Archive for Flow

Songwriting Challenge Week 9

Posted in Songwriting, Songwriting Challenge 2012 with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2012 by Gideon K

The last slump is over (for now) and has been replaced by a renewed sense of possibility.

 

I finished an old song I had lying around that I had chords, structure and a melody for, but could never manage to get words for that did it justice. It always felt trite, corny, twee – like a kid with his pants round his ankles.

This time I think I managed to distil a little bit of wine and some suburban country sadness in there. I finished it but I’m still not feeling it. Maybe it was just one of those things where you have to write to get it clear and on with the next thing. Maybe I just left it too long since the initial idea and I’m just a different person now.

 

I tried writing one of the days this week, the day I finished the song in fact, by setting up a mic, picking up the guitar and just trying to play my way through unfinished songs – remembering the memorable lyrics, making up the rest as I went along, going with feel and momentum. It wasn’t exactly 100% gold but it dragged up some interesting stuff. When you’re forced to react, it can be a lot nicer than sitting around scratching your chin for clever lyrics, and when re-examining half-finished older stuff certainly cuts through to which bits are memorable and which are not.

 

I’ve been reading ‘Flow’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and have had a lot of personal thoughts and experiences that fit with what is being said. Just looking at the diagram below has made me realize a few things about how I’ve been approaching music and how to maintain focus.

 

 

Problems arise for one of two reasons:

1)      I’m attempting too many things at once, or something overly ambitious – resulting in anxiety

2)      I set tasks that are not engaging, exciting or challenging enough – resulting in boredom.

 

When challenge and skill are adequately matched, heavens collide and Lord, I am changed.

…and songs get finished.

 

One of the ideas that has been playing heavily on my mind is to do with my not setting specific defined challenges, targets and rules for each song I’ve been working on, which in turn hampers progress because there are too many variables to explore. Not knowing what the goal is, I become anxious about my lack of ability to write and am left bewildered. I need to be clearer with my targets, intentions and so forth.

 

I don’t think as human beings any scenario without rules can be fun or enjoyable or even meaningful to anyone participating within. At least I can’t think of any.

 

There are many ways I can avoid doing either of these things, I just need to remember that when I’m in trouble it is because one of these to extremes is occurring and I must devise some way of resolving it.

 

I’ve also had a cleared a number of blocks I hadn’t noticed. I should’ve taken my own advice earlier given that I’ve already written a post about ‘clearing the deck’.

I’ve been doodling away writing poetry, prose based ramblings these past few months with relatively intense frequency for something I do as and when the mood or idea takes me – like a hobby almost. However, I had neglected to sort them or do the 2nd drafts and editing that is much needed if any of it is to be worthwhile or fit for public consumption.

On attempting a full-scale clear-out and tidy up of this raw stuff I’ve been encouraged that some of the work is decent, or at least there is some seed there and have decided to set aside some time to the honing of this particular craft and attempting to ‘perform’ some of it by putting together a spoken word set.

 

I’m very excited.

 

 

Songwriting Challenge Weeks 5, 6, 7, 8

Posted in Songwriting, Songwriting Challenge 2012 with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2012 by Gideon K

Hello, I’ve been gone a little while but it sure is good to see you again.

Where to begin?

Firstly I suppose I should fess up to the reasons for my lack of posting and keeping pace with my self-imposed deadlines for this challenge.

Apart from having various external constraints such as trying to finish my EP which has been filled with various time-consuming tasks and hassles, the details of which I won’t bore you with, I’ve generally just not been feeling it. I’ve been in a weird blue funk for pretty much the whole of last month without knowing why.

Now, the whole point of the challenge and of writing on command and so forth is to be able to avoid being susceptible to such periods, to maintain consistency and movement regardless of internal weather patterns. Insofar as showing up, working on songs, writing, toying with the word/chord/melody is concerned, I have put the time in. I have shown up, written some songs, finished some, failed to finish others.

I’ve been recording, singing, even played an industry showcase that I’m told went down pretty well, but throughout this whole time I’ve been feeling hollowed out, like I’ve been running on empty.

It’s strange – I had a notion before I started blogging, that doing something online/in public should make you more accountable in some way to keeping track of deadlines etc, but really it got to the point where I just don’t care. The work counts and that’s it. I’m sure if I had people banging at my door or ringing me up demanding how many songs I’d written that day/week/month, my reality might be different, but it’s not like that. This is all primarily dictated by me in the cultural and social vacuum of my own imagination.

