Thursday, 11 December 2014

exploring creativity

I started this blog on the 29th December, 2009. I don't exactly want to say that I'm closing it down, but I do want to acknowledge that I haven't posted here since October, and haven't posted any personal reflections since the month before that.

I don't really want to write anymore about the mysteries of blocks and process. For now, at least, I don't  want to spend any more time analysing what's going going on, or speculating about what it is that gets in the way. I would really much rather just step over the sleeping policeman in the road and get on with making my art.

I hope the sharing of so much personal struggle has been helpful. That was the idea. Otherwise I could have just written it all in my diary. Perhaps at some unexpected turn in the road I'll want to come back in here and start writing again. It will be something different.

I'm at  and

Have fun. Do your thing, make your stuff. Creativity is the light!


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Monday, 20 October 2014

tricking creativity

Some great ideas here from the Brainpickings site:

Oblique Strategies: Brian Eno’s Prompts for Overcoming Creative Block, Inspired by John Cage

...and also very interesting links at the end of this piece..

These two quotes from the first link above:

'First of all, being creative is not summoning stuff ex nihilo. It’s work, plain and simple — adding something to some other thing or transforming something. In the work that I do, as a writer and a metaphor designer, there’s always a way to get something to do something to do something else. No one talks about work block.
Also, block implies a hydraulic metaphor of thinking. Thoughts flow. Difficulty thinking represents impeded flow. This interoperation also suggests a single channel for that flow. A stopped pipe. A dammed river. If you only have one channel, one conduit, then you’re vulnerable to blockage. Trying to solve creative block, I imagine a kind of psyching Roto-Rootering.
My conceptual scheme is more about the temperature of things: I try to find out what’s hot and start there, even if it may be unrelated to what I need to be working on, and most of the time, that heats up other areas too. You can solve a lot with a new conceptual frame.'

'I don’t believe in writer’s block.
Yes, there may have been days or even weeks at a time when I have not written — even when I may have wanted to — but that doesn’t mean I was blocked. It simply means I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, as I’d like to argue, exactly the right place at the right time.
The creative process has more than one kind of expression. There’s the part you could show in a movie montage — the furious typing or painting or equation solving where the writer, artist, or mathematician accomplishes the output of the creative task. But then there’s also the part that happens invisibly, under the surface. That’s when the senses are perceiving the world, the mind and heart are thrown into some sort of dissonance, and the soul chooses to respond.
That response doesn’t just come out like vomit after a bad meal. There’s not such thing as pure expression. Rather, because we live in a social world with other people whose perceptual apparatus needs to be penetrated with our ideas, we must formulate, strategize, order, and then articulate. It is that last part that is visible as output or progress, but it only represents, at best, 25 percent of the process.
Real creativity transcends time. If you are not producing work, then chances are you have fallen into the infinite space between the ticks of the clock where reality is created. Don’t let some capitalist taskmaster tell you otherwise — even if he happens to be in your own head.'


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

the art of not knowing what you're doing

'Twenty-five years ago when I was a first year PhD student, a friend talked me into attending a creative writing workshop. Since I’d never done anything like that before, I had no prior expectations…but I was totally unprepared for what happened. We were given some topic to write about, I put my pen to the page and I found myself writing a weird fantasy-fairy tale about a comic strip character who was clearly on acid. It was the strangest thing I’d ever seen. 

So many of my clients think that they need to know in advance what their creative work will look like. But when we open up the creative, we don’t know what we’re going to get. By definitioncreativity is about bringing something forth that you haven’t seen before. It’s NEW. You’re not going to KNOW what it is beforehand. 

People get confused about this. They think they need to figure it out ahead of time, have a 5-year plan for how they’re going to complete it (and earn an income from it) and have all their ducks in a row before they begin to write, paint, dance, make music. I get emails that sound something like this, “Every day I think about a written book, so I know it is coming. However, I need clarity in order to bring it into manifestation. I have no idea what the finished piece will look like.”The creative process doesn’t work that way. You're not going to figure it out ahead of time.

I love film director David Lynch’s comment to Terry Gross when she interviewed him on NPR’s Fresh Air a few years ago. She asked him something about his work and he said, “You know Terry, when I’m making a movie, I don’t know what I’m doing.” The sculptor stands in front of his marble slab and the image of what wants to be created is likely already there, but hidden in a dimension that can’t be seen. The sculptor just needs to show up, and intuitively “feel in” to where he’s being led to start carving.

