Friday, December 17, 2010

Nuggets of Wisdom

Since it’s the holiday season, I’m talking about gifts today—the metaphysical rather than the paper-wrapped kind.

The late Fred Myrow, a brilliant composer and dear friend, once told me that before starting a new film score or instrumental piece he would spend days doing mundane chores—shop ‘til he dropped at the supermarket, hang out at the mall, clean house, read junk mail, anything but write music. Only when his boredom meter was in the red and about to explode would Fred get to work, and inevitably inspiration would come.

Over the years I have learned to “put the top down and throw the car into neutral” before starting a new book or writing a series of poems. I’ve always been grateful to Fred – who I worked with in the recording studio, where he regularly performed miracles – for sharing this wisdom, along with many other things he taught me about writing and performing music. As I write this, I am listening to Brad Mehldau playing "Goodbye Storyteller (for Fred Myrow)" - - so expressive and beautiful.

What nuggets of wisdom have you been gifted with from friends and fellow writers or artists?

Don’t be shy. Please share!


  1. What a lovely idea, Joyce!

    Anyone who knows me, knows I get many of my coping tactics from my non-verbal, yet wise friends of the equine persuasion. Their straightforward, uncomplicated approach to life bears serious consideration. One of my favorites: If you're making mistakes, you're trying. No one can ask for more.

  2. @Susan - simple and true - I can see those large wise eyes looking up from a bucket of oats.

    As a child I had an imaginary horse that followed me around and protected me in the Bronx. Many years later a Native American friend told me it was a spirit horse.

  3. --Before you've sent the first one out, start the next

    --When you come to a sticking point, go for a drive

    --If you can give up, do it sooner rather than later and save yourself a lot of hurt

    --To the winner go the spoils; to the persistent go the deals

  4. @Jenny - Thanks for stopping by and for leaving your distillations of writing wisdom!

    Happy Holidays!


  5. Great topic, Joyce. I think your composer friend had it right. I like to get away for a weekend to a place we've never been before. We explore a little village on the coast or up in the hills with no agenda and nothing familiar around us. When we return, I find I'm ready to go.

  6. @Mike - you've got your own magical mystery tour!
    Getting away works for me too - if I can't do that, I take a hot bath.

  7. Hi Joyce,

    I enjoyed reading your blog post, and I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of revving up your engine before you start something new. Seeing as how most of us vary in what revs our enging, I'm curious about what folks say.

    I know I can't force it. The story won't come until its ready. That doesn't mean I can't muck around some more in the research area, tidying up character charts and the like.

    I liken my process to a nuclear reaction, though a very tiny one! It isn't until I reach a critical mass of ideas that anything starts to happen. Then its like a chain reaction, this piece connects to that piece and so forth.

    Getting to that critical point isn't linear and I never know what will push me over the edge, whether its a stunning sunset or a clean kitchen floor or a coulpe of babies goofing around on a TV commercial.

    As an aside, during the story I may need to come to the critical mass point again. When I stall out, I start being conscious of soaking ideas in again until my story engine is ready to go!

    Interesting topic.

    On The Nickel coming in March from Five Star

  8. Hi Maggie - I relate to the need to reach critical mass before starting on a book, although for me it means setting up a chain reaction of falling dominos rather than nuclear fission ☺. Trouble is, there are always some dominoes that go missing and only by relaxing and “not thinking” can I convince my subconscious to reveal their whereabouts. It’s almost a form of self-hypnosis. What complex creatures we are!

  9. I love the suggestion by Susan from her four-legged equire friends. And the other suggestions are wise ones. I had a writing teacher tell me to do a four or five-page synopsis for a novel idea--to see if it had "legs." Details to follow. It did help me to get some of the primary characters and setting down. Must admit that of the mystery's traditional "sitting on a three-legged stool of character, setting and plot" -- settings, where characters came from or find themselves in, trigger the most ideas to me.

  10. @Pat - yes, I agree - it takes time to find out if a book idea has "legs." For me the best sign is when the story starts following me around when I do my errands - and I visualize the characters and settings so strongly that I fail to notice when the traffic light turns green and have to be jolted out of my trance by the blare of irritated drivers behind me.

    Happy new year - and keep us posted on your new book!