The general creative pattern for each of the 4 weeks in question was:

–          An attempt to finish an older song that I’d built up in my mind as important than others and thus ground progress to a halt. Chipped away at said song, but did not get to the finishing stretch.

–          Unrelatedly (and unconsciously) wrote an impulsive quick song about something or other that had been on my mind that week. Had a luke-warm feeling of finishing something, but did not feel impressed by it and did not play with it further to refine it or make something better.

–          Generally felt a bit crap and powerless regarding both my failure to come up trumps, and my lack of mojo or clear vision regarding where the writing is going.

Week 5

Attempted an old song,  then realized why I hadn’t finished it back when I started it. I was approaching the song from a One-dimensional perspective and needed to take it somewhere or let it take me. Dylan refers to a lot of songs of his as having been written because of an image in his head. I had the image in my head, and the memory. I’d just been wrongly interpreting what the image meant. Did not finish that song though.

Week 6

Similar story. I attended a Comedy Improv workshop. One of the many valuable creative tools that was brought up was a game I’m now a huge fan of called ‘Yes, and…’. The idea of it as an exercise is that collaboration works by accepting as a gift anything that your collaborators have to offer (and you can expand this to anything that happens in life), this is the ‘yes’ part. You say ‘yes’ to it, then you say ‘and’ by adding something to the picture, and take turns in doing this.

ie

“Let’s go for a walk”

“Yes, and let’s get some ice cream”

“Yes, and lets go to the park and throw things at the ducks”

“Yes and lets scare little children by making bear sounds at them as they run past…” etc etc

I really clicked and had good creative rapport with a girl I met there. We were chatting online a day or so later and she suggested we write a song. I suggested we do so then and there, so we ended up writing a song in the space of around half an hour – two different versions of the same thing. It was insane fun, although really we need to get together and finish it.

Since reading ‘The Craft and Business of Songwriting’ by John Braheny, I have wanted and tried implementing a ‘No-free zone’ in both my own space and in any group or band spaces I’ve been in, with varying degrees of success or acceptance. I keep trying though.

Week 7

At some point I had the notion of trying to rationalize all the various scribbling I had made during the previous few weeks since completing the last song – a list of all the started songs and worked on numbers, and another list of all the various poems I’ve been writing. The list was not insignificant. It seems I have been very good at catching that initial glimpse of an idea but not developing it all the way.

I have a number of songs that could become finished but I have been worn out. Until I wrote the list down it felt like I had not done very much work at all. My muse knows I haven’t been getting down to the heavy lifting yet but frankly I have been burnt out. I’ve been trying to lavish myself with inspiration but I’ve just been tired – mood swings a plenty, really bitter down-ness and general malaise. It’s strange, because I’ve been reading really good books that I’ve enjoyed, and listening to a lot more music.

Recording the EP I’ve felt exhausted during and before it has been finished, which is not good, but although it has been a struggle, it has gone well.

Week 8

I was not even consciously bothering at this point and decided to have as much of a week off as I could. I went out for dinner 3 or 4 nights that week, watched lots of Twin Peaks episodes, listened to lots of different music, did some exercise, and generally tried to do something else, because nothing was working with me at this point. I was a wound up toy-car bumping into the same wall whichever direction I faced. I wasn’t even sure why. I was very frustrated and most likely a pain to be around. Somehow I still wrote things down and toyed with ideas despite myself.

I’ve said it before, but I don’t find myself motivated too much by the idea of songs for the sake of songs. I want my songs to be useful. Art is a means to an end, or should have an element of that just as much as it exists for it’s own sake. I don’t mean I would write a song to try and clear greenhouse gases or something like that, but celebration, dancing, introspection, are all intentions regarding some of the effects of art. It might be that even with that target in mind, the merits of a song or piece of work might just be that it is enjoyable in and of itself, but I need some ‘higher’ goal to motivate me, and recently this has been somewhat missing. Oscar Wilde might disagree strongly on this point, but I can live with that.

However, I knew this was all part of some sort of growing pain and transition and that more fields of glory lay on the other side of this if I could only get to the bottom of what was not working.

“When problems arise in my life, I know I need to work on my art.” –  I think Julia Cameron said that.

“When problems arise in my art, I know I need to work on my life.” – I said that.

And true enough I turned a corner on all this big blue funk in Week 9….

The Artist’s Way: Week 6

Posted in Creativity, The Artist's Way with tags , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2011 by Gideon K

Slightly later than intended, but it’s been a thoroughly heavy weekend.

