It Might Get Loud

My favorite documentary is It Might Get Loud which shows a meeting between Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, The Edge of U2, and Jack White of The White Stripes.  The opening image of Jack White on a farm building a functional electric guitar out of garbage had me hooked.

The first time I watched It Might Get Loud was because I heard Jimmy Page was in it, and, being such a Led Zeppelin fan, I felt it was my duty to watch.  But subsequently, I kept going back and forth through the DVD for Jack White.  Though he discussed music, I think a lot of what he said can resonate for writers as well.

Man, you know, who says you need to buy a guitar?

This was the first thing said in the film, right after White made his garbage guitar.  I went to college dreaming of being a writer.  I went to grad school solely for a degree in creative writing.  But Falkner or Steinbeck or Hemingway?  As far as I know, they never went to school for their craft.  The learned it on their own and applied their own techniques and gut instincts.  I don’t regret getting my degree, but my point is that all you need to get started as a writer can be as little as the basic tools of pen and paper.

I plan to trick both of these guys [Jimmy Page and The Edge].  That’s basically what I’m gonna do.  Trick them into teaching me all their tricks.

I don’t know if White really did succeed in fooling Page and The Edge, but there’s no denying that they’re more experienced than he; Jimmy Page’s career almost matched the combined years of White and The Edge.  Nevertheless, White knows that he doesn’t know everything, and in order to improve his skills, he turns to those who know the craft more thoroughly.  Writers do this too.  For example, Hunter S. Thompson learned how to write by constantly rewriting F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Technology is a big destroyer of emotion and truth.  Opportunity doesn’t do anything for creativity.  Yeah, it makes it easier, and you can get home sooner, but it doesn’t make you a more creative person.  That’s the disease you have to fight in any creative field.  Ease of use.

Stephen King said that creative writing cannot be taught.  I humbly disagree.  I think – and I’d like to think that White would have my back on this – writing can be taught, but creativity can’t.  If you haven’t got a creative bone in your body, then no gadget is going to remedy that.  Period.

People know when something’s fake and they know when something’s rehashed and rehearsed.  They know when you’re telling the same joke between songs that you told in Poughkeepsie last night.  They can smell it.

Yes, a story needs to be thought through, even if only on a simple and rudimentary level, but that’s not what White is saying here.  This is a tip for the more experienced writers who have a few credits under their belt.  If you have success, don’t ruin it by recycling your work.  JK Rowling comes to mind for me.  Everyone knows her for the Harry Potter books, but over the weekend, I saw a poster at Vroman’s promoting her new novel The Casual Vacancy.  When I looked it up online, I found that it was about sex and heroin addiction, totally different from Hogwarts.

Yeah, that’s it.  Pick a fight with it [the guitar].  That’s what you gotta do.  Pick a fight with it and win the fight.

Writing is not supposed to be easy.  There’s more to it than typing words on a page just as there’s more to playing the guitar than plucking strings.  If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.  At some point, however, you’ve got to dig in and take a bite.  You might face a story idea that sounds cool, but you’re just not sure if it’s going to work for a novel.  Well, then find a way to make it work, or you’ll always be the guy who starts a story but never finishes one.  Stop being a pussy and start owning that shit!

Never wanted to play guitar.  Ever.  Everyone plays guitar.  What’s the point?  I got really into drumming, playing along with the records.  Those rhythms got into me early.  100% only caring about music and rhythm.  I had a bedroom that was about seven by seven feet, really small.  There was so much junk I had collected.  I had two drum sets in there, a guitar amplifier and a reel-to-reel, and no bed.  I took the bed out.  I slept on a piece of foam on an angle by the door.

Just as writers need other writers to inspire them and learn from, budding authors need to immerse themselves in their craft.  They need to breathe it.  I have more books than any other item in my house.  When I’m cleaning and reorganizing, and all my books are laid out, it looks like a library came all over the place.  But that’s good.  I want the library to cum.  Being surround by the books I love gives me a constant visual cue encouraging me to press forward with my own words.

Distortion.  Anger.  The punk ideal.  Guys or someone maybe who got picked on, like a lot of us did, in high school.  This is our chance to, you know, push you down now.

Happy endings?  Fuck that shit.  You only get happy endings if you pay extra at the spa.  Life is ugly and messy.  It rarely works the way you want it to, and never in the way Disney would have you believing.  Like the fight you pick with the words, you’ve got to harness that aggression and channel it onto the page.  Society might be squeamish about raw or even live food, but people love raw and live words.  They say to pour your heart out, and they’re right.  Jack White once played Blue Veins so fiercely that his fingertips bled onto his guitar, that beautiful custom-built guitar with the harmonica mic.  Maybe you don’t need to cut yourself for the words, but for God’s sake, don’t shy away from what you got going on inside.

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