Sunday, January 12, 2014

Learning—or trying to— from Springsteen & Parker

It is with some trepidation that I’ll occasionally read about the experiences of other writers or other artists in general.

On the one hand, it’s always interesting to read about the daily routines other writers follow. And, let’s face it, as writers, it does us some good to read that someone whom we admire occasionally has “one of those days” when working. Nobody is immune and all that.

Then there are those whose routine (discipline, really) gives them a steady flow of work and productivity. Part of me exhales and says, “OK. That works for him/her. I have to emulate that.”

But like an athlete showing how effortlessly they swish jump shots from 25 feet, that doesn’t necessarily mean emulating them will create the same results or success.

Two artists come to mind.

I live in Boston where, of course, the late Robert B. Parker’s Spenser had his office and pursued many of his cases. Parker described his daily routine in various interviews. This one, on, ran some years back.

MysteryNet: Do you have a writing procedure? For instance, do you outline your plots?

Parker:  Yeah, I sit down every day and write five pages on my computer. At some point I found that not outlining worked better than outlining. The outline had become something of a limitation more than it was a support.

“I sit down every day and write five pages.” Well, that isn’t so hard, is it? Right.
Five pages. Oh, baby. I’d pay good money to come up with five pages a week sometimes. And I bet I’m not alone here. (By the way, here’s the link to the Parker interview: )

Parker—a pro’s pro—made it sound easy and, most importantly, made it read easy, if you follow me.

Another artist I call to your attention here is Bruce Springsteen. Now, of course, Bruce isn’t an author per se but he sure is a prolific writer. (There will be no meaningless debate started here as to whether writing a novel is harder than writing a song.)

Springsteen has a new album out this week and in a Rolling Stone interview he expanded on his creative process. It is fascinating reading even if you’re not a rock ‘n’ roll fan in general nor a Springsteen fan in particular.

Consider this segment:

RS: You have lots of material from the 1990s in the vaults too, right?
Springsteen: “… I have a lot of different types of works-in-progress in different genres, and some solo work.… I have a large body of raw material that I create from…. I’ll also go in my notebook where things wait until the time is right. This would be the way that I work today. I’ve had variations of it over the years, but I do a lot of writing, so you build up a greater body of unreleased work over time and you end up with just a repository of interesting things.” ( )

“I have a lot of different types of work-in-progress.” His version of Parker’s “five pages a day.”
And then there’s this: “I do a lot of writing, so you build up a greater body of unreleased work over time and you end up with just a repository of interesting things.”

I can tell you right now that on a bad writing day, reading that will get me more discouraged than reading about Parker’s five-pages-a-day production rate.

But should it really be discouraging for me as a writer?

Parker and Springsteen are among the best in their genres. I can’t play in their leagues, as different as each are.

But I say let’s not be intimidated by them. Let’s instead try to emulate the discipline and work ethic each display in their remarks. Couldn’t hurt, could it?

Are there any writers or artists in other creative fields whose routine or thoughts on creativity have influenced you? I’d be interested in hearing about them.

-- Joe Nowlan


Anne Schroeder said...

I am a fan of first lines. I keep a notebook of great first lines that caught my attention and promised to deliver. Not often disappointed. Thanks for this post.

Nancy LiPetri said...

The post reminds me of John Irving saying he thinks of the book's ending first, writes toward that, and can go months before a great first line strikes him.

Beryl Reichenberg said...

Thanks for the post. I am a visual artist as well as a writer. Normally, I do sculptural pieces when I am not writing children's stories. With both media, I have found that creativity can't be forced. But sometimes, just going into my studio space and cleaning it up will spark an idea, and then I sit down and get to work. Sometimes when I hit a brick wall with a piece, putting it aside and working on something else, will allow me time to solve the problem I am having with the initial piece. Beryl