Days I did my morning pages: 7/7

A few days in I finished the notebook I started when I began the course and had to start writing in a new one. The new notebook is also A4 paper, but the lines are a lot closer together, so there are far more lines, and thus far more writing is required in order to fill 3 pages worth. I’m fine with this – it feels right to be intensifying the process round about now. I was getting too comfortable with the old way.

However, 2 of the days since I started the new size pages, I only got about one and two thirds of a page done. This is roughly equivalent of 2.5 – 3 pages in my old pad. I wasn’t slacking, I just ran out of time. So I’m going to count them as done anyway. I did the work.

The Check-in asked me how I feel about the pages. I love them. They have become my pathway into stillness and release. I engage with them and play with them and confess to them. Now I’ve had an insight and inspiration regarding how to approach using them. We’ll see what happens.

Artist Date:

Yes, but not in the solitary sense. I met up with my friend Isaac and we worked on some Jazz theory and improvisation for guitar, 2-5-1 changes, which chords A Harmonic Minor Scale works best over etc. It was a good start and great fun.

Also, I’ve just spent the past weekend on a meditation retreat on a farm in Shropshire. That was really something. Not what I expected, because I didn’t have any expectations. I realised a lot about creativity, flow, growth…

I’d never really done any meditation in the ‘sitting still on the floor for half an hour’ kind of way, but it really allowed me to get my head around a lot of the changes that have been taking place in me and around me over the past 6 weeks, and further back than that.

I wrote a whole page in my end of week check-in just on issues that have been important to my recovery. I won’t go into them here because to simply list them out would not really explain them and that would not pass on any useful information to anyone. These things may very well come out in later posts I make and articles I write.

The two main things that I took from the weekend that are tangible and for sharing are:

1)      The idea that had not occurred to me until now, of using the morning pages as canvas for writing songs with, and examining the materials I put into songs.

2)      I became aware for the first time, of the destructive potential that comes with all the increased amount of energy you wield when you are going through creative and spiritual growth. Once you are aware of it, there’s really no choice but to just be more conscious and careful about it. It’s easy to destroy things and show the world what a big cheese you are, but that doesn’t bring you any closer to people and doesn’t make responsible, constructive use of the gift.

I had a strange realisation too regarding the ritual of doing a task again and again, be it meditation, morning pages, songwriting, guitar playing, cooking, anything. When you start writing songs, every one of them seems a unique and separate entity. You pay inordinate amounts of attention to every detail and the songs themselves do not always flow out of you because you are still battling with a degree of perfectionism.

When you are engaged in doing something ritualised and possibly repetitive, it’s important to stick with it because your body and mind eventually start changing things and playing with them, because the creative mind does not tolerate boredom. You realise that if one attempt doesn’t turn out the way you want or go as well as you’d like, it doesn’t matter because each new day, each new moment offers a fresh opportunity to try again.

I’ll try and explain this by example.

Morning pages: You do pretty much the same thing everyday – just write, write, write until you have 3 pages. Fine. Once you’ve been doing it for a week, none of them are a big deal or special, they all just flow together and you realise that they’re all just blank and forgiving canvases to play with. None of it lasts and none of it matters, so you just do whatever you feel like writing in that moment. It doesn’t come out good or bad, it’s just you experimenting and indulging any ideas you have. Your responsibility is merely to be true to the moment and get it down.

Songwriting and all creative work should be the same. You keep showing up. You will never run out of ideas as long as you are engaging with some form of action, because the DOING negates any need for THINKING.

It’s hard to explain, but I realised all processes of doing the same thing over and over, like meditation, prayer, guitar practice are all different ways of achieving the same thing – a state of flow, and being ok with whatever point along the river you are because you are simply moving at your own natural speed. You arrive at a place where there is no right or wrong, no good or bad work, only creation and it all comes out however it wants to come out.

Thus there is a specific merit to any work that requires repeated action of a similar kind, because it provides a solid foundation for you to explore and mess with your own parameters, to experiment freely and discover new things.

Side note: I’m so caught up in the process of this thing and flowing with it that I don’t know if I’m completely losing everyone when I try to convey my thoughts about these things.

Apart from that, it was a treat to spend time in the quiet of the country, breathing fresh air and cow shit, and eating nothing all weekend that had not been grown on the farm. I’ve never tasted tomatoes so good in living recollection. A refreshing experience.

The whole weekend felt like a conclusion to one phase of my life, and the pause before the start of another. Nothing to do with meditation or the content of the weekend itself, but the timing was perfect.

