book love: the songwriters idea book // 04 [repost]

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Welcome to the 4th installment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is The Songwriters Idea Book: 40 strategies to excite your imagination, help you design distinctive songs, and keep your creative flow by Sheila Davis.

This book was recommended to me by the wonderful and talented Megan Jerome, herself a great songwriter. Megan is a wealth of songwriting information and resources and this will not be the last Book Love inspired by her.

Sheila Davis is well known for her books on lyric writing including The Craft of Lyric Writing and Successful Lyric Writing, but The Songwriters Idea Book is an invaluable resource for anyone looking for lots of different ways to get inspired and seed new songs.

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This is a great book for songwriters of any experience level who wish to keep up a regular practice of songwriting. I mentioned in my post on my songwriting process last Friday that regular work is way more effective than only writing when you are inspired. This book has a ton of jumping off points for you to work from included a variety of title strategies, plot devices, and wordplay.

My favourite title strategy found in this book is “book title titles” where you write a song with the same title as a book. I will often go to the library and fill a page with interesting book titles I find and then try and write songs with my favourite titles. It doesn’t always yield my best results but it certainly gets the creative juices flowing.

Book Love: The Songwriters Idea Book // 04

Book Love: The Songwriters Idea Book // 04

That’s it for Book Love // 04. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments below. You can also check out other book love books on the book love index page.

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creative bloggers on anxiety

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[ i should be working harder. i should be doing something more creative. i should have more plans and goals. // creative bloggers on anxiety ]

How many times have you thought these thoughts? Lately a couple of creative people I admire have revealed their deeply personal thoughts on anxiety, creativity, and self-employment.

The first person is Bri Emery, founder of designlovefest. She writes about reading Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, and the flood of thoughts and realizations the book unearthed in her. For example:

incessant planning, working, social media, and keeping a full calendar was just me trying to numb my insecurities and fears. i think to myself often “i should be working harder. i should be doing something more creative. i should have more plans and goals.” I have such high expectations for myself and the people around me. i still haven’t figured out exactly which feeling i’m numbing, all i know is that it’s happening. and i should try to dig deep and think about how to fix it.

Read the full article here.

The second person is Craig Pedersen, my dear friend and co-conspirator. He has been writing a series of posts on anxiety and creativity in the wake of his decision to seek therapy to overcome daily anxiety. He writes about how therapy has started to change his relationship with his creative process and with music. In Creative Process and Anxiety 4: Staying on Track, he writes:

Most of my therapy sessions begin with me talking about things I have become aware of: this makes me anxious, that makes me anxious, I had a memory of this being a time where this anxiety started etc. When I do this, my therapist says something along the lines of: “great, but awareness isn’t the only step. I believe that in order to change our negative thoughts and emotions, we must change our behaviours too.”

Click here to see Craig’s entire series.

How do you cope with anxiety in your creative life?

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creativity and stepping outside of your comfort zone by edel meade

Dublin-based singer, composer and lyricist, Edel Meade, reveals how she allows her creative energy to prosper and offers some thoughts on how she is planning to extend her creative boundaries in 2014…

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[ guest post // creativity and stepping outside of your comfort zone // Edel Meade ]

In order for creative energy to flow freely, I need to explore who I am, and to identify where my boundaries exist. I need to have courage to follow my heart and intuition and to explore the creative potential in all areas of my life.

For example, I’ve always wanted to try salsa dancing but have been quite shy about it until now. However it’s necessary for us to step out of our comfort zones and to face personal challenges.

“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, love like you’ll never be hurt, sing like there’s nobody listening and live like it’s heaven on earth.”

- William W. Purkey

I really want to overcome my fear of ice-skating. I was never brought ice-skating as a child and by the time I was in my twenties, I wasn’t enthused about falling flat on my face, for all to see. But now I see that once I’ve fallen flat on my face, I’m gonna stand back up again too.

I want to continue with long-term counselling to challenge thought-processes which have stopped me from doing what I really want to do and being who I really want to be.

I have a sense that yoga practice and meditation will help me to connect with the people in my life, including my audiences, in a more meaningful way so that we are sharing every present moment together and feeding off each other’s creative energy.

I want to become fluent in French, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish in the hope of understanding different cultural perspectives more clearly. Music is just another language with thousands of different dialects and viewpoints, but it’s all related.