One of the biggest misnomers about creativity is that we need to have clarity about something before we begin. Of course you don’t know what the finished piece will look like. Creativity is about NOT knowing. You aren’t going to know. All you can do is value the creative process enough to allow yourself to be “pulled” by something. Trust that if you devote your love to it, you will be led to a door that you didn’t know existed. Once you open that door, something amazing will come. It always does.'

Kim Hermanson:

Monday, 13 October 2014

top ten tips for being a successful poet

Top ten tips for being a successful poet. from Andrew Motion.

Top 10 tips for being a successful poet

Related Stories

Sir Andrew Motion is an English poet and novelist who was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1999 to 2009.
He has been awarded several poetry awards, including the Arvon Prize, the John Llewelyn Rhys Prize and the Dylan Thomas Prize. He was knighted for his services to literature in 2009.
Here are his top 10 tips for being a successful poet.

1. Let your subject find you

My parents were not writers and they didn't really read very much either. My Dad once told me he had only read half a book in his life. I had a wonderful English teacher called Peter Way. He walked straight into my head, turned all the lights on and he gave me my life really.

Start Quote

If I get stuck I go for a walk or if I don't have much time, I wash my hair - it seems to wake my brain up”
When I was 17, quite soon after I started tinkering around with poems, my mother had a very bad accident, which eventually killed her. So I found myself wanting to express my feelings about that in ways that were relieving to me.
It sounds a slightly self-aggrandising thing to say, but I've always thought that death was my subject. You don't find your subject, it finds you. Writing poems for me is not simply a matter of grieving, though very often it is that, it's wanting to resurrect or preserve or do things that pull against the fact of our mortality.

2. Tap into your own feelings

I never quite believe it when poets say that they're not writing out of their own feelings, and when that is the case, I tend not to be terribly interested in what they're doing.
I don't mean to say that they are writing bad poems, but those aren't the poems that I like most. The poems I most like are where the engine is a very emotional one, where the warmth of strong feeling is very powerfully present in the thing that is being given to us. I think poetry is a rather emotional form and when it isn't that, I'm not very interested in it.

3. Write about subjects that matter to you

I didn't always cope with being commissioned very happily as Poet Laureate to tell the truth. The best poems get written, not by going in the front door of the subject, but round the back or down the chimney or through the window.
Andrew Motion'Reading your poetry out loud is crucial and absolutely indispensable,' says Andrew Motion
'Tell all the truth but tell it slant,' said Emily Dickinson and that's always been a very important remark for me. It can be quite difficult to do that if you're standing in a very public place.
People who live in public, as I very suddenly found myself doing, can get very bruised in the process if they're not used to it. I found all that public stuff extremely difficult to deal with. I never wanted to cut myself off, but wish I had devised better ways of protecting myself.

4. Celebrate the ordinary and be choosy

Honour the miraculousness of the ordinary. What we very badly need to remember is that the things right under our noses are extraordinary, fascinating, irreplaceable, profound and just kind of marvellous.
Look at the things in the foreground and relish stuff that can lose its glow by being familiar. In fact, re-estranging ourselves to familiar things seems to be a very important part of what poetry can do.
If you can, be choosy about what you do, so that the things you do write are the things that you do best.

5. Use everything in your toolbox

Start Quote

Don't go live in an ivory tower, read the newspapers and involve yourself in the world - where do you think subjects come from if not the world?”
I haven't written a rhyming poem now for many years, I seem to have lost my appetite for it but I haven't lost my pleasure in reading them. I think anybody that insists on the presence of rhyme is really not thinking hard enough about what poetry is or can be.
Having said that, it is important to bear in mind that as poets we have a kind of toolbox, in which there are all kinds of different pieces of equipment, not available to any other kind of writer and rhyme is very importantly one of those.
So never to use rhyme in your poetry would be a bit like buying a car and never getting out of second gear. Use everything in your toolbox.

6. If you get stuck, go for a walk or wash your hair

Wordsworth once said that the act of walking was closely related to the creative process. I do love walking and if I get stuck I go for a walk or if I don't have much time, I wash my hair - it seems to wake my brain up!
Even when I'm on a hair washing day, rather than a walking day, I walk up and down my study, just to get myself going.
Poems are so crucially to do with the movement of words through a line or a series of lines, and that is just as important as their shape and the way that we understand them I think.

