Monday, July 21, 2014

Jeremy Doesn't Get Writer's Block

My husband Jeremy is often described as a Renaissance Man. There is also something a bit mysterious about Jeremy. That’s fine. Its one of the things I love about him.

If you spend any time with Jeremy at all, you’ll notice that he is passionate and extremely knowledgeable about music. Although I am accustomed to Jeremy by now, he can still surprise me with the depth of his musical scholarship.

I will find myself asking, How does he know all this stuff?

Jeremy combines his love of music and his talent for writing in a blog he created called AnEarful.

One day, I really noticed something about Jeremy.  It’s been true since he started his blog, but it took me a while to put my finger on it.

Jeremy doesn’t get writer’s block.

He does his writing the same way someone else might do the dishes or get dressed. When its time to write he writes. That’s it.  

My curiosity to led me to conduct this interview with Jeremy. He is speaking from the perspective of a music writer, but the application is there for anyone who creates anything.

A typical scenario goes like this: we organize our schedule to make uninterrupted time for your writing. You leave the house on Sunday morning right after breakfast, go to a nearby coffee establishment and write until dinnertime. You have never once said that you were uninspired, blocked or not feeling the muse. Why do you think that is? What's your secret?

For one thing, I take that time seriously since I know it is carved out of all the other things we want and need to accomplish. For another, I’m always writing in my head. AnEarful is my way of engaging more deeply with music. It gives me the opportunity to deeply examine my response to it, research the people behind it and search out historical context. Since I’m always listening to music, there’s always fuel going into the fire.

For example, if I’ve decided I want to write about an album, after a few listens the opening line of my review will come to me so I’ll store that up until it’s time to write. Same goes for concerts or anything else. Sometimes I have whole paragraphs ready to go by the time I sit down. I also always have a backlog of potential subjects so if one thing doesn’t work out I’ll quickly move on to another idea – emphasis on the “quickly.” I don’t have time to waste.

You are a very busy person. You have your full time job at Hope & Heroes, are an involved and engaged father, and an accomplished baker. You wear many hats. What would you say to writers who "don't have time to write?"  Do you think there may be a paradox involved in your output? Something counterintuitive?

If we didn’t make this time, I probably wouldn’t get as much done. In fact, I know I wouldn’t. In 2010 and 2011 combined, I published a total of 19 articles. In 2012 and 2013, however, after we started scheduling it in, that number jumped to 88. If it comes down to “not having time to write” there really is only one solution: make the time. It’s like exercise. Doing it infrequently but regularly is a massive improvement over not doing it at all. This means that even if the demands of your life prevent you from writing more than once a month, DO IT that one day a month, every month. You’ll probably find your writing time increasing.

We've discovered together that leaving the house to go to a lovely coffee establishment seems to aid in getting your writing done. Can you describe the particulars of this? Can you offer any advice?

Watching me write might be very strange. I’m tapping away for a time and then I’m reading up on something on Wikipedia or checking the credits on a CD.  I might even look at my email or make a Scrabble move. But the whole time I’m listening to what I’m writing about and formulating the next thought. I might have to listen to part of something several times to clarify how I’m going to write about it, so that looks a lot like fiddling with my iPod or iPhone.

Since it doesn’t look like I’m writing, all of these moments make it easy for my concentration to be broken. Even if everyone at home is being completely respectful, it’s natural to make conversation or mention something that just popped into your mind, or ask that question that you just remembered. And this goes both ways, so removing myself from the house makes me more productive since there are so many more distractions at home, little projects calling my name: organizing my sock drawer, making ice, searching for that CD at the bottom of the basket just because I haven’t seen it in a while…the list goes on.

You do much of your writing during designated uninterrupted time. However, you've also mentioned other smaller blocks of time where you get writing done. Can you describe this?

This often happens after a concert, where I’ll start writing about it on my phone on the subway home, just because I don’t want to lose touch with the immediate experience. I might also do this if my backlog has grown too deep or if I’m on a self-imposed deadline, such as wanting my review to hit on a certain day. The subway is a good place to write, except if you need to Google something – and even that is improving as they add more Wi-Fi to the system.

You're an easygoing person with a sunny disposition. You seem to not fit the cliché of the tortured and suffering writer. You're not drunk, smoking or moody. You aren't burning the midnight oil. Can you speak about this? Do you suffer while you write? Is there a romantic notion about suffering and writing?

One of my favorite quotes is from Red Smith: “There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” Writing is hard, no doubt. Conveying things in a concise fashion that makes sense to other people and is fun to read is a never-ending challenge. Sometimes I get physically uncomfortable with a stomachache when I just can’t get that thought to coalesce on the page. That’s the extent of it – can’t really call it suffering. I think things get worse when you worry about your audience. Obviously I want other people to read my stuff, but that’s not my focus while I’m working.

Any other snippets to give other writers?

Use technology. Programs that allow you to access your writing across many devices help you avoid the excuses: “I’m not at my computer.” “That file is on my iPad.” It’s always there, ready for that next brilliant sentence. I use Blogsy on the iPad and BlogPress on my phone.

Don’t say no during the first draft. Write once - revise twice.

Jeremy Shatan is obsessive about an omnivorous array of music. He works at Hope & Heroes, enjoys skiing, and is the proud father of three and loving husband of one - Karen Capucilli, of course!

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