But it is the empty mind that weaves experience, knowledge, and ideas altogether.

The apple may have hit Newton's head, but his insights into gravity were brewing all along.

There is no such thing as Eureka, just the gradual harmonization of distilled moments that become apparent when we least expect them to.

We think to get rid of thoughts just like “the blues is played to get rid of the blues.” But we can't think our way to innovation.

We think most effectively when we turn off the monkey mind and permit creativity to break through the hush of silence. Off is on.

Even when we are not thinking — when we're relaxed in the shower or doing the dishes — we're thinking. We are always chewing on context, bringing excitement to the habitual self.

art via giphy

Seth Godin on writer’s block

Writer’s block is a myth created by people who are afraid to the do the work. / Seth Godin on writer's block #amwriting

Writer's block is a myth created by people who are afraid to the do the work.

There are various reasons writers let the blank page get the best of their emotions.

  • Trying to be too perfect
  • Procrastinating en route to excuses that usually include the word “But….”
  • Unwilling to fail or write poor sentences first
  • Living up to someone else's expectations
  • Being afraid to share their work

Writer's block appears to be the work of evil. It wants us to quit and hide in shame instead of “dancing with the amygdala” as Seth Godin pleads on the very subject in his new podcast: ‘No such thing (as writer’s block).' Stream it below.

In reality, no one gets talker's block just as a plumber never gets plumber's block or a teacher gets teaching block. Such stuckness is a work of fiction.

Pro tip: The habit of blogging every day helps me defeat writer's block. The more you write, the more you have to play with. Start your blogging journey and set up your website for FREE on WordPress right here.

Forget inspiration and do the work

If we choose to be professional, we choose to show up consistently and dance with the fear. We develop habits that allow us to unlock what Steven Pressfield's calls the resistance in his book The War of Art, compelling the muse to work with us rather than against us.

This is what Seth Godin says on facing the resistance:

“The resistance never goes away. The more important the work is, the louder it gets. The harder you try to make it go away, the hard and more clever it gets in response. The work is doing it when you don't feel like it. Doing it when it's not easy.”

Seth Godin

Fear leads to inertia which leads to regret. The lizard brain wants us to run away and never come back.

What if instead of giving up, we started writing by doing it poorly, persisting through the maze of bad ideas. Only when we have something to work with can go back we tweak it.

Perfection is futile — writers rarely nail in a good sentence in the first draft. Rough drafts are expectedly shitty. All writing is in the edit, anyway.

If we write regularly, we'll get better at avoiding the pain of getting stuck. Habits are everything. But if we do get blocked? Again, keep writing with no regard for perfection.

Said novelist John McPhee: “The funny thing is that you get to a certain point and you can’t quit. Because I always worried: If you quit, you’ll quit again. The only way out was to go forward, to learn your way and write your way out of it.”

In short, heed this writing advice: Don't whine, don't complain, get busy and make things. Speed-write, set an imaginary deadline, write by hand — do whatever it takes to get something down. And if we're still stuck — go for walk while listening to Seth's podcast below:

gif via rewire.org & big hero 6