Friday, January 22, 2010

Writing without Music

I've enjoyed reading everyone's posts on the topic of music. I am a portrait of contradictions. I love music in the car, music at home, music at church, music at work, music at parties—you get the idea. But… I don’t like music while I write.

Why no music?
I really don’t know why I ban music from my writing sessions. It’s not a rebellious streak or an effort to go against the grain. I just get so easily distracted, and can’t write with “noise” in the room. And that’s weird since I’m fine with having music playing while I’m at work, which involves writing.

But for me, creative writing is an entirely different kind of work. For me, it’s hard. I don’t know if that’s a bad sign about my writing future, but with the exception of a few pieces that seemed to create themselves with me only there as a scribe (which pieces I was a lot less impressed with upon further review), I usually have to toil for what I write. It feels like it takes every spare cell of my brain. My theory, then, is that I don’t have enough brain space left to process music or anything else. I think this theory also explains why I can’t write with anyone else in the room—even anyone else in the house sometimes. I have a hard time writing at a park or library for that matter because of all the conversations and interactions all around me. Odd, but I guess at least I recognize my process.

The Solitary Plight
Maybe I’ll get more comfortable with writing and my process over the years. Maybe down the road I’ll expand my mind and better learn to multi-task so I can handle some lyric-less music as I write. But if not, I’m okay accepting writing as a solo-mission… and a silent one at that.

P.s. – Check out this very revealing article on the process of many of our generation’s most acclaimed writers.

Afterword: Writing as My Calling

We’ve had great conversations about callings and giftings this month. We’ve made interesting distinctions, and I’m going to add to the mix: “purpose.” For me, calling becomes another way of saying how God is beckoning me to understand the purpose my life should take in fulfilling God’s plan (or “will” if we want to get entangled in another term requiring distinctions). In my case I’ve had a distinct moment of spiritual calling, actually a few of them, and unlike in earlier points in my life, I now am doing what I was born to do—term it a calling or my life’s purpose or God’s will or maybe something else entirely. But... when it comes to writing, it gets complicated.

While more an author of popular fiction than serious fiction, Jan Karon explores the concept of writing as a calling in this article.

I talked about the issue of exploring my calling in my last post (if I can just use calling in the sense of what I feel I’m to do with my life—talent, time, and treasure). To sum it up, I do feel a calling to write, but my primary calling is to teach, so I’ve had a hard time balancing the two. But I believe we go through seasons, and I’m entering a season where I feel God is calling me more urgently to write than over the last few years where I’ve done little. In a time of consecration last week when seeking direction on how much I need to push in the direction of writing, a minister said in 2 separate services that God was calling someone to write (only the second & third times I’ve ever heard that from the pulpit), and I connected with that and am pursuing it.

As I said with music, I’m not very good at multi-tasking. It is a challenge for me to balance and prioritize my gifts/calling as a teacher and my gifts/calling as a writer. It takes sacrifice. Stephen King in his writing memoir claims that anyone who calls himself a writer should get in 4 to 6 hours of writing a day. He did this even when he was working full-time before his writing career took off. That challenges me because I’m not even disciplined yet to the act of writing 4 to 6 minutes a day. But with fledgling determination—not reluctance but the painful awareness of the work required—I’m committing this year to more deeply heeding the call to write.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Writing to Music?

Most people go nuts about music. I don’t.

That makes it tough to be a Pentecostal sometimes, where 30 minute song services aren’t unusual. My beloved Mamaw was a “2-songs-and-done” Pentecostal, and I inherited her genes. It appears my son has as well. (We’re definitely an overlooked minority within the movement.) I’d much rather church service time were filled with a Scripture reading or sermonette than another congregational song, but that’ll never happen in my lifetime.

Not that I don’t enjoy music. I do. It’s just not the center of my life or my writing.

That said, if I find myself surfing the net or answering every email I’ve been avoiding for months instead of writing, I’ll often click on some jazz (John Coltrane, Charlie Parker) or a symphony (I like all the usual biggies) so that the music will push me into creativity. It often does. When I stop noticing it is when I’ve found my writing groove.