My alone time is crucially important for my creativity to flourish. It gives me the opportunity to restore energy lost through teaching or sitting in front of my laptop for hours, doing admin. This can be achieved by strolling by the sea for forty minutes or by making some home-made guacamole for example!

I find cooking deeply therapeutic and it’s full of creative possibilities! I have never experienced the type of satisfaction that came from making my first home-made curry from scratch.

It is also crucial for me to surround myself with other creative and motivated artists. I get a healthy dose of dynamic energy from being around innovators with an entrepreneurial spirit.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

- Jim Rohn

The music you create is an expression of who you are. Dare yourself to step out of your comfort zone and watch what happens!

[ Edel Meade is a vocalist, composer, and educator from Dublin, Ireland. She will be performing the Joni Mitchell songbook at The Odessa Club on February 13, 2014. Visit www.edelmeade.com for more details. ]

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book love: effortless mastery // 13

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Welcome to the 13th instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book was picked especially for Creativity Self-Help Month and it is Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within by Kenny Werner.

Effortless Mastery is another one of these books that every musician seems to own. I always see it on shelves at friends’ houses and in music schools. Essentially, this book is about releasing fear and the need to play well, and embracing your inner master.

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Along with the book, there is a CD of four guided meditations that help the listener learn to approach playing and practice from a relaxed state. This is a bit of an oversharing moment, but the first time I listened to Meditation #1, I cried.

Even though the book is strongly directed at musicians, I think there are listens that can be gleaned by artists in other disciplines, especially when it comes to identifying as an artist. It can be a really scary thing to feel like you have to be great at singing, or painting, or writing, because you call yourself a singer, painter, writer. This book teaches you to release the artist identity and step back from it so that you can allow yourself to create without fear.

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That’s it for Book Love // 13. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. You can check out the last post in the series, The Artist’s Way, or see all of my book recommendations on the Book Love index page.

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impostor syndrome and the artist

Eight years ago I was studying to become a physicist.

Back then I was a lowly freshman, and I knew very little about physics. I was surrounded my older, wiser students, brilliant faculty, and my very bright classmates who always seemed to be raising their hands in class. I felt like I would never get a handle on the material and it was only a matter of time before the administration would find me out.

Every semester I would get my grades back (which were the definition of average being pretty evenly distributed between A’s, B’s and C’s) and every semester I would breath a sigh of relief that I had somehow made it through.

When asked by friends and relatives what I was studying, I would be met with comments like “you must be smart!” when I would tell them. I would always reply “no, not smart, just resourceful.” I was sure that my success in university was due to my ability to sneakily find out answers from textbooks, TA’s, or fellow students. It never occurred to me that answers weren’t apparating in the heads of my classmates, and that they were going through the exact same problem solving methods as me. I just thought I was deceiving my way through the program even as students fell away and our numbers dwindled to a mere handful.

This pattern of thought is called impostor syndrome.

When I made the switch over to music I brought a lot of these negative patterns of thought with me. I didn’t feel like I was deceiving anyone necessarily, butI felt like a lot of my accomplishments were the result of luck or natural ability. Specifically I had a lot of trouble claiming identities like “artist,” “songwriter,” and “composer.” I always considered myself a singer, but I felt like I didn’t know anything about songwriting even though I had been doing it since I was a teenager.

What helped me come to terms with my neurosis, apart from naming it, was talking. Talking to other physics students helped me realize that I wasn’t different from the other successful students and talking to other artists showed me that all artists struggle with doubt, creative blocks, and burn out, and walk a long and winding path towards finding their voice.

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artificiality and creativity by kevin sun

Artificiality and Creativity by Kevin Sun

[ Guest Post // Artificiality and Creativity // Kevin Sun ]

The word “artificial” has seen better days. In casual usage it often carries a negative connotation, but the term hasn’t always been so maligned.

One of the earliest attested meanings of “artificial,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, dates from 1425: “Of a thing: made or constructed by human skill, esp. in imitation of, or as a substitute for, something which is made or occurs naturally; man-made.” In fact, “artificial” was sometimes even used as a compliment to mean “Displaying art or skill” or “Of a thing: skillfully made or contrived; cleverly constructed.”

