I recently finished reading Parker Palmer’s The Active Life. I read it as part of my morning devotions for the better part of two weeks. It is a fascinating book–very reflective and thought provoking. Palmer and I agree on many things, and disagree on some, but the conversation he stirs inside of me as I read him is what is most valuable.
One particular paragraph he wrote (p. 9) struck a nerve with me because I like to think of myself as a creative person. It was so interesting, I thought I’d share it with you.
Creativity . . . is driven more by inner choice than by outer demand. An act cannot be creative if it is not born of freedom. In creative action, our desire is not to ‘solve’ or ‘succeed’ or ‘survive’ but to give birth to something new; we want, for a while, to be less creaturely and more like the creator. If work reveals something of our bondage to the world, creativity reveals something of how we transcend it–and that fact gives rise to the dilemmas of creativity.
I’ve had several exchanges with folks on the twitterverse and interwebs lately about their writing playlist. I’ve come to the conclusion that music, and what kind of music, helps me write.
The most important thing about a writing playlist is that it should be something I’m familiar with. If my mind is focusing on the music or the lyrics, then my mind is not engaged in the work of writing. That is why streaming music or listening to NPR doesn’t work for me when writing. It has to be older stuff I’ve heard a million times. So here goes some of my writing playlists.
Dialogue (generic)–Something instrumental. For generic dialogue I don’t need words in my mind as I’m trying to find out what my characters are saying to each other. I don’t want my characters quoting George Jones or Jimi Hendrix. Classical is okay, but so too is blues and jazz. Green Onions by Booker T. & The M.G.’s is excellent to just loop over and over until the scene is written. Yo-Yo Ma is great for this too.
Dialogue (intense/arguing)–Church hymns. I don’t know why, but something about church music makes me think about arguing. Let the reader understand.
Dialogue (internal)–When I am thinking about what another person is thinking there is only one authority: Johnny Cash.
Theological Themes--Pastor Butch Gregory stories always have theological themes, and for that I need to listen to Rich Mullins.
Dream Sequences/Flashbacks–Norah Jones, because she just sounds so dreamy.
Crime/Violence–I’ve got a playlist I call “War/Spy” that has a heavy dose of Talking Heads, James Bond theme songs, Blondie, U2, Hall and Oates, and Mumford and Sons. I know that doesn’t make a lot of since genre wise, but it does to me.
Fight Scenes–Guns-N-Roses. It is important to know where you are. You’re in the jungle baby.
Travel Scenes–I’ve found that my characters seem to always be traveling somewhere, and when they do, Led Zeppelin Rambles along.
Plot Development–Frank Sinatra. I’ve got him under my skin.
Romantic Scenes–I don’t put a lot of romance in my books, but when I do, I prefer Cole Porter.
Techno–While writing sci-fi, sometimes I need to describe technological things which may or may not be real, but which are technological. There are two groups that help me with this. One is R.E.M. I mean, Michael Stipe may actually be a character from a sci-fi novel. The other is ZZ Top. In my universe(s), all megalomaniac evil scientists wear cheap sunglasses.
When In Doubt–Sometimes you don’t know what is going to flow out of the fingertips, and when that happens I hit an 80s mix. Duran Duran always gets the creative reflex going.
There are a lot of other artists and genre’s I listen to, but these are the ones that most often find their way into my ear bud while writing. I’d be interested to know what you listen to when you write.
images from therecordingrevolution.com and aleim.com
I had a missing-time experience this morning so I decided to take advantage of it. No, not an alien abduction kind of missing time, but the other kind of missing-time. Someone I was supposed to be seeing was suddenly unavailable and I had a hole in my schedule. I took advantage of this hole and did something I used to do a lot but haven’t done in very long while. I went to a local coffee bar, ordered my favorite caffeinated beverage (cinnamon dolce latte skinny extra hot), made small talk with the newbie barista—who did a great job, by the way on the drink—and sat at the little bar on the stool and worked in a very non-hurry-up-lets-go way.
It was great.
The first thing I did was finish the last few pages of my Sherlock Holmes novel. It was nice. Then I opened my laptop and wrote a whole long section for the sermon I’m preaching in three weeks on marriage. It is a part of my sermon series on “doubt” and the theme is the doubts many people have today about marriage. As a side note, I finished that sermon just a few moments ago, will edit it tomorrow and will officially be caught up in the sermonizing category. For me caught up is three weeks ahead.
Then, I sat and daydreamed about what I would like to see happen in our church and ministry between now and the end of the year. I used to daydream a lot about ‘how it could be’ but I’ve not lately. There have been many reasons for this, but I know I need to do it more. Creativity comes from contemplation.
As I thought I brainstormed such things as church plants in the area, increased presence in the community, how to improve our children’s ministry, and how I might want to tweak my sermonizing. I also spent some time reflecting upon the Easter weekend. Attendance on Sunday was very good. Good Friday was a bust, though. We had too many doughnuts leftover, but that might be because somehow they were far away from where the people were.
The coffee bar lounge was very crowded. Almost every seat in the place was filled. To my left sat a woman, about my age, who kept alternately reading a novel and writing notes in a spiral notebook. She must be studying, but she looked far too old to be a student, and the book she was reading looked like something you pick up in line at the grocery store. Maybe she is studying to be a writer?
To my left were a father and mother with a little boy in between them. That little boy must have been about 4. He talked the entire time. Non-stop. It was a thing of beauty. What made me sad was that all his questions were directed toward his father, not his mother. Daddy answered all of his question with short, one syllable answers. Daddy was more interested in his USA Today and his cell phone than he was his son. Have I ever been that guy with my daughters? Yes. Lord forgive me.
Behind me was two different tables filled with middle-aged women. At both tables the main topic was church. I got the definite impression it was not a small group or accountability group or a fellowship group. It was a “these are the things we don’t like about our church” group. At first I was thankful that these folks were not from my church, but then I realized two things. First, since the body of Christ is so intrinsically connected, all believers are a part of ‘my church.’ Second, my church people were probably in another coffee place, or perhaps they would be here tomorrow.
These uncomfortable thoughts made me remember why I needed to spend time in the coffee bar more often. It connects me to reality—to where people really are—foibles, faults, and phobias. Somewhere in the gossiping church women, the neurotic note taking woman, and the coming adolescent son-father train wreck was where most of us live. When I preach, these are the kinds of people who are hearing.
I opened my laptop and made some revisions to my sermon.