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In his new memoir, “Possibilities,” Herbie Hancock describes the single most illuminating moment in his jazz career. It came when he was very young, playing keyboard with Miles Davis. During the show, Hancock suddenly played a chord he called, “so wrong” that he was stunned into momentary silence. “But Miles didn’t judge it,” he said in an interview with Jared Bowen. “He paused and played a few notes that suddenly made it work.”

It took years for Hancock to integrate that moment into his personal musicianship—to learn not to judge the work—but it changed everything he did. The concept of going into the unfamiliar in art has fascinated me for a while—I even wrote an awkward analysis of Neil Young’s forays in a post called, The Unexpected Note, when I had even less knowledge of music. But I think the arts are all connected, and we will get to the answers sooner if we take multiple routes.

Hancock later discovered Buddhism as a way to break boundaries in his own thinking that opened up the possibilities of his music—and here, later in his career, he seems to have coalesced his thinking in ways that he can pass on to me people like you and me.

I haven’t read his new memoir, Possibilities, but it goes on my reading list today.

In a series of lectures he gave recently at Harvard on the Ethics of Jazz, Hancock discussed the nature of creativity in the context of his extraordinary career. He has a lot to say verbally as well as musically, so it can take a while to take him in. But it’s extremely articulate and it’s well worth it. Here’s an especially interesting talk he gave on Buddhism and Creativity.

“Buddhism is uncovering and leading a creative life, and in the process, establishing your own story. A common viewpoint holds that one’s destiny is determined by external forces; however, the practice of Buddhism can break through that notion and carve out the kind of life where you’re the author of your book—and not the coauthor, or a character in someone else’s story.”

 

 

It all ties in nicely with the explorations I’ve been doing on the nature of creativity. What is creative? Where is the line and why are we always looking for it? Herbie seems to have gone further and may have small pieces of the big answers. You have to find ways past the predictable, and it doesn’t come from practice. It comes in the little moments where you let go. The mistakes that most of us try to erase or do over may be the most glorious moments in our creative lives.

I’m just entering the world of jazz and beginning to learn all of the emotional/intellectual levels it accesses. So, an afternoon of Herbie Hancock seems like a great way to spend a Sunday.

 

© Copyright 2014 – Arts Enclave.

 

 

Prompts can offer you a lift-off point to write from, a way to free associate without worrying about having to tie it to any ultimate goal. You just take a simple notion and write a few lines or even a page around that one idea. You can start or end with it, use as dialog or work it into exposition. Try the one below and see where it takes you!

Today’s Prompt:  Where did I park the car?

In the writing world, the sentence is sacrosanct, although we tend to take them for granted, because there will be so many of them in our writing lives. But, in the grand scheme of the history of the written word—or in the significantly smaller realm of your own career—does one single sentence matter all that much?

Well, yes. Continue Reading »

This is a literal exercise. The use of color is a powerful tool to convey meaning and mood to the reader without having to come out and say everything. Color influences our perception of everything we experience, and writing is a visual medium in that it creates pictures in the reader’s mind of the story enfolding. Enhancing this picture with color cues can lend a great deal to the narrative, providing psychological and emotional nuance. And, it’s fun to play with.

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Having recently signed with an agent who is now enthusiastically sending my novel, Of Yin and Yang, out to editors, I have a little time to share some of the details of cleaning the up the manuscript. Now that it’s out, I have to trust that what they read is the best of what I could show them. I think I came close, by following a lot of advice I found on various websites added to what I already knew from many years of professional medical writing. Here is a synopsis of what I’ve learned.

Yes, now that you’ve finally finished that book, you have to go back over it again looking for all the things that could be improved. This is the first clean up, and it’s important to showing agents and editors that you are professional. Specifically, you will be looking for:

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Pyramid Lake

A Writer’s Retreat – Photo by Linda Peckel

We all need a quick splash of water in our faces in the morning–think of this as waking your creative spirit!

It’s less than a week since I returned from a writer’s retreat in the Adirondacks, in a place so remote you won’t hear a phone ring or a TV, but you’ll hear the loons call as you drift off to sleep. It was the perfect atmosphere for many of us to reconnect with the words and images in our heads, and we had a number of talented workshop leaders giving us prompts and brief exercises each morning to help us find that overgrown pathway to our own creative attics. By Friday morning, we could all hear the wind blow, and we were writing about moments and memories we rarely thought of.

I discovered that in the past years of finishing a novel (which is different from the early stages of developing it) while doing multiple jobs each week just to pay the bills, I had lost the ability to simply write…

My workshop guide was a wonderfully lyrical poet, writer and editor from the Baltimore Review named Lalita Noronha. Each morning she served us seemingly easy challenges to just respond to a prompt, an idea, or an approach—and to me it felt like riding a bicycle with ice skates through a lake. Despite years and years of writing all kinds of content, copy, and prose, I simply had no idea where to start.

The beauty of these exercises is they are very simple, quick, and they help you find new starting points. If nothing else, you have written something fresh.

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As anyone who has attempted it knows, writing is deceptively hard. It takes mental acuity and acrobatic imagination, organized creativity, and tremendous patience coupled with spontaneous genius. It’s the perfect equation of personality and intelligence finding space over time. And if, by some miracle you do happen to do it—and do it well by your own standards—you want it to be read, preferably by hungry hoards of fans holding out palmfuls of money, dinero, argent or even bitcoins to read your next work.

You want to be sustained by your writing—emotionally and financially—so you can do it some more. So do I.

The secret to reaching this realm is the guidance and support of a literary agent, that Merlin of the publishing world who turns the unread and unappreciated into an author.

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