Creative Myths: There’s no Such Thing as the Solo Artist

John Lennon had Yoko. Fitzgerald had Zelda. Picasso had his women. And while these are all romantic connections, sometimes the artist gets inspiration from a friend, like Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt.

Our culture has a tendency to see creative geniuses as solo artists. It may well be the artists who have the name and the driving talent, but they don’t do it in a vacuum. Creativity is a collaboration, whether it is through supportive works or a collaborative spark.

In the corporate world, it’s nearly always a team effort. Creative Directors depend on their designers and writers—and programmers—to put into motion a vision. There is a collaboration in any creative act because there are supporting actors influencing the original idea. The influencers open up creativity and breathe life into it.

David Burkus, the author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas advises the formation of a ‘Creative Anonymous’ support group to help fuel creativity. He points to the Inklings, a group of British writers, which included these two guys you might know: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. The group would grab a beer at at pub to discuss their influences, read one another’s work, and just be there to support each other. Sidetone: there’s even a story that C.S. Lewis actually persuaded Tolkien that his manuscript was indeed good enough to be published. That manuscript? Yeah. The Lord of the Rings.

It’s easy to get inside your head with an idea and create a solo dialogue. You can flesh out your novel, song, poem, article idea or marketing plan inside the safe walls of your skull, and the sad and hard truth is it’s probably less brilliant than you think it is. If you share the idea with someone you trust or admire, listen to their response. Even if you disagree with what they say, you may learn something—further inspiration may strike.

Creativity is inside us all. My dogs are creative. No lie. You should see where they bury things in our house–and what they bury. And now that I think about it, they, no doubt, inspire each other.

Creativity is the new norm

This past summer, this story ran on Buffer about creativity. The author gave 17 examples of things he wished he knew about the topic when he was in his 20s. I spend a good deal of time thinking about creativity. Somewhere, somehow, I became one of those people obsessed with the notion that you have to be creative in life.

My attitude has always been: If you can’t be creative, then what are you? It may sound judgmental, but I have a broad view of creativity. You don’t have to be a writer, or artist or actor to be creative. An actor friend once complained to me that she was interviewing for a marketing position and the interviewer described marketers as creative, which she scoffed at. I was like, “hey, but I’m a marketer,” and there it was: I could see it in her eyes. To her, a marketer is not creative, despite the fact that we create content and ideas—and then creatively put those ideas into action.

Anyone born before computers probably knows this: there is a schism these days between traditional creatives (i.e., artists) and the rest of the world. It used to be there were creative types and then normal types. Today, we are all writers or artists, thanks to our computers. We are all entertainers, thanks to social media. When I look at my friends who are in their 40s and 50s, I can see how they’ve changed their world view in the last ten or fifteen years, and it’s because they are more creative (and older, yes). Computers started the spark; the ensuing wired revolution spread the fire.

I got wired pretty early on, long before many of my friends. Even up to a few years ago, I had people asking me, “So this Facebook thing, why should I do it?” They now do it, and Instagram, Twitter, etc, with ease and proficiency. And I’m noticing they are getting more and more creative in their posts.

We are all photographers, videographers and writers, and yes, many are novices and probably not that good. But they are doing it–engaging, publishing their private thoughts, though we may sometimes squirm reading the words. It’s a squirm that the world needed. It tells us we are evolving and creativity is the norm. It’s a creative world we live in—whether we show our creativity in posting a funny update, a silly photo or of our dog, or something insanely private that makes us squirm.

The Best of the Best Writing Tips: #3. Burn Pendants in Pale Fire.

One of my favorite quotes from any writer, ever, is this one by Vladimir Nabokov:

“Burn pendants in pale fire. Accept no fashions. Be your own fashion. Do not rely on earlier triumphs. Be new at each appearance.”

I don’t even know where to start.

Of course, this is darn-tooting good advice for writers. Come to think of it, it’s perfect for anything.

But let’s stick to writing for now. In my daily job, it’s easy for me to get sucked into a routine in the style of my writing. Recently, I was writing a press release, about an annual event. I took a look at the previous year’s event to see what I had said. Maybe that was a mistake. I was tempted to simply update the language. Instead of using the word “iconic” to describe the hotel where this event would take place, I wanted to use “historic.” Instead of writing, “honor” the recipient of an award, “I wanted to write, “pay homage” for this year’s recipient.