7. Let your work be open to interpretation

People will interpret your poetry in different ways, but provided the interpretation that is brought to the poem isn't plainly bonkers, I actually enjoy that, I rather hope for it.
Your poem can be a world in which your readers can go and live themselves and seek out things which resonate for them. And it would be completely bonkers of me to try to restrict their reaction.
In Auden's beautiful eulogy for Yeats, he said, 'He became his admirers,' and I think that's kind of what he had in mind actually. You give your work over to your readers and provided they're not crazy, it's absolutely open to them what they find in it.

8. Read your poetry out loud

Andrew MotionAs Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion was called upon to celebrate numerous national events such Remembrance Day at the Imperial War Museum
Reading your poetry out loud is crucial and absolutely indispensable because wherever we reckon the meaning of a poem might lie, we want to admit that it's got as much to do with the noise it makes when we hear it aloud, as it has to do with what the words mean when we see them written down on the page.
In a really fundamental way, I think poetry is an acoustic form and we've slightly forgotten that in the last thousand years. Since the invention of the book, the aliveness of poetry has been perhaps slightly pushed to the edge of things.

9. Find the right time to write

Find your own writing time. Everybody will have a slightly different time of day, I have yet to meet the person who thinks the early afternoon is good, but I expect there is someone out there who thinks that that's a good idea.
For me it's very early in the morning, partly because the house is quiet and partly because I feel I'm stealing a march on things and that makes me feel good.
I think there might be some kind of hook up between what happens in our minds when we're asleep and writing imaginative material. I think good poems get written, as no doubt good paintings get painted, as a result of these two things coming together in an appropriate way.

10.. Read a lot, revise and persevere

Read lots, write lots of course too, but assume that your first thoughts are not your best thoughts, so revise, revise, revise and don't expect every poem to work, because it won't.
Don't go live in an ivory tower, read the newspapers and involve yourself in the world - where do you think subjects come from if not the world?
Persevere. I think right at the beginning of your writing life you really have to accept that within a few years, or possibly even a few months, you are going to be able to wallpaper quite a large room with rejection slips. But don't let that put you off - if you've got it, you've got it!


Saturday, 27 September 2014

how much practice?

How Many Hours a Day Should You Practice?

How much is enough?
Is there such a thing as practicing too much?
Is there an optimal number of hours that one should practice?
What Do Performers Say?
Some of the great artists of the 20th century have shared their thoughts on these questions. I seem to recall reading an interview with Rubinstein years ago, in which he stated that nobody should have to practice more than four hours a day, explaining that if you needed to practice more than four hours a day, you probably weren’t doing it right.
Other great artists have expressed similar sentiments. Violinist Nathan Milstein is said to have once asked his teacher Leopold Auer how many hours a day he should be practicing. Auer responded by saying “Practice with your fingers and you need all day. Practice with your mind and you will do as much in 1 1/2 hours.”
Heifetz also indicated that he never believed in practicing too much, and that excessive practice is “just as bad as practicing too little!” He claimed that he practiced no more than three hours per day on average, and that he didn’t practice at all on Sundays. You know, this is not a bad idea – one of my own teachers, Donald Weilerstein, once suggested that I establish a 24-hour period of time every week where I was not allowed to pick up my instrument.

What Do Psychologists Say?

When it comes to understanding expertise and expert performance, psychologist Dr. K. Anders Ericsson is perhaps the world’s leading authority. His research is the basis for the “ten-year rule” and “10,000-hour rule” which suggest that it requires at least ten years and/or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve an expert level of performance in any given domain – and in the case of musicians, often closer to 25 years in order to attain an elite international level. Note that the real key here is not the amount of practice required (as the exact number of hours is debatable) but the type of practice required to attain an expert level of performance. In other words, just practicing any old way doesn’t cut it.

Mindless Practice

Have you ever listened to someone practice? Have you ever listened to yourself practice, for that matter? Tape yourself practicing for an hour, take a walk through the practice room area at school and eavesdrop on your fellow students, or ask your students to pretend they are at home and watch them practice during a lesson. What do you notice?
You’ll notice that the majority of folks practice rather mindlessly, either engaging in mere repetition (“practice this passage 10 times” or “practice this piece for 30 minutes”) or practicing on autopilot (that’s when we play through the piece until we hear something we don’t like, stop, repeat the passage again until it sounds better, and resume playing through the piece until we hear the next thing we aren’t satisfied with, at which point we begin this whole process over again).
There are three major problems with the mindless method of practicing.

