Derek Sivers re-posted a video from the TED conference by Elizabeth Gilbert about creative genius. In the video, she describes how the idea of "genius" went from being an external source of creativity to an internal one.
She recounts an anecdote Tom Waits told her during an interview. He felt the ideas of a song coming to him, but he was in the middle of traffic. So he said out loud to nothing in particular, "Do you mind? Can’t you see I’m driving?"
I left a comment on Sivers’ site, but I feel the need to repost my thoughts here. (Looks like the comment got deleted. Not sure why. Guess I was too pompous for Sivers’ taste.)
Back in high school, I read the autobiography Music by Philip Glass, and in it, Glass says he only composes in the morning. He never composes after lunch, instead tending to business affairs in the afternoon. Glass says an idea never comes to him outside the time he’s composing.
I pretty much adopted that working method the moment I read it. One time, I was trying to get an idea down on paper, and my dad interrupted me, insisting that I watch some thing or other on the TV. After I watched whatever the hell it was he wanted, I tried to go back to work, but the idea was lost. So I flung my notebook in the air, which startled him. In my teenage brattiness, I pretty much blamed him for making me lose an idea.
I had that memory in mind when I read about Glass’ working method.
Igor Stravinsky also said he considers himself a vessel through which works are born. I adopted that perspective as well. Some songs seem to write themselves, and by Stravinsky’s account, well, they should. That kind of thinking keeps me humble. As much as I like to think my songs are "mine", really they are themselves — I was just the midwife.
These days, I have ideas running through my head all the time, but they’re always nebulous. Nothing ever really comes to me so compelling, I need to stop what I’m doing and make note of it. I can name only two instances in recent memories where I used an idea that sprung up outside a time I set aside for writing.
The opening drum beat of "Your Gaze" was something I hummed in the office, and it was simple enough that I committed it to memory. Another time, I was so bored at work, I considered doing some songwriting in the office. I got as far as one line of lyric, but I saved it in a text file: "This is not the time for me to write my feelings down." I was pretty much rebuking myself for trying to schedule creative time when I’m not supposed to, but it was compelling enough line that I wanted to keep it. I used it as the first line of 「今」.
When I am writing, I do something dangerous — I let ideas come to me, and then I try to forget them. I don’t write them down, I don’t record them. I let the imperfection of memory filter through the idea till I get to its essence. If the idea comes back to me in tact later, then it’s one strong enough to stand on its own. If parts of it come back to me, those were the parts that spoke to me in the first place.
As much as I try to control when ideas come to me, the ideas themselves can be pretty insistent. I’ve been feeling a bug to start work on a new album, despite the fact I’ve not really gotten the other four finished. 「健忘症」 really set a bar for me personally, and I want to make sure it was no flash in the pan. But I’m kind of intimidated by where the ideas want me to go next, and I’ve been putting them off, using the unfinished work as justification for the delay.
But I think they’re getting cranky. Allergy season isn’t helping much either.