Had Nabokov been in the room, he would have slapped my hands off of the keyboard and pushed me out of my chair. Actually, he may have asked me what was that contraption of a typewriter, but let’s save that for a story about time travel.

Think about the last time you read something that took your breath away with its power and beauty. It doesn’t happen often. As a writer, it’s damn hard to achieve.

Still. . . we have to try. We can’t fall into traps of go-to words and phrases, or updating last year’s press release, or speech, or whatever it might be. Actors who are doing remakes of  a movie will often say they did not watch the original version. They want to be fresh.

Look at your work. Notice the similarities, notice your habits. Now kill them.

Then there are these two gems from Nabokov’s quote: Accept your own fashions. Be your own fashion.

This is a mistake young writer’s make; well, it’s a mistake I made as a young writer. I would read Eudora Welty and sit down and try to write in a way that made me feel like her writing had made me feel. Too often, I ended up being a bad copy of the great writer.

Writing isn’t easy, whether you are writing fiction, or an article, or a business letter. If it were easy, the world would be full of Nabokovs. Like a fingerprint,  a writer’s voice is unique from any  one else. Find your style, then be your own fashion, and be new at each appearance.

If we can somehow manage all the good advice found in Nabokov’s quote, then we’re doing okay.

The Best of the Best Writing Tips: #2

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Elmore Leonard.

imagesThat pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? If you have ever been in a writers group, you know this syndrome. The writer who is in love with polysyllables for the sake of sounding smart, or the one who never met a metaphor she didn’t like–or worse, a writer in love with both unnecessary polysyllables and provides overdoses of metaphors.

KISS was created for a reason.

Mr. Leonard meant more than just keeping it simple, though. He doesn’t merely want his writing to sound truthful and authentic, he wants it to be truthful and authentic.

His tip is closely tied to another piece of advice: Write from the heart. But that’s  another post for another day.

Re-read what you write. Marcel Proust read his words aloud. It’s a tried and true tip. Another take on this comes from Oscar Wilde: Kill your darlings.

In case there is any doubt, he was referring to words.

The Best of the Best Writing Tips: # 1

Audacious Ink wants every one to be a more audacious writer. That’s a BHAG goal, so in the very least, AI would like for every one to be a better writer with a few tried and true tips from the Greats, like Mark Twain, William Faulkner and Eudora Welty, among others. With that, Writing Tip #1:

Write tight and eliminate unnecessary words. The previous sentence could have been even stronger had I just written, “Write tight,” but I have a hard time with writing tip #1, so I had to add that last part. Writer, heal thyself.

Think about your readers. Avoid content that is dull and isn’t useful . Or take this audacious tip from Mark Twain:

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

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My Week with Bruce: part 4

Spending my Honeymoon with the Boss

Bruce lookin 2The words I am about to write may come back to haunt me. I might jinx myself, yet. . . it’s something to brag about if you are a proud member of E Street Nation. Here goes: every single time I have tried to get into the pit, I’ve succeeded. Maybe Greg is my lucky charm; he, too, is batting 100% and has been to a couple of shows without me.

Bruce say it

If Springsteen recognizes me as a frequent fan at his West Coast shows, he probably thinks of me as the annoying petite blonde who is always grabbing at him. At his shows, I’m the real life version of the grasping hands some people have in nightmares.

Bruce Feet

I’m standing behind his ankles in this shot. What you don’t see is that just seconds earlier, I reached out and touched the back of his shins. Yeah. I know. I know. By the way, his jeans were soaked through. That’s how hard he performs–and it was only the third song of the night.

Because Glendale, AZ was the last show of the US leg of his 2012, I saw some old friends– a lot of the Springsteen faithful had travelled from the East Coast. There was much talk in the pit of Sandy (the horrible storm, not the song), the band’s lineup on this tour, highlights from the tour . . . and something else. I kept running into hardcore fans who talked of other fans, fans more hardcore than they. It seems to be a thing at Springsteen shows. Who is the most hardcore? No one is bold enough to claim the title, but I met a number of people who all knew other people who fit the bill. Springsteen fans, if nothing else, are generous to their brothers and sisters.