The last few months, even the whole of the past year, my only focus has been on getting some work together in a way which I can actually present to people and say ‘This is my work’, and be proud of it, not feeling bad or unworthy because of hang-ups or bad memories to do with how compromised the work has been due to unfavourable circumstances or environments that aren’t conducive to good results. I now have music that I can play to people and feel proud that it met my expectations, and surpassed them, that I’ve done a good job on them.

My whole persona and focus has now shifted. I’m not as inclined to be closed off and outside from society and the world at large, cocooned in a creative cave and waiting to unleash my pretties into the sky. I’m entering a period of engaging and taking on the world. Of reaching out and sticking my flag on top of the mountain that I’m climbing.

It’s a good feeling.

I’ve also had the inner warnings of the fact that I’m coming up to a point where I may be vulnerable and a target for other people. I actually had a really vivid dream the other night where myself and a couple of my friends that I was with became targets of violence simply because we were so open and unassuming in the way we went about our business, and closed off people didn’t take to us very well. It was strange, but I woke up with what I felt was a clear understanding of where this was coming from.

You get to a certain point with growth where your energy becomes palpable to other people. I’ve had this confirmed via discussion with others this week and while it does not make me want to rethink the whole process or journey, I do know I have to take care of how I receive inevitable criticisms from people, and that I must continue to fastidiously do my pages and check-ins in order to consolidate the breakthroughs and realisations I have, or risk losing them to the wind anytime I receive some kind of attack or blow.

I know this may come across as paranoia, but it’s merely a shift in awareness from merely myself, to how I fit in as myself with other people.

The challenge now is to keep going to the end of the course rather than peter out now that I’ve passed the halfway point.

Lip Service

Posted in Creativity with tags , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2011 by Gideon K

There’s something I have to confess. It’s been bugging me a bit since I started this blog.

I wonder if writing (a blog) about creativity just a way of avoiding actually BEING creative, doing creative things – am I just paying lip service to being creative?

The main thing fuelling this concern is the idea that for every amount of time spent writing a blog post or thinking about a subject related to this, I could and maybe should be spending that time songwriting.

Or more pressingly on some days I concern myself on whether I spend more time talking abut creativity than doing it – not my style

“Between saying and doing many a pair of shoes is worn out.”  – Italian Proverb

If I talk about something, I tend to eventually get it done.

Whether there is something to this way of thought or not, I doubt it’s healthy. The idea that one always has to be doing something constructive, and feeling guilty otherwise – is destructive.

It doesn’t work for me either. Forcing it too much actually stops it from flowing strongly, naturally and freely. It Strangles it. Also neglects other aspects.

For me all the work is in order to create a suitable apparatus for the goods to flow. Setting up a row of dominoes so that you can watch the whole sweep down in a swift wave and enjoy the ride.

This doesn’t really answer my initial question, or does it?

Writing the blog neither adds nor subtracts from my other writing. It’s just additional motion to contend with. It keeps my mind focused on these questions and constantly evaluating my progress output and technique etc.

I also think these doubts or concerns are mostly head noise and the only way to find out anything for yourself is just to do what you feel you should and see where it takes you.
“After all is said and done, a lot more will have been said than done.”  ~Author Unknown


By Way of Introduction…

Posted in Me Oh My with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2011 by Gideon K

Is it possible to put your passions and dreams first, and let the world fall in place behind them?

 

I don’t know the answer. I only have a gut feeling that it is, but it is the way I want to live, and I’m going to give it a try. The alternative stinks, so I’d rather fail at this than succeed at that.

 

Since before I can remember I have always been building something, drawing, making, playing, writing, dreaming… it used to be constructing things out of blocks, furniture, toys, now it’s mostly via words and sounds, guitar and voice rather than water paints or lego, but to me the urge is the same.

 

“There is no delight in owning anything unshared.” – Seneca (Roman philosopher)

 

I get the feeling that there are other people out there who have similar questions I do. I believe thoughts and ideas are meant to be shared, fed back to you via other people so that you can see their true shape. Like bouncing a basketball off a backboard – how it comes back to you can show you the way you are putting it out there. Thus you can change it for the better, and I’m all about getting better.

 

I’m going to be writing about creativity and how my endeavors relate to this. I will be posting my thoughts and ideas, things I have learnt or am trying to figure out. I’m not here to give anyone advice necessarily or tell people what to do, just to tell stories and speak my mind. This is all about exploring and keeping creativity flowing.

 

I’d love to hear passionate, compassionate, well-thought out responses to anything I’ve written. If you agree, disagree, or have anything to share then the comments section is open. I always make time to listen to what others have to say whether I agree or not.

 

I hope you get something out of my blog.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

Gideon K