From the Desk Remix! – Bach and Creativity.

Earlier this evening I was watching an online concert (if the link becomes available I will post it!) focusing on J.S. Bach.

Johann Sebastian Bach has been one of my musical/creative heroes ever since I bought a cassette tape (you may have to search-engine that, depending on your age!) of his Concertos for Two Harpsichords. I purchased it because I had read that he was influenced by Antonio Vivaldi, another hero.

The concert involved a cello player, a violinist, and a composer.

The Violinist, Jonny Gandelsman, has recorded Bach’s solo cello suites on a five-string violin.

The concert was part music and part conversation about the differences which came to the music with the differing instruments and how Bach wrote the pieces.

It brought to mind the documentary of the ‘Addictive Sketcher’ Adebanji Alade attempting to recreate the painting of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, using the artist’s original techniques. At one point he had to decide whether to complete his version in its current state, with yellowed varnish, or choose the original paint colour which had been revealed in a studio version. In the end he chose to paint the figure of Lisa in her current colours but the background in the original colours.

Unsurprisingly, in these two examples, the creatives involved spoke about the learning which had occured as they moved through this process of working closely with works of Bach and Da Vinci. Both genuises have had an unrivalled impact across the creative spectrum, let alone in the field of their specific endeavours.

I think the ‘Pandemic Period’ has provided an uncommon time creatively. Individual endeavours and collaborations, in ways which would not have happened previously, have caused us to push at the boundaries of our art. There has been a space and a mindset to look again at our preconceived notions and experiment and learn again.

Being innovative isn’t necessarily about creating ‘new’ but can be taking the old and applying it to the new we already have.

What happens if you paint a Hopper image in the style of Van Gogh, or even Mondrian?

The classical music world is well ahead of other creative fields in arranging contemporary music into a ‘classical’ style, and a number of Rock musicians have played the works of Bach, Paganini, Vivaldi, for years.

In your area of creativity, which old masters can you revisit, or which ways can you reinterpret the new or the old?

Daily Verse – Struggle.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:12 NIVUK

In this verse the Apostle Paul is teaching, and reminding, believers that our world and lives are more complicated than we think.

Before becoming believers we were purely physical beings and existed in a world of physical situations and challenges.

Now, as believers, we have had the spiritual connection, which Adam and Eve originally possessed, put back into place through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

This spiritual ‘refit’ brings us to a new life but a life which also has it’s own unique set of circumstances.

When I read through this verse this morning I got stuck on the ‘struggle’.

The Greek word used is palé and occurs only in this verse in the whole of the New Testament.

Translated mostly as ‘struggle’ it derives from the word ‘pallo’ which means wrestling or to wrestle.

Often our struggles are very much like a wrestling match. We are in the grip of an issue or problem and we are trying to pull away or overpower the ‘thing’.

I am reminded again of the story of Jacob wrestling the Angel of the Lord, mentioned in yesterday’s Daily Verse.

Jacob saw and understood our lives/world is much more complicated than we often care to consider.

We can struggle creatively as well.

Creativity is a mental and physical experience.

Even creatives who are not believers will refer to their practice as often being a spiritual process.

Recognising and making connection with the spiritual can still mean we struggle or wrestle – with doubts, with processes, with realising that physical form of the mental idea.

If we wrestle like Jacob we will become stronger in our spiritual lives and creative practices.

Daily Verse – Gladness and Singing.

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Psalms 100:2 NIVUK

The Hebrew word translated here as ‘worship’ – ‘iḇ·ḏū – is more correctly ‘to serve’ – to be linked together in a close bond.

We are to be bonded to serve God with gladness – bə·śim·ḥāh – with pleasure, rejoicing, joyfulness.

King David was a singer and musician, so it is natural that he wrote that we should sing – bir·nā·nāh a joyful voice – to the Lord but I think we can bring to God any of our gifts.

All of our creativity can be offered in joy and service.

When you paint, when you write, when you dance or, like David, when you sing and create music, think of it all as praise and service to God.

Whatever we bring to the Lord let us do it with gladness.

Busy = Lose + Heart.

In Japanese writing the character for ‘busy’ includes the characters for ‘lose’ and ‘heart’.

To be busy is literally to lose heart.

In western society busy has come to mean working hard, becoming successful, going places.

Busy also means stressed, rushed, no time to think.

For creative people ‘busy’ can still mean working in our creative spheres but we could be losing touch with our creativity itself.

We can rush through a chapter in our novels, get another canvas started or finished, blaze through our instrumental practice.

Stuff may get done, but we may have lost our heart connection to it.

Being creative is a whole mind and body action.

It is physical action. It is mental concentration. It is an emotional effort.

Don’t be ‘busy’ or your creativity will suffer.

If you are busy then take a time-out.

Fresh air, coffee, tea, birdsong, a short walk, a shower – whatever you need to do to hit reset.

Remember your heart is in all of your creativity.

