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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

“Find What You Love and Let It Kill You”

By Steven Pressfield | Published: August 26, 2015

This is my favorite of all the posts we’ve ever run on this site. (Mainly because it’s not written by me.) I read it every few months just to psych myself up. It’s an article written by English concert pianist James Rhodes that appeared originally in the Guardian (UK).

Why do I love Mr. Rhodes’ story of his bold move to change his life and become an artist?

1) Because James is a late bloomer. Much as I admire child prodigies, I hate them too because they found their calling so young and with so little agony. I like to see someone suffer before they find their way.

2) James’ saga illustrates the depth of passion that such a journey requires—and the depth of madness. (Note the casual allusion to “nine months in a mental hospital.”)

3) James’ does not romanticize his life as an artist. No, he does not sail through the day whistling and grinning. And yes, the grind is still a grind. But he has gone from working for the Man to being the Man himself.

James Rhodes, my artistic hero

My life as a concert pianist can be frustrating, lonely, demoralising and exhausting. But is it worth it? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt

James Rhodes

Friday 26 April 2013

After the inevitable “How many hours a day do you practice?” and “Show me your hands”, the most common thing people say to me when they hear I’m a pianist is “I used to play the piano as a kid. I really regret giving it up.” I imagine authors have lost count of the number of people who have told them they “always had a book inside them”. We seem to have evolved into a society of mourned and misplaced creativity. A world where people have simply surrendered to (or been beaten into submission by) the sleepwalk of work, domesticity, mortgage repayments, junk food, junk TV, junk everything, angry ex-wives, ADHD kids and the lure of eating chicken from a bucket while emailing clients at 8pm on a weekend.

Do the math. We can function—sometimes quite brilliantly—on six hours’ sleep a night. Eight hours of work was more than good enough for centuries (oh the desperate irony that we actually work longer hours since the invention of the internet and smartphones). Four hours will amply cover picking the kids up, cleaning the flat, eating, washing and the various etceteras. We are left with six hours. 360 minutes to do whatever we want. Is what we want simply to numb out and give Simon Cowell even more money? To scroll through Twitter and Facebook looking for romance, bromance, cats, weather reports, obituaries and gossip? To get nostalgically, painfully drunk in a pub where you can’t even smoke?

What if you could know everything there is to know about playing the piano in under an hour (something the late, great Glenn Gould claimed, correctly I believe, was true)? The basics of how to practise and how to read music, the physical mechanics of finger movement and posture, all the tools necessary to actually play a piece – these can be written down and imparted like a flat-pack furniture how-to-build-it manual; it then is down to you to scream and howl and hammer nails through fingers in the hope of deciphering something unutterably alien until, if you’re very lucky, you end up with something halfway resembling the end product.

What if for a couple of hundred quid you could get an old upright on eBay delivered? And then you were told that with the right teacher and 40 minutes proper practice a day you could learn a piece you’ve always wanted to play within a few short weeks. Is that not worth exploring?

What if rather than a book club you joined a writer’s club? Where every week you had to (really had to) bring three pages of your novel, novella, screenplay and read them aloud?

What if, rather than paying £70 a month for a gym membership that delights in making you feel fat, guilty and a world away from the man your wife married you bought a few blank canvases and some paints and spent time each day painting your version of “I love you” until you realised that any woman worth keeping would jump you then and there just for that, despite your lack of a six-pack?

I didn’t play the piano for 10 years. A decade of slow death by greed working in the City, chasing something that never existed in the first place (security, self-worth, Don Draper albeit a few inches shorter and a few women fewer). And only when the pain of not doing it got greater than the imagined pain of doing it did I somehow find the balls to pursue what I really wanted and had been obsessed by since the age of seven—to be a concert pianist.

Admittedly I went a little extreme—no income for five years, six hours a day of intense practice, monthly four-day long lessons with a brilliant and psychopathic teacher in Verona, a hunger for something that was so necessary it cost me my marriage, nine months in a mental hospital, most of my dignity and about 35lbs in weight. And the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is not perhaps the Disney ending I’d envisaged as I lay in bed aged 10 listening to Horowitz devouring Rachmaninov at Carnegie Hall. (more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
25 Comments

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Shawn’s Free Video Mini-Course

By Steven Pressfield | Published: August 19, 2015

Shawn Coyne and I have been really dumb in the way we operate this blog and Shawn’s www.storygrid.com. We keep giving stuff away that we should be “monetizing.”

Here we go again (actually Shawn is the main Dumb Guy behind this) with a five-part free mini-course based on Shawn’s wonderful book The Story Grid, about the craft of story editing. Click here to stream all five parts. Each video is about ten-twelve minutes long. Trust me, they are definitely binge-worthy.

Okay. What is this mini-course exactly?

Well, when Shawn brought out The Story Grid a few months ago, he was very aware that the book was, shall we say, “challenging.” He had poured twenty-five years of experience as a Big Five Publishing editor into the book.

It was the epic of Gilgamesh.

It was the Bible.

It contained everything.

James Joyce himself wrote in to say, “Dude, my head is spinning—and I’m only on page 67!” (more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
9 Comments

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

“I’m On A Mission”

By Steven Pressfield | Published: August 12, 2015

For years I lived “the way the day took me.” I’m not knocking that, either as a temporary default mode or as a way of life. It can be fun. You can find yourself, in a good way, in places you never imagined you’d be. You can meet great people. You can learn a lot.

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as Jake and Elwood Blues

But at some point, that kind of life ended for me. I ended it.

Since then I’ve been on a mission. I’m like the Blues Brothers. The day doesn’t sweep me away any more. My inner world, my universe of intention, is completely different from what it was “back in the day.”

In a way my life is pretty boring now. You will not see me at an orgy or giving a TED talk. If a hundred invitations and “opportunities” come in, I’ll say no to ninety-nine.

I’m on a mission. My day is built around that intention. People don’t necessarily see it. Their paths cross mine, doing whatever I’m doing, and from the outside it seems quite normal. I’m at the gym, I go to breakfast, I hang with my friends. But underneath I am on a mission. Those who know and understand, see it. They accept it when I get up and leave, as I accept it when they do the same thing.

I applaud them.

They’re on a mission too.

Like me, they have their work each day and they’re gonna do it whether the sky falls in or armed insurrection breaks out or aliens land from Mars and come into the house to make themselves a sandwich.

My day fractures sometimes. My week, my month, my year. Reality intervenes. I have to handle stuff that can’t be ignored.

But I remain on a mission. I’ll wait. I’ll adapt. I’ll assume whatever form I need to honor my responsibilities or take care of emergencies that arise. But nothing gets in the way of the mission.

I will get back to it. I will not let it go. (more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
33 Comments
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