Tag Archives: art

Demolish Writer’s Block, An Intro and Exercise

In my personal library, I have over 20 books devoted to the tricky subject of writer’s block. My collection ranges from the cutesy Writing Block series by Lou Harry (with each book printed in the shape of a 3x3x3 inch block) to the brainy treatise that is Rosanne Bane’s Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer’s BlockA quick read-through of the far-ranging titles on my shelf highlights one of writer’s block’s crucial dilemmas: the overloading amount of advice and solutions offered to squash writer’s block reflects the multi-faceted nature of the problem itself. If I’m dealing with a vicious inner critic, there are 189 book listings that can solve the issue on Amazon alone. How about procrastination?  Over 100+ podcasts on iTunes can help.

The subjectivity of creative writing has created a demanding market of self-help authors that overwhelm the aspiring writer in their attempts to assist him.  This frustration ultimately led to the creation of the first exercise in this series. One July, after almost two years of only freewriting to show for my attempts, I snapped. Fed up with the “Show up at the page” and “Discipline is everything” I preached at my own workshops,  I slammed my Macbook shut and walked out into a blazing heat. Without the looming presence of my 5-subject notebooks and Macbook, I felt liberated from the demands I had placed on myself.

Over the next two hours, I explored the local “Rail to Trails,” stumbling upon everything from an unfortanate porcupine corpse to a severed seat belt buckle left on the trail—all excellent fodder for the writer! Luckily, I had stormed out of the house with my iPhone in my pocket. After recording my journey through photos, I later returned home and wrote about the photos I had taken. I sent out three new poems to various literary journals later that month.

Dragontrail

Too often, the aspiring writer gets consumed with the “Product”. He devotes his time and thoughts to his project with an idealized end result in mind. The writer, however, soon faces creative exhaustion after spending x amount of hours in front a blank page. With the fast-paced opportunities that self-publishing and online publications offer, the time needed to foster inspiration and indulge the process of composing has been cast to the side. Many of the most promising remedies for writer’s block must come from the work done beyond the confines of the page margin or mouse cursor.

Before we begin the first exercise, consider this quote by two-time Booker Prize recipient and National Book Critic’c Circle Award winner, Hilary Mantel:

“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”

—Hilary Mantel, The Guardian, 2/25/10

Exercise # 1: The Walk

Requirements:

  • A smartphone or digital camera
  • A walking path or route, preferably in nature

Step 1: Leave your writing projects and upcoming deadlines at home. If anything, this exercise acts as a walking meditation. Attune yourself to all the sensations of your body and sights on your path.

Step 2: Devote at least 30 minutes to your chosen route. Allow yourself to carefully observe anything that catches your eye. Check under your feet for animal imprints. Scan the forest canopy for a deserted squirrel nest. Too often, we make a habit out of quickly passing through the spaces we inhabit without noting all the details that make up our environment.

Step 3: Take at least 10 pictures. This guideline is meant to force you to actively hunt out potential subjects for a new piece, and provide a set of parameters the creative mind often needs to produce.

Step 4: Incubate. Once you have your photos, do not allow yourself to write about the pictures until at least 3 days have passed. Allow your mind to take the time it needs to remove itself from the immediate context in which the photos were taken. You’ll be surprised at what new connections your mind will make once you strip the photos of the trivial memories you had from that day.

Step 5: Freewrite. Write your first impressions from the photos, allowing yourself to consider various settings, plots, or other details that weren’t part of your original walk.

Step 6: Share (Optional): Once you have finished your exercise, feel free to share your work with me via Twitter at @aarontremper

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Riding The “Landslide”: A Post for a 26th Birthday

Every time I attend a Stevie Nicks concert, I call my Dad the moment “Landslide” begins. Nicks often opts to perform this iconic ballad as an encore, acknowledging the leverage such artists as the Dixie Chicks and Smashing Pumpkins have given the track. At this point, the crowd is deafening and my cell phone reception becomes sporadic. My goal, however, isn’t to bootleg a Madison Square Garden rendition of “Landslide”; my sole aim is to remind my family of how they provided me with the greatest love of my life—music.

