Playfully practising

I’ll be talking to a student and whatever we’re talking about is so interesting I think I should write a blog about it. But then the moment passes and a few days later I sit down to write a blog without the inspiration of that person in front of me. I did jot down a phrase during one discussion this week. “How 2 practice,” I wrote.

That’s an interesting thought. How do you “practice” creativity? I can tell you how I do it. I practice it by doing what I’m doing right now. I’m sitting here without one idea in my head, writing. I’m starting by telling you I don’t have any ideas. My brain feels all foggy, and I feel reluctant to write. But I’m writing anyway. After a quick ‘save as’, I’m back looking at the mostly blank page. But because I’ve started, something starts to happen. It’s like the act of actually doing something… even if it’s as mundane as writing “I have nothing to say” … is a spark.

So I think about the songwriting (February is Album Writing Month (FAWM), 50 songs in 90 days), script writing (Script Frenzy) and novel writing (National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenges that I do. I think about how people react when I tell them I’m participating in this or that challenge. Usually the reaction is negative.

“Fifty songs in ninety days? What’s the point of that? Isn’t it better to hone one song than rush to write a bunch of tunes? What publisher would be interested in that?”

My reply is… when participating in challenges I’m not writing for the commercial market, per se. Some of the things I write during FAWM and 50-90 do end up getting signed. But I write, to write. To push myself. To look for ideas and get them down on the page, recorded in a worktape. I am exercising my muse. To keep it toned, in shape, ready to work.

“Write an album’s worth of songs in one month? Fourteen songs in 28 days? I’m lucky if I write one song in six months.”

My reply is… perhaps if you did a challenge like this you might find yourself writing more than that. If you wait for inspiration, if you wait to be in the mood, if you wait for an idea… you could be waiting a long time. What if you just down and write?

Okay, so maybe one of the issues is looking for ideas. Hello, let me introduce you to Google. Google is the songwriter’s friend. No ideas? Follow this process:

Open up your web browser and go to

Type in something about no ideas. How about “nothing”. So I type in ‘nothing’ and I get 543 million results. There’s a few million ideas, huh? On the first page is a blog about nothing, a website about workers who believe in nothing, Wikipedia’s page on nothing, some videos, ‘the natural history of zero’, and several other things I could follow. Let’s pick one. Hmmm… workers who believe in nothing. They have nothing to do and do nothing all day. They are good for nothing. My brain starts playing with ideas. I could now go and write a quirky song about nothing.

I tell my students I think it’s more important for them to practice than to practice well. I mean, if they are able to incorporate everything we’ve talked about in a lesson, that’s great. But if not, that’s okay. Do it anyway. Because then they are keeping their commitment to themselves, and this is the most vital element of creative growth.

This is why Julia Cameron recommends writing ‘morning pages’ in “The Artist’s Way” (three pages, first thing after you get up, of stream of consciousness writing, no stopping, no editing). It’s why visual artists go to life drawing classes where they are given 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes to complete a drawing. Try drawing something in 2 minutes. Nothing frees you faster from the details. But it’s interesting how whatever you drew in that little amount of time actually works.

If I wanted to run a four minute mile but I only ran a mile once every six months, I could do myself an injury. I need to train my body and my mind in order to achieve that goal. I need to run 3 or 4 times a week at least. I might even get a coach, make sure I have the right shoes, lift weights to tone, swim to increase lung capacity and avoid stress to my legs & ankles. I should learn how to warm up and cool down.

Doesn’t it follow, then, as a creative person, that you need to practice creativity? I consider it my job to write a lot of crap on the road to writing things that make sense. I consider it my job to play at music, play with words, play with sounds. I play myself into writing a blog, into writing a track, into making words sing. My shelves are piled with notebooks filed with scribbles and journaling and morning pages. I have files full of ideas written on scraps of paper, napkins, receipts, even bus tickets. My hard drive is littered with tracks I sketched out with whatever was around. Bits of orchestral, bits of electronica, worktapes of songs, drum beats, improvisations with piano, with voice, with sounds. These are all signs an artist lives here. Disorganized, committed, successful, and, most importantly, playful.

So there you have it. Absolutely no idea what to write about, 937 words later. Go play.


Jill Dearman said...

Thanks for these joyous bits!
--Jill Dearman,

Layla said...

WOW! Great blog post!

I did realize I love doing the Morning Pages & they are a great way to declutter my mind.. Sometimes doodling can have a similar (or better) effect!

Great to hear some of the songs you wrote in the challenge/s got to go places too!!

FruitLoop said...

I sort of do morning pages on the train to work. It's not much fun though. Usually I just write down all boring crap that goes on in my life. I also tried the 50 songs in 90 days challenge a few years ago. I gave up after 2 weeks - the songs just got worse and worse. Now, I write a song every 2 weeks on average. Any more than that for a sustained period and I start clutching at straws rather than really thinking or feeling, and songwriting becomes too much like work: another damned chore.

Vikki said...

@Jill - thanks for the read!

@Layla - I like to doodle too. That's what we're talking about, doodling and noodling.

@FruitLoop - my morning pages have always been terribly boring, full of things I need to do or remember, or shouting at myself (again) about how I procrastinate or whatever. I still think they are valuable as a measure of how I think about myself and my life. The point of 50-90 or FAWM is not necessarily to "win" by writing the set number of songs, but to push yourself to think outside the box and to write silly, stupid, vapid songs about nothing if that's all that comes to you. The idea of all this stuff is to become less "stuck" wherever you are stuck. Sounds like you aren't particularly fond of how your life is right now (and ain't we all been there)... sometimes we have no choice but to work at a soul-less job because we have to keep a roof over our heads. But what we can do is not be defeated by it. Scribble ideas on the way to & from work; go for a walk at lunch to get away from the place; eat healthy & get a reasonable amount of sleep, drink plenty of water (watch the amt coffee); when you get home, pick up the guitar or sit down at the keyboard for at least a few minutes to play something you adore.... that is what lifts us and gets us through. Just some thoughts. HTH

cinderkeys said...

When you practice (rehearse) creativity, you practice (perform) creativity. More than half of songwriting is filtering everything you experience through the question, "Is this something I could write about?" If you're not constantly attuned to that question, you miss out on a whole lot of ideas.