1. It is a waste of time

Why? For one, very little productive learning takes place when we practice this way. This is how we can practice a piece for hours, days, or weeks, and still not feel that we’ve improved all that much. Even worse, you are actually digging yourself a hole by practicing this way, because what this model of practicing does do is strengthen undesirable habits and errors, literally making it more likely that you will screw up more consistently in the future. This makes it more difficult to correct these habits in the future – so you are actually adding to the amount of future practice time you will need in order to eliminate these bad habits and tendencies. I once worked with a saxophone professor who was fond of reminding his students that “Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.”

2. It makes you less confident

In addition, practicing this way actually hurts your confidence, as there is a part of you that realizes you don’t really know how to consistently produce the results you are looking for. Even if you establish a fairly high success rate in the most difficult passages via mindless practice, and find that you can nail it 3 or 4 out of every 5 attempts, your confidence won’t grow much from this. Real on-stage confidence comes from (a) being able to nail it 10 out of 10 tries, (b) knowing that this isn’t a coincidence but that you can do it the correct way on demand, because most importantly (c) you know precisely whyyou nail it or miss it – i.e. you know exactly what you need to do from a technique standpoint in order to play the passage perfectly every time.
You may not be able to play it perfectly every time at first, but this is what repetition is for – to reinforce the correct habits until they are stronger than the bad habits. It’s a little like trying to grow a nice looking lawn. Instead of fighting a never-ending battle against the weeds, your time is better spent trying to cultivate the grass so that over time the grass crowds out the weeds.
And here’s the biggie. We tend to practice unconsciously, and then end up trying to perform consciously – not a great formula for success. Recall from this article that you have a tendency to shift over into hyper-analytical left brain mode when you walk out on stage. Well, if you have done most of your practicing unconsciously, you really don’t know how to play your piece perfectly on demand. When your brain suddenly goes into full-conscious mode, you end up freaking out, because you don’t know what instructions to give your brain.

3. It is tedious and boring

Practicing mindlessly is a chore. Music may be one of the only skill-based activities where practice goals are measured in units of time. We’ve all had teachers who tell us to go home and practice a certain passage x number of times, or to practice x number of hours, right? What we really need are more specific outcome goals – such as, practice this passage until it sounds like _____, or practice this passage until you can figure out how to make it sound like _____.
After all, it doesn’t really matter how much time we spend practicing something – only that we know how to produce the results we want, and can do so consistently, on demand.

Deliberate Practice

So what is deliberate, or mindful practice? Deliberate practice is a systematic and highly structured activity, which is, for lack of a better word, scientific. Instead of mindless trial and error, it is an active and thoughtful process of experimentation with clear goals andhypotheses. Violinist Paul Kantor once said that the practice room should be like a laboratory, where one can freely tinker with different ideas, both musical and technical, to see what combination of ingredients produces the result you are looking for.
Deliberate practice is often slow, and involves repetition of small and very specific sections of your repertoire instead of just playing through (e.g. working on just the opening note of your solo to make sure that it “speaks” exactly the way you want, instead of playing the entire opening phrase).
Deliberate practice involves monitoring one’s performance (in real-time, but also via recordings), continually looking for new ways to improve. This means really listening to what happens, so that you can tell yourself exactly what went wrong. For instance, was the first note note sharp? Flat? Too loud? Too soft? Too harsh? Too short? Too long?
Let’s say that the note was too sharp and too long with not enough of an attack to begin the note. Well, how sharp was it? A little? A lot? How much longer was the note than you wanted it to be? How much more of an attack did you want?
Ok, the note was a little sharp, just a hair too long, and required a much clearer attack in order to be consistent with the marked articulation and dynamics. So, why was the note sharp? What did you do? What do you need to do to make sure the note is perfectly in tune every time? How do you ensure that the length is just as you want it to be, and how do you get a consistently clean and clear attack to begin the note so it begins in the right character?
Now, let’s imagine you recorded all of this and could listen to how this last attempt sounded. Does that combination of ingredients give you the desired result? In other words, does that combination of ingredients convey the mood or character you want to communicate to the listener as effectively as you thought it would?
Few musicians take the time to stop, analyze what went wrong, why it happened, and howthey can correct the error permanently.

How Many Hours a Day Should I Practice?