The modern day premium placed on spontaneity and lack of artifice is widespread in creative fields, but when attention is directed toward these qualities, the unnatural origin of creative work is often obscured.

Art is, by definition, artificial. This paradox—that to create organic and spontaneous-looking art means acting in ways that are totally inorganic and unspontaneous—is inevitable, but also illuminating.

Asking artists to be “creative” tends to really mean asking them to be imaginative or original, but in its most basic sense, “creativity” doesn’t mean either of those things; it just means “The faculty of being creative; ability or power to create” (OED, again). The myths of spontaneous creativity and divine inspiration have monopolized popular thought for a while, but there’s an important alternative tradition of thinking about artmaking—one that doesn’t downplay but instead emphasizes the meticulous craftsmanship and labor that being truly “creative” entails.

Edgar Allen Poe is an iconic example of the artist as self-described craftsman. In 1846, he published an essay called “The Philosophy of Composition,” which details his process for writing “The Raven,” published the year before. The essay comes across as tongue-in-cheek at times, but his train of thought is undeniably clear, almost hypnotic. Here’s his explanation of the poem’s famous refrain:

That such a close, to have force, must be sonorous and susceptible of protracted emphasis, admitted no doubt, and these considerations inevitably led me to the long o as the most sonorous vowel in connection with r as the most producible consonant.

The sound of the refrain being thus determined, it became necessary to select a word embodying this sound, and at the same time in the fullest possible keeping with that melancholy which I had pre-determined as the tone of the poem. In such a search it would have been absolutely impossible to overlook the word “Nevermore.” In fact it was the very first which presented itself.

Creativity is fundamentally about empowering yourself to make something—to make anything—with what you have at your disposal, technically and conceptually. For Poe, the means to being creative is simple: think clearly and patiently about what you want to achieve, and then proceed confidently with small, logical steps.

A great work of art is like a well-designed building. When it’s completed, it gives away nothing about how it came into being and looks like it had emerged fully formed. But every building, at one point or another, has scaffolding. When you’re creating, you have to not only accept the scaffolding, the artifice of the process, but also embrace it as an essential part of the creative process. In the end when the scaffolding comes off, no one will ever know it was there.

[ Kevin Sun is a saxophonist, composer, and blogger. He currently studies English at Harvard University and Jazz Performance at New England Conservatory. Read more of Kevin's writing at A Horizontal Search. ]

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weekend inspiration: elizabeth gilbert – your elusive creative genius

This TED talk by author Elizabeth Gilbert has been around for four years and you have likely already seen it, but I think it’s so special it’s worth a rewatch. In this talk Gilbert makes the case for distancing ourselves intellectually, as creatives, from our creations, in order to preserve our egos and manage performance expectations. Here’s my favourite quote from the talk:

I think that allowing somebody, like one mere person, to believe that he or she is, like, the vessel, you know, like the font, and the essence, and the source of all divine, creative, unknowable, eternal mystery is just, like a smidge too much responsibility to put on one fragile human psyche. It’s like asking somebody to swallow the sun.

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book love: the artist’s way // 12

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Welcome to the 12th instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book was picked especially for Creativity Self-Help Month and it is The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron.

As you can see from the photo above my copy of The Artist’s Way is a little beat up around the edges and that’s because as far as I’m concerned this is the most useful book a blocked creative can get their hands on. It is a 12-week program specifically designed to get to the root of your creative block and help to nurture the artist-child inside you back to health.

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Be warned that this book is not for the dabbler. When embarking on the program you are asked to sign a contract with yourself to promise that you will stick with the basic tools (three pages of daily journalling every morning, and a weekly artist date) as well as completing each week’s reading and tasks. Every week you will read about and work towards recovering something new, a sense of safety, identity, power, and much more.

I have completed the program one time and remember quite distinctly the look on my colleague’s face when I told him he would have to phone me if he needed to communicate with me because I was on the “no reading” week of The Artist’s Way and would not be answering emails or text messages.

All joking aside, this book was the reason I was able to get back to writing after spending much of my teen years songwriting and then losing myself through my university degree. I frequently refer back to Julia Cameron’s Rules of the Road and other bookmarked sections when I need a quick shot of creative juice to keep me going.

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That’s it for Book Love // 12. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. You can check out the last post in the series, Modus Novus, or see all of my book recommendations on the Book Love index page.

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