Sep 112012

(Intro: One of the bigger challenges for a creative person is in trying to keep things fresh. Generating new ideas takes a lot out of you, and when you’re plain tuckered out it’s easy to recycle old stuff or come up with more weak, stale old Pablum. For me, it’s a runnng battle. This week we’ll explore some ideas on keeping it fresh, distilled to 3 graffs.)

Back in the 1970s a graphics artist named Edmund C. Arnold put together the definitive rule book for newspaper and publication layout, Arnold’s Ancient Axioms. It was my textbook for design, and his teachings followed me everywhere I worked. Right from the jump Arnold admitted it’s easy to get caught up in a bunch of rules; his very first Axiom basically said to “take these axioms with a grain of salt.”

Arnold argued that while you won’t go wrong by following the rules of your craft such as grammar or music theory, your work probably won’t excite anyone either.

I’ve seen artists appear to break some of those rules while not actually doing so, like a jazz musician who can make it sound like he’s leaving the chord changes without really leaving the chord changes. That’s risky business, but if you can pull something like that off your audience will definitely pay attention.

Jul 262012

Jazz great John Coltrane had such facility on his instrument and such advanced harmonic thinking that Lee Konitz, one of his contemporaries, suggested Trane practiced 10 hours a day.

Bassist/composer Charles Mingus took his practice a different way. As he progressed he spent less of his practice time actually playing his instrument and more time listening to others play. His reasoning was that physical practice existed mostly to a) build up his stamina, b) improve his facility and speed, and c) increase his muscle memory. Writers may not spend more than a few hours actually putting stuff down on paper or disk, but the best ones read everything in sight.

Your practice should include time when you’re actually doing your work, and immersion time studying the work of artists you admire. Both count as practice; the trick is to find your ratio and to be consistent about it.


Jun 122012

Saying you lack the right tools and/or the right conditions is a weak excuse for not practicing your art.

While all the cool equipment and software helps a writer do his job, it can be done with pencil and paper. Or pocketknife and tree bark. Musicians may need more tools, but when jazz pianist Bud Powell was incarcerated he drew a keyboard on the wall of his cell and practiced on that.

Most of the excuses are just that — excuses.