John Lennon said a lot of sweet and interesting things in his time, but one of my favourite clips had him talking about how strange it is to do creative work, because our friends often don’t believe that we’re working at all, and are liable to be offended that we have to say ‘no I can’t make it out for fun’ so very often – because it really does in fact take an awful lot of time and concentrated effort to create. (I also think of a gloriously indignant Harlan Ellison, bellowing “It’s a piece of work!”)

Sigh. Dude never comes out anymore. Used to be up for it every night.

A million other things also go into creating – of course – as entire shelves full of nifty and encouraging self-help tomes will attest. I’m going to skip over the two biggies – inspiration AND hard work for today, even though both are critical, just so I can get down to a third factor which is much more rarely discussed – being your own excellent creative assistant.

Have you got your easel perfectly adjusted, and set up in useful light? Are your reference images clear, ordered, and cropped to the same ratio as your working plane?  Have you oiled the neck of your ukulele, or the bores of your woodwinds lately? Are your previous writing notes well arranged for retrieval of the gems, without too much time wasting on stale-doodle review? All of these and many more are supremely helpful chores for those times when the muse eludes (and can help us overcome that sense of frustration, with demonstrable and self-respectful side-progress).

And then there’s a more fundamental factor, which seems to be an emergent isomorphism for me, over the course of my whole screwy creative life – logging tape. If you make recordings, you have to listen to them and take notes about what’s on them, at what time-marker. If you don’t do this, you actually don’t really have recordings at all – just a bunch of mysterious spun plastic staring at you, and challenging you to sink untold aesthetic-concentration hours, into who knows what?

A fète of peak

Photography once had a fearsome limiting factor, and OMG was it hard for me to finally get twenty-first century and overcome that particular analog inhibition. Every single time you pressed the shutter-release, you always felt an inexorable toll – and knew you were spending another quarter or so. A two-roll 72 shot day used to be going absolutely crazy for me. This Sunday I shot 747 frames, could have done more, but we were covering ground at speed. Of course they aren’t all excellent, or even mediocre – but they were all sincere attempts at potentially worthwhile images by an earnest student, still happy to learn from mistakes (and eager to make as many as possible, so as to understand and overcome them).

Thanks to the fact that I was always the recordist, as well as one of the players, I learned the habit of tape-logging decades ago, and so understand that the right day to sort is the day-of, if at all possible. From 747, I cut it down to 160 that are worth playing-with further – and I expect in the end you’ll see no more than two or three dozen (and that 5% ratio still only because it was an especially fantastic photo day). The point is, insight about intent, the witnessed narrative, and sense of excitement for a lucky find, can never be fresher than right after the sound, image, or even video was recorded. That’s the time to sort and note.

That way, when the muses do stop by – we’ve got a bucket full of rich thematic treats stored up, ready to work from or with, in a minimally time-wasting and maximally stimulating way.

As I’ve noted before, editing mindset is so different from writing mindset, I prefer to do them on different days altogether (and will often bulk-execute multiple projects by mode, rather than stay with one piece through all consecutive operational stages, and then go on to the next).

Mind you, as also previously noted, I am just a tiny bit nutty. ;o)

Rebar pussywillows

The other thing about logging tape, is that it’s one of those crazy obsessive tasks that you can easily work-at so long that you do serious physical damage to yourself (back, esp) because once your mind builds-up the big picture of the thing you’re trying to judge relatively, (and also mine for potential uses alternate from original intent), you just want to keep adding more layers of subtlety and precision to the landscape. It’s the programmer’s problem once again – who wants to rebuild the variable-table in their head from scratch all over again in the morning? Why not just work on it all night long instead?  Seriously crazy stuff, metabolically – but it really does often present as outright easier!  (Irrationalization?)

Of course – the point of logging tape, checking our photos, screening our video, going through our notebooks, reviewing our idea-sketchbooks, before consigning any of them to diminished-witness shelf-dust, is not just to find rich fuel-sources for refined work, and springboards for new growth, but also to enjoy the pleasure of those modest gems that we might easily forget we’d ever found, if we failed to flag-them right away.

Not everything has to sizzle outright, to be very nifty indeed for the eyeballs.

Staircase with perspective-proof

What did you do all morning? Log tape.
What about all afternoon? Log tape.
How about in the evening? Log Tape.

One can really feel a bit of a boring bugger, saying that sort of thing too often. But then sometimes when I’m on a serious roll, and I’m saying no to a lot of other stuff because I’m logging a lot of great tape (or it’s literary, ink-and-papery, or photographic equivalent), I can’t help giggling to myself about that old schoolyard joke.

“What did you have for breakfast?” Pea soup
“What did you have for lunch?” Pea soup
“What did you have for dinner?” Pea soup
“What did you do all night long?” ….. ;o)

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