You will find that deliberate practice is very draining, given the tremendous amount of energy required to keep one’s full attentional resources on the task at hand. Practicing more than one hour at a time is likely to be unproductive and in all honesty, probably not even mentally or emotionally possible. Even the most dedicated individuals will find it difficult to practice more than four hours a day.
Studies have varied the length of daily practice from 1 hour to 8 hours, and the results suggest that there is often little benefit from practicing more than 4 hours per day, and that gains actually begin to decline after the 2-hour mark.  The key is to keep tabs on the level of concentration you are able to sustain.

5 Keys For More Effective Practice

1. Duration

Keep practice sessions limited to a duration that allows you to stay focused. This may be as short as 10-20 minutes for younger students, and as long as 45-60 minutes for older individuals.

2. Timing

Keep track of times during the day when you tend to have the most energy. This may be first thing in the morning, or right before lunch, etc. Try to do your practicing during these naturally productive periods as these are the times at which you will be able to focus and think most clearly.

3. Goals

Try using a practice notebook. Keep track of your practice goals and what you discover during your practice sessions. The key to getting into the “zone” when practicing is to be constantly striving to have clarity of intention. In other words, to have a clear idea of the sound you want to produce, or particular phrasing you’d like to try, or specific articulation, intonation, etc. that you’d like to be able to execute consistently.
When you figure something out, write it down. As I practiced more mindfully, I began learning so much during practice sessions that if I didn’t write everything down, I’d forget.

4. Smarter, not harder

Sometimes if a particular passage is not coming out the way we want it to, it just means we need to practice more. There are also times, however, when we don’t need to practice harder, but need an altogether different strategy or technique.
I remember struggling with the left-hand pizzicato variation in Paganini’s 24th Caprice. I was getting frustrated and kept trying harder and harder to make the notes speak, but all I got was sore fingers, a couple of which actually started to bleed. I realized that there had to be a smarter, more effective way to accomplish my goal.
Instead of stubbornly keeping at a strategy or technique that wasn’t working for me, I forced myself to stop practicing this section altogether. I tried to brainstorm different solutions to the problem for a day or so, and wrote down ideas to try as they occurred to me. When I felt that I came up with some promising solutions, I just started experimenting. I eventually came up with a solution that I worked on over the next week or so, and when I played the caprice for my teacher, he actually asked me how I made the notes speak so clearly!

5. Problem-solving model

Consider this 6-step general problem-solving model summarized below (adapted from various problem solving processes online).
  1. Define the problem (what do I want this note/phrase to sound like?)
  2. Analyze the problem (what is causing it to sound like this?)
  3. Identify potential solutions (what can I tweak to make it sound more like I want?)
  4. Test the potential solutions to select the most effective one (what tweaks seem to work best?)
  5. Implement the best solution (make these changes permanent)
  6. Monitor implementation (do these changes continue to produce the results I’m looking for?)
Or simpler yet, check out this model from Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code.
  1. Pick a target
  2. Reach for it
  3. Evaluate the gap between the target and the reach
  4. Return to step one
It doesn’t matter if we are talking about perfecting technique, or experimenting with different musical ideas. Any model which encourages smarter, more systematic, active thought, and clearly articulated goals will help cut down on wasted, ineffective practice time.
After all, who wants to spend all day in the practice room? Get in, get stuff done, and get out!
UPDATE: Think all of this only relates to classical music? Jazz aficionados, check out this post on practicing effectively written by acclaimed jazz violinist Christian Howes for a helpful perspective and tips on practicing in jazz. Funnily enough, we were in Suzuki together back in Columbus, OH as kids.
UPDATE #2: Came across this thoughtful post on deliberate practice written by an astute young cellist at Northwestern University.
UPDATE #3: And an excellent, thought-provoking piece on deliberate practice for folks in business and other non-musical fields (and a fascinating blog besides).


Monday, 15 September 2014

After the third Discipline of Freedom workshop


The half turn of your face 
toward truth
is the one movement
you will not make.

After all,
having seen it

you wouldn’t want
to take that
path again,

and have to greet yourself
as you are
and tell yourself
what it was like
to have come so far
and all in vain.

But most of all
to remember
how it felt again
to see
in your own mirror,
the lines
of abandonment
and loss.

And have those words spoken
inviting you back,
the ones you used to say,
the ones you loved
when your body was young
and you trusted
everything you wanted.

Hard to look,
but you know it has to happen
that it takes
only the half turn of your face
to scare yourself
to the core.

Seeing again
that strange resolve
in your new reflection.

From RIVER FLOW: New and Selected Poems
© David Whyte and Many Rivers Press



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...