Creative Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the new mantra covering a lot of areas from simple meditation to a mental health checklist.

Some meditation and mindfulness techniques exhort you to think of ‘nothing’.

Hit the eco-setting, dim the screen, go to a blank screen rather than screensaver.

If you are a creative then this is probably impossible.

If you have managed it, I would argue that it may not benefit you.

Being creative is who you are and not a menu-setting.

Imagine asking a dancer not to move their body whilst you play a piece of music – they would probably cause you of being cruel.

Whether you are a writer, musician, or artist, you are tuned to be creative.

It is how you respond to your environment. It is how you communicate. It is you.

So, rather than emptying your mind, sit for a short period and reflect upon your creativity.

What are you happy about in your output? What are you finding difficult? What are you being drawn to which is new?

Afterwards, write down the strongest thought which came to you.

Pursue it.

Be creative with it.

Create.

Daily Verse – 1 Peter 4:10

https://my.bible.com/en-GB/bible/113/1PE.4.10.NIVUK

Interestingly in the Greek Interlinear text of this passage, the phrase ‘from his great variety of spiritual gifts’ does not appear. This is clearly an addition by the translators to further inform on the meaning of the passage.

The more straight forward Interlinear ‘(as) each has received a gift’ is much more inclusive than the addition of spiritual gifts.

You can read of specific spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 13, and no doubt your ‘gift’ may be part or inclusive of these.

Yet there is a difference.

Your gift maybe of conversation or hospitality, music or poetry, confidence or encouragement, teaching or listening, art or craft.

God’s Spirit will be abundantly clear in all of these, no doubt, and they are your gifts to use in service of others, reflecting God’s ‘manifold grace’.

The word gift is charisma occurs 8 times in the N.T. and is always translated as gift, ‘free from God’ and only once in Romans 8:1 as ‘spiritual gift’.

You all have at least one gift from God, which brings something positive to others.

What’s yours?

What Would You Do With 47% Extra Time?

A study, led by Harvard, claims that an average ‘knowledge’ worker works in a state of distraction for 47% of their time.

Flip this around.

By being more focused they could accomplish the same amount of work in half the time.

Or potentially double their output.

Just because we are ‘creatives’ it doesn’t mean we don’t get distracted, or it doesn’t matter if we are distracted.

So how effectively can you focus?

Remember that multi-tasking is a myth – your brain focuses on each task by rapid switching, so you only ever do one task at a time.

Phone messages. Phone calls. Social Media. Changing the tunes. Not being clear on the task you will execute in a defined period of time. Not being prepared with everything you need for that task.

Any improvement in your habits or discipline, which impact that 47%, will result in a significant improvement.

Professional cycling team Ineos – formally Team Sky – are as famous for their 1% rule as they are their Tour de France victories.

Try and improve everything you do by 1%.

Over time those 1%s add up to something incredible.

  • Prepare properly – have everything you need where you need it.
  • Schedule specific tasks in your calendar and put a time limit on it.
  • Use a timer to keep you on track.
  • Limit the amount of time you need to switch away from your task – if you are hinting for 90mins don’t have a playlist which only lasts 55mins, for example.

You can Log/Record what you do in the time you devote to your creative endeavours, to see how personally bad the problem is for you. Every time you stop doing your intended task make a quick written or voice note.

Review it and do what you can to delete those clear distractions. See how much of that 47% you can gain back.

(The distraction of keeping the log doesn’t count!).

It is okay not to finish (at the moment).

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Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I am sure I’m not alone in this.

Sometimes you just can’t finish a project.

You hit a wall. You lose the thread. A character doesn’t follow the plot line you have carefully constructed for them.

I’m sure it happens to artists and musicians also.

As a writer you normally do two things.

First, you give up; thus proving that you probably aren’t really good enough to be a writer after all. Second, you become belligerent and try and force the character, or plot, into fitting into the shape you created for it.

I’ve done both.

But, more recently, I’ve been learning there is a third way.

And it is easier than the other two.

You just close the notebook or electronic file and open up a new one.

Then, every now and again, let your creative mind wander back to the project and see if anything new occurs to you.

Let me give you an example.

I will call the project White Ladder.

White Ladder started with an image of two old men talking in a room one evening. They see a news clip of a new movie actress wowing audiences. It turns out that one of the men knew her mother.

That image and about 400 words, of mostly dialogue, was over 20 years ago.

It just never got past that initial stage.

A couple of years ago I heard a radio programme which focused on particular musicians and their defining albums. They played some of the songs and talked about the inspirations and processes of making the albums.

The one I listened to was David Gray, talking about his album White Ladder.

Suddenly that image of the two men talking came back to me and a variation on the theme started to form, energised by the words and mood of David Gray’s album.

The plot line was now dictated by the titles of each of the tracks on the album and the mood set by, often, just one line of the lyrics.

I don’t usually plan. I am a pantser by trade.