Why am I talking so much about the fans in this recap? Because after seeing Springsteen for countless shows, and talking the usual talk about the joy his concert brings, what the songs have meant to me over the years, how this is the music that matters most, or what a great performance the concert was, this show really hit home with me on one fact: the fans are part of the magic that happens at a Springsteen concert. I said I saw old friends there. They were people I met at other Springsteen shows, either in the pit, or in a bar after the show, or in line for the show, or at the concession stand. . . you get the idea. A couple of them were names I had learned (and remembered) and a couple of them were just people you talk to briefly, but have an immediate and strong connection with over Springsteen. When you go to the shows a lot, you see the same faces over and over.

FULL Band ArizonaAs for the actual show, it was magic and joy. What can I tell you that you haven’t read in another review? Every show that Springsteen puts on is amazing. It is better than anything anyone else can do. He was put on this earth to sing these songs and give turbo-charged performances.

A few notes: Clarence’s son Jared came out on the stage during “Tenth Avenue Freezeout.” Some stupid girl jumped on the ramp where Springsteen stood during the tribute and he had to shew her off the stage. She violated the unspoken code. Springsteen fans may grab at him (guilty!) but we never jump on the stage unless invited, and we never jump on the stage during a tribute to Clarence. It nearly ruined the poignancy of the moment for Jared, Clarence’s son. At the end of the song, Jake gave him a big hug, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the pit.

Here’s the setlist of that magical, last evening. See you in 2013, Springsteen. Hopefully, I’ll be the girl in the pit grabbing (respectfully) at your ankles.

1.Surpise, Surprise (acoustic, tour premiere)
2. No Surrender
3. I’m A Rocker
4. Hungry Heart
5. Prove It All Night (with 1978 Intro)
6. Trapped
7. Lost In The Flood
8. We Take Care Of Our Own
9. Wrecking Ball
10. Death To My Hometown
11. My City Of Ruins
12. Be True (sign request)
13. Light Of Day (sign request)
14. Darlington County
15. Shackled And Drawn
16. Waitin’ On A Sunny Day
17. Apollo Medley (dedicated to Sam Moore; Sam sings a few lines of the song)
18. The Rising
19. Badlands
20. Thunder Road

Encores:
21. Incident On 57th Street (solo piano)
22. Born To Run
23. Dancing in the Dark
24. Santa Claus is Coming to Town (with Garland Jeffreys)
*25. Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (with Clarence Clemons’ son Jared on percussion)

My Week with Bruce Part 3

Crowd Surfing With Ghosts

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There were many highlights from the show. The sad thing is that most are locked away in my memory and there are no photos or video to share. We had our iPhone, but there comes a point in a concert when you can either record what you are seeing–knowing it won’t adequately capture what you are witnessing–or you can be in the  present and watch, and promise yourself you will not forget one second of the show.

One highlight that I think everyone in Anaheim would agree on is when Bruce sang “My City of Ruins.” The song was, as Springsteen said, “From our Ghosts to your ghosts.”

“Are we missing anybody tonight?” He asked. And we roared, yes, yes we are. We are missing Danny Federici, and Clarence Clemons in the band, and we are missing people dear to our own lives.

“Are we missing anybody tonight?” He asked again, this time a little more pointedly. Again, we roared “yes.” A Springsteen show is very interactive. The Boss likes to talk, and he wants to know we are listening.

Springsteen doesn’t get enough credit for this: he’s very theatrical. I mean this in the best way. He understands that when you stand on a stage, backed by powerful music and a powerful message, that timing, phrasing, a look, a gesture, become all the more important. “My City of Ruins,” has become a centerpiece in the show on this tour, starting at the Apollo Theater back in March when he first introduced. I listened live on Sirius Radio, and when I heard him do it the first time, it struck me with a thunder that moved me to tears. Here, all these months later, he’s tweaked the words, tweaked how and what he says, but the message is still the same and still as powerful. We all have ghosts; we share that.

To write about this moment would leave someone thinking this concert was sad and heavy, though. Springsteen’s shows weave through a gamut of emotions, from angry to sad, and to joyous. And speaking of joyous, here’s a video my husband took at the show of Bruce crowd surfing over our head. We had to have some record of this remarkable night.