Music with lyrics is verboten however, unless I’ve immersed myself within the album for so long that the lyrics and music have merged in my mind. Otherwise, “the words” become an obstruction I can’t write through or around. (This doesn’t include the background tinkling at the book superstores I often write in, perhaps because they’re too distant or screened by the noise within the cafĂ©.)

When I edit articles or lessons, I often go with my mood, be it loud and bangy or soft and soulful. If you examined my laptop’s Windows Media Player, you might be awed by its breadth and depth, but don’t be deceived. Along with my Christian selections, I reserve (free! from the local library!) almost everything in iTunes weekly Top 10 so I know what our youth group is listening to. Some I’ll listen to once and delete. Some I’ll listen to over and over. Either way, it’s an easy way to stay current.

The truth is, I don’t own an iPod. I don’t need a soundtrack to my life. I go nuts over writing and reading stories. Most people don’t.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Appendix A: Painting a Poem

Faithful reader David pointed out a cool collaboration: Painter Joe Pearce encapsulated a poem into a painting. It's a nice piece worth viewing/reading.

Know of anything else like it happening in Pentecost?

Also: Calvin College's Festival of Faith & Writing's early registration period ends January 31 (but includes a free manuscript submission/review), after thaat you pay full registration.

Also (Part Deux): The Iowa Summer Writing Festival's 2010 early schedule arrived in my mailbox yesterday. It's supposed to be on the web soon. Get on their mailing list for the full catalog if you're serious about burnishing your craft.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Appendix B: Resolutions & Reviews

Well I was on deadline for a book review to a religious magazine tonight, so I will post more later. The book was Oprah's latest pick, Say You're One of Them by Nigerian Jesuit Uwem Akpan. He does a good job incorporating faith, belief, and reality in 4 of the 5 stories. It's worth a read.

He's got a new short story called "Baptizing the Gun" in the January 4 issue of the New Yorker. It is the latest example of a secular publication publishing a religious-based story. (There's evidence everywhere of this.)

Finally, getting that review in (I can't say where until it is published) was one of my writing goals for 2010. I'm gonna have to scrounge up at least 2 more reviews/articles in 2010 before I fill that part of the 2010 checklist. (On the other hand, I've got a Dec 2009 article in Missouri Life, with the related web feature here. But that doesn't count toward my goals.)

How are you doing on your 2010 writing goals?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Is Writing My Calling?

Greetings from the ridiculously cold land of France. At least right now. Alabama weather has spoiled me rotten, as they say, so this is going to take some getting used to. Since I got here on Monday, it has snowed every single day since. I'll be here for 6 whole months. I have a hopeful hypothesis of a direct relationship between the temperature and the level of my French before I leave.

Now to the matter at hand. Before I begin, I must mention that I was extremely impressed and enlightened by Marjorie's delineating calling vs. gifting last week. If I may, I would like to springboard from her ideas to talk about calling and writing.

What is my calling?
That's been a question that I'd struggled with for a while. I guess I always had this notion that a "calling" is this specific, grand thing that is supposed to be revealed to you in a moment of spiritual epiphany. I've heard many a fervent testimony about how when something spiritual happened or somebody said some special meaningful (but unbeknownst to the person who said it) thing to them, then the testifier knew that God was calling them to X. That has never happened to me, so I've always been wondering when that magic moment would happen. But looking at calling within the biblical framework that Marjorie laid out, I'm beginning to realize that maybe that magic moment never will happen; or rather, that the "magic moment" has already happened, and what I should be doing is assessing, perfecting, and exercising my God-given gifts instead of waiting around for an epiphany.

What are my gifts, then?
If I were asked to name them, I would say teaching, languages, and writing. These are things that I enjoy, that come somewhat easily for me, and that I have used within the context of edifying the Body. Even though we're talking specifically about writing in this case, I've used my experience as a teacher and my abilities with foreign languages to aid in my writing: writing Sunday School literature and translating Bible studies into Spanish for example. I don't have a moment of revelation to recount concerning writing as a gift of mine, but the feedback that I've gotten from other members of the Body assures me that my writing has had positive, edifying results.