I discovered Stevie Nicks while rummaging through my father’s old vinyl. Among picture discs of Ozzy Osbourne’s Diary of a Madman and KISS records, I found copies of both Fleetwood Mac’s 1977’s Rumours and Stevie Nick’s solo debut, Bella Donna. I had spent the first 13 years of my life hooked on my stepmother’s country pop and my sister’s obsession with 90’s R&B. Once I heard the opening verses of “Dreams,” however, my musical direction would shift lanes. ’70’s Stevie Nicks wasn’t the bouncy optimism of Shania Twain or Carey’s flashy belts and whistles; Stevie’s sang with both the humility of an early Dolly Parton and the eccentric mysticism that underscored Led Zeppelin’s most iconic songs. By the time I had reached Bella Donna‘s gruff, Police-inspired “Edge of Seventeen,” I interrogated my father about everything and anything that was Fleetwood Mac.

My father has devoted his life to his guitar. A gifted neoclassical guitarist, he dedicates every spare minute to his craft. He spent decades gorging himself on Yngwie Malmsteen imports and Van Halen videos. A self-taught guitarist before the coming of the Internet, he’s rehashed for me the nights spent playing along to guitar solos on vinyl records for hours on end. Before tablature on the web or DAWs, there were only haphazardly printed songbooks and the discipline to learn an upcoming gig’s setlist by ear. He mourns the lost art of discipline and dedication in the contemporary musician, who has endless Youtube tutorials and tab forums at his disposal; in this era of information overload, I envy his willingness to devote his time to nothing more than his guitar and his favorite records. My biggest musical hero, my father was the recipient of every inquiry I had—Fleetwood Mac would be no different.

Shortly after my Fleetwood Mac discovery, my father dug out his copy of their 1997 live album, The Dance. I wore out the gears in my yellow Walkman listening to a version of “Landslide” dedicated to her father. While I admired Lindsey Buckingham’s Travis-picking and Stevie’s wizened, yet emotive vocals, it was the timeless lyrics describing the reluctance and uncertainty in aging that kept the song on repeat. Any 13 year old would feel the gravity of such lyrics; with the arrival of a younger brother and strained ties within my family, “Landslide” reigned me in, easing the rough transition and reigniting my passion for writing.

As I write this, I am only half an hour away from my 26th birthday. The past year has been riddled with unexpected bouts of illness, uncertainty regarding graduate school, and a new romantic relationship. I’ve often told myself that this year was the most challenging in my life, despite family and friends reassuring me otherwise. For the past week, I’ve been listening to “Landslide” on repeat, contemplating the many paths I must choose from. I’ve found comfort, however, in remembering that Stevie was only 25 when she wrote “Landslide.” Dropped from Polydor Records after a failed record, Stevie created “Landslide” out of indecision: Would she appease her parents by finishing college or chase after a music career with Lindsey Buckingham? Stevie chose the latter, living off Hamburger Helper and a waitress’s paycheck until Mick Fleetwood signed the duo a year later.

The last time I saw Stevie Nicks was on her 24 Karat Tour. I left during the middle of “Rhiannon,” a song Stevie claims she’s performed at every concert since its release in 1975. As I scooted around hollering fans, I reasoned that “Landslide” must have been booted in favor of more obscure 80’s recordings. As I opened the door leading to the stairs, however, I heard the first chords to “Landslide,” soon followed by an arena full of cheers. The crowd roared and the reception wasn’t too great. Still, I dialed my father and waited as I listened to the concert from the fire escape.

photo credit: golfnride Stevie Nicksphotopin (license)

Miley Cyrus — “We Can’t Stop”

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After witnessing Miley Cyrus’ intense bout of media spectatorship this past year (centered primarily on a fickle engagement to Liam Hemsworth), one might hope that the Disney alumnus would take the opportunity to defend her openly criticized affairs in her much anticipated summer release.

“We Can’t Stop,” however, not only fails to invoke the personal but also reinforces the same philosophy that jeopardized her career with “Can’t Be Tamed”: conformity. Lines such as “To my homegirls here with the big butts/Shaking it like we at a strip club” and the rampant Red Solo cups littering the single cover capitalize on college party-scene consumers. Despite assertions of a maturing musical direction, “We Can’t Stop” shows Cyrus resorting to targeting the now-collegiate generation that first brought her fame in her Hannah Montana days.

Aligned with the electronic minimalist leanings of her previous album’s cuts, “We Can’t Stop” also offers flashes of the hip-hop promised in Cyrus’ recent CNN interview. Released a year after her country Youtube performances entitled Backyard Sessions, “We Can’t Stop” shows Cyrus swapping intimate performances for generic productions meant to cater to —rather than move— an already loyal fan base.