A couple of weeks of looking back at the plot line then led me to open up a project on Scrivener and start putting words on the page.

74,428 words later I stalled. I was at the three-quarters finished stage.

The two main characters had not followed the plot line and were all out refusing to do so.

I huffed and puffed and threatened to delete them, but they knew I was bluffing. So I gave them the cold shoulder for about six weeks. It turned out they were more patient than me.

So I took a key idea from within the project and tried to write the story from that perspective instead.

That was good for 34,149 words. Then the plot line decided not to follow the original plot I had carefully conceived. The two main characters waited patiently on the street they were walking, looking at me, waiting for me to make a decision.

I now had the word count of a full length novel, but three-quarters and one-quarter of the same story in two versions.

Dust gathered on both versions. Apart from reworking the whole plot into a series of ten short stories, telling the story from the perspectives of different characters.

I think I got that idea from Patrick Gale and his fantastic book Notes from an Exhibition.

Dust still gathers.

I know this story will be finished, because it keeps tapping on the door of my creative studio, reminding me that it is still there.

But in not finishing White Ladder (yet!) I have learnt a lot.

I have learnt that one simple scene will eventually become a full story if you wait long enough.

I have devised a story plot three different ways.

I have 108,000+ words of writing practice, which will eventually be a finished novel.

I have learnt to be patient with myself.

I haven’t failed because the book isn’t completed.

It’s okay not to finish – for the moment!

 

Creativity on the Clock.

Photo by Tristan Gassert on Unsplash
Photo by <a href=”http://Tristan Gassert on Unsplash

Normal is no longer ‘normal’.

The rules have changed.

All those books, videos, and articles, telling us how to streamline our days to gain us that often small precious window of time to achieve our creative endeavours, are now a thing of the past.

Why?

Because we all suddenly have gained lots of extra time.

Commuting time. Coffee break and lunch time, where most of us probably still sat at our desks and worked. Outside the house hobby and sport time.

You can make your own list.

Instead we have the pressure to create because we have all of this ‘time to create’ time.

It turns out that having all the time we need is just as paralysing as not having enough time for our creative endeavours.

So what’s the solution?

For me, I went on the clock.

Some of you might remember going to work and having to ‘clock in’?

You had a card and you put it in the machine and your name and time ended up on a little printed receipt roll, which told the office that you had turned up on time, worked your day (when you clocked out) so they should pay you your full daily amount.

My own version of this has been to set a count down timer for fifteen minutes.

I clock in – press start.

Then stop when Chewbacca roars at me.

It doesn’t sound much, does it?

Fifteen minutes.

But with this timer I’m hitting an average of 440 words in that fifteen minutes and this includes ‘thinking time’, as I am generally a ‘pantser’ when I write fiction.

Two fifteen minute sessions and I am almost hitting my minimum 1000 word target a day.

Why did I choose 15 minutes?

Two reasons.

I realised that I often wrote as much in 15-20 minutes as I sometimes did in an hour!

And, I could not possibly find an excuse not to write for fifteen minutes if/when our new normal goes back to the old normal.

Try it for yourselves.

Set a timer for whatever period works best for your type of creativity.

It might be a 30 minutes session if you are a musician? An hour session if you paint.

Remember you can do multiples!

Experiment.

Clock in and clock out.

Let me know how you get on with it.

 

 

Day 464 – A List of Recommendations.

Pre-amble:

It has been a day of sunshine and torrential downpour during a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon.

The sunshine was still warm but – it seems – typically for August – well hidden by cloudy masses, but for the brief periods it did emerge it was glorious. I have really noticed that the light has changed over the last couple of weeks and it seems significantly weaker, indicating the quick changing of the seasons.

The torrential downpour – including hailstones – was spent under a canopy of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. I mused briefly if they were trying out new special effects for a performance of Macbeth. We soon made quite a large and disparate group of shelter-seekers and I genuinely felt sorry for a young woman who made her way over, just as we were thinking it was safe to head out, who looked like she had just dived in the river, and was wringing out her jumper in a resigned shrugging of her shoulders.

The Recommendations:

Sitting outside Holy Trinity Church, I finished reading Where the Wild Winds Are by Nick Hunt. I mentioned this book back in Day 446. It is well written and blends travelogue with cultural history. Definitely worth a read.

Before we left for Stratford I listened to a couple of great radio programmes – apologies in advance if you can’t access them outside of the UK.

The first was The Early Music Show focusing on Bach’s Orchestral Suites. J.S. Back is my musical hero/legend so this was an easy listen, but the information and different recordings used to illustrate the history of these suites was awesome. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b08c2n8h

The second programme was Soul Music and focused on telling the story of the South African hymn/anthem Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Inspired by a tune from a Welsh hymn writer, through the Apartheid struggles, and into Nelson Mandela’s vision of a united South Africa, this programme tells the whole incredible story. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b06qjtqs