Suspend the outside world for a while: Thoughts on Glastonbury Festival

Posts on this blog have been a bit scarce for the last couple of weeks, mostly because I spent a several days in a field in Somerset. I listened to music, watched comedy and saw the odd politician1 I was lucky enough to attend Glastonbury Festival, a cornucopia of delights that I have gone to since I was fifteen.  This was my seventh time at the festival. I have been to others in the meantime, but it remains the original and the best. It is a marvellous tent town where the outside world is put on hold for a while, where the normal rules no longer apply and where art and hope rules above everything else.  I thought I’d write about why it remains so special to me and many others.

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Pulp vs. Perfection

On a long coach journey back from Leeds a couple of weekends ago, I listened to Chris Gethard’s podcast Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People. I was recommended the podcast by Mel and it’s become a firm favourite. Each person calls into the program and has an hour to speak about whatever they want before the call hangs up. The only rule is that it needs to be anonymous, hence the title. It’s well worth listening to. Chris Gethard is a natural host, encouraging conversations to go in different directions and allowing the caller to speak. It’s also fascinating to hear the opinions and stories of ordinary people, as we are too obsessed with celebrities.

This particular episode dealt with a man who claims to have written 18,000 songs, and is aiming for 20,000. He’s quite upfront about his reasons for doing this momentous act- he wants money and wants to retire on the earnings of his music. Every time someone plays one of his songs, he gets $0.02, so with 18,000 songs it adds up. The whole chat is lively and entertaining and worth listening to in full. It got me thinking about the conflict between being productive and taking the time to polish your work.

18,000 is a lot of songs. To write that many, even over a number of years, would mean never censoring yourself. He says he writes two to three songs a day, almost every day. That’s a lot of songs. I would imagine that each song is then published with minimal refinement or polish. It reminds me of the pulp writers, constantly churning out novels without going back to rewrite. Everything just gets published, almost immediately. There isn’t any time to edit or self-censor, as you’re already moving onto the next project. The key with this model is to constantly produce lots of work, so the quality doesn’t matter so much. Eventually, some of what you produce will be great.

So much of the so called struggles of art can be put down to simply not starting. So many things hold us back, fear, worry about starting something new and over planning. This man seems to have found a way around this fear by making it a regular practice, then publishing all of the results. His work ethic is to be commended,  but what you lose by working at speed is the refinement that comes from reworking an idea, smoothing the edge and taking another run at it. In writing, this is having a go at another draft, whereas in other forms it would be rewriting the song, or making a sketch before the painting. In this way, you double down on the original idea. You are able to improve upon the good parts and remove the parts that don’t work. The ideas contained in the first run get clearer and you are able to control the whole process more. It’s often not until the second or third draft of a story that I realise what it is actually about.

As a writer, I constantly feel the pressure to produce more stories and articles, to publish more. This man has circumvented that by producing a lot of content and releasing it all, without any filter. The vast majority of everything I’ve written this year hasn’t escaped the text document I’ve typed it in. I haven’t wanted to publish stories because they aren’t perfect and they will need tinkering with when I get time. This is the opposite impulse than the man on the Beautiful/Anonymous podcast. It’s seeking perfection through refinement, over and over, instead of publishing the first draft. This can go to extremes, with the project never being finished because it isn’t good enough. You can end up distrusting every word and never producing anything.

I struggled with this more before the blog. Generally, I didn’t publish anything. Writing this every week has made me realise that not everything needs to be 100% perfect. Some will be good, others less so. So I write every week and gradually improve I hope. I think it’s generally a good idea to be working on your art constantly. You can certainly up your word count or the works you produce by making it a habit. The difference comes from showing the work to people. Not everything you produce will be gold, so you moderate what is released.

Every artist has to reconcile these two impulses, between getting your work out there and wanting to perfect it. There’s no right answer. Some will settle on publishing everything, like the pulp writers of old and this man on the podcast. Others will prefer to take their time and make it perfect, like Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, written over a period of ten years.

I think it differs for every project as well. Each story, piece or song will have different demands. The newspaper poems I make are a one shot process as the permanent marker is quite unforgiving. Whereas a book will take much longer to gestate and write, and will probably require endless revisions before I consider it publishable.

Personally, I generally like to write at least two drafts of anything, to eliminate any errors and hone the piece. I could never do what the man on the podcast does and endlessly churn out songs. But he works at a different pace to me and I probably work faster or slower than others. Every artist exists on the continuum between pulp and perfection. The important thing is for you to take pride when it’s finished. Only the artist can tell when a piece is ready to be seen by the world.

Stranger Things and the art of Pastiche

There be spoilers ahead

Last week, I binge-watched Stranger Things on Netflix. It’s been awhile since I mainlined a tv show like that, but Stranger Things is worth it.

The plot involves a boy going missing in a small Indiana town, a mysterious government facility and a girl with telekinetic powers. There’s teenage parties and a monster that stalks the town. Basically, it’s a combination of many different eighties movies and books, most notably Poltergeist, ET and Stephen King books. Look at the main logo for example, a pitch perfect recreation of eighties horror titles. It’s also brilliant. A gripping mystery that builds to a fantastic climax, with unique, interesting characters.
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Just Walk Away: On Cynicism and Subjectivity

I was at Tramlines music festival in Sheffield at the weekend. There was sunshine, there was music, there was booze. Lots of good times were had. One of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing was Public Service Broadcasting, who did not disappoint.

I think the band are really something special, with a unique blend of live music and retro samples. However, I can appreciate they are not for everyone. They were oddly scheduled as well, on the main stage before the headliners Catfish and the Bottlemen.
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May Link Round-up

tumblr_o79jfjpw911rwkrdbo1_1280 From Tom Gauld

Another month gone already. It feels like no time at all since I wrote my last link roundup, but here we are again. This month I’ve mostly been reading The Bone Clocks & Wonderbook, but in between there’s been a number of good articles.

Firstly, sad news as The Toast announced it is shutting up shop on July 1st. It’s a wonderful resource of humour and literacy, but also publishes more serious longer articles. There’s nothing quite like it on the internet so it is an incredible shame to see it go. Still though, in its last months, it is publishing brilliant articles like this one on fanfiction and writing. I’ve never written fanfiction but this sort of makes me want to. It’s all writing at the end of the day, whether it’s a blog like this one or fanfiction or stuffy literary fiction. Ignore the snobbery and just write what you want.

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