Bonus musing: Music while writing
I like listening to music while writing either when I have a long, extensive paper to write that I'd rather not to make the experience a little more pleasurable, or if I have a writing project that I do like but that requires considerable concentration (as opposed to a post on my personal blog). The music usually comes from a random assortment of downloaded iTunes tunes, and functions as background music rather than a muse. "Spiderwebs" by No Doubt has certainly been of zero inspiration to write this post.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's Music
So it is left to me to have the auspicious honor of ringing in 2010 on Word! The topic this month is regarding the use or lack of use of music in writing. Now, to be sure, I am participating in this blog in the context of a reader much more than a writer. For reading I pretty much never put on music. It doesn't bother me if music is playing in the background, but it's never a purposeful act on my part. In terms of writing I have been known to launch some tunes in order to help me stay focused on the task at hand. For this reason, it usually matches the topic (eg. writing a biblical studies paper? throw on some contemporary/alternative worship songs; writing an article for a self-published mag with a friend, some indie rock is called forth; writing toddler lesson, time for Veggie Tales Rocks or other kid selection). I also resort to classical (primarily some Bach fugues or assorted piano concertos) or jazz (Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane and Miles Davis fit the bill) at any time if focus is becoming a very great problem. I occasionally avoid heavily stringed arrangements as they can enrapture me too much! I think classical and jazz are the go tos primarily because of the lack of lyrics. This is not a very musical insight, but I am a lyrics person and if the music doesn't stay background it becomes a distraction rather than an aid. By the same token, I have my songs I really like and because I value the lyricism in these I believe they can subconsciously aid in the flow.

OK! Experiment time! The above was written in silence. What will follow is written while my iTunes is on random shuffle.

What is Calling?
I am to address another question (p.s. "Love and Some Verses" by Iron and Wine is playing in a currently DISTRACTING's total chill music...very difficult to be productive!). The other question is whether writing is my calling. There is a way in which this is easy to answer since writing is not my passion in any true sense (argh! why does iTunes hate me? Regina Spector is maintaining a totally chill mood!!). Still, I think the very idea of "calling" requires some serious defining. First of all, where do we get the idea that calling is diversified? Clearly gifts are different for each person, but I cannot find where calling makes reference to anything other than being called into covenant with God reconciled through Jesus Christ. Romans 11:29 speaks of the Israelites as a nation being called; 1 Corinthians 1:26 speaks of calling as a universal and 7:20 is interesting because circumcised and uncircumcised are spoken of as two distinct callings, but still reference is made such that calling is to be understood as being drawn into covenant with God. Also check Ephesians 1:18; 4:1-6; 2 Thess 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 3:1. All of these indicate to me that there is only one way to speak of calling and this is in reference to the fact that God has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Period.

Calling vs. Giftedness
Now why do I think this is important? Because I think confusing calling and giftedness sets people up for a faulty relationship with God and others. Calling is by definition an external act (God calls you) which does not have any guards on it (if you say God called you to preach, how can I speak to that? No other person has input on this) whereas giftedness is more internal and much more able to be assessed from the outside. Additionally, a study on giftedness quickly reveals that gifts are always operational within the context of community and for the purpose of edifying the church. One cannot (should not) operate in their gifts in a vacuum. Thus if one speaks about writing as a calling there is room for that person to think of writing as an activity which exists solely between him or her and God; however, what I would deem a more biblical definition of calling indicates that the only thing which exists solely between a person and God is salvation and the relationship engendered through this. Speaking of writing as a gift (which I think would be more appropriate) necessitates interaction with and feedback from other members of the body. There is a purpose for which one writes when this is one's gift. It is "for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love." According to these criteria then, one's writing can be judged.

That's Enough!
So apologies always for the jumble-iness!! The music was fun to have on, but the only time I think it really worked as an aid was Nick Cave's "Song for Bob" which...does not have lyrics and is not thoroughly chillaxed (which characterizes nearly all the other songs which played!). So let me know if you think these distinctions are 1. correct and 2. meaningful!

The pic features my new glasses!