WHAT THE BEATLES IN “GET BACK” CAN TEACH YOU ABOUT WRITING
Or How Goofing Off Can Help You Create Your Masterpiece This Christmas
Getting Into The Beatles Late
I was a late obsessive Beatles fan.
By the time I got into their work, it was the 70’s and the band had broken up. While the world mourned the breakup of the world’s most loved band at that time, I took my first tremulous steps towards my life-long love for the music of the Beatles. I was infected by my own strain of Beatlemania. I would rush home every Wednesday night to listen to the BBC documentary of the Beatles on radio. I bought all their cassettes. When compact discs arrived, I purchased the boxed sets. When iTunes came along, I got the digital version of the boxed sets. I marveled at their infectious melodies. The genius opening riff of “I Feel Fine”. The “clap clap” hook of I Want To Hold Your Hand. How the openings of their hit songs could crash through my memory banks and remain there for decades. When Peter Jackson, the director for Lord of The Rings, announced that he was doing a three-part series of Get Back, a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process of how the Beatles came up with the classic songs on their Let It Be album that led to that famous rooftop concert, I was calm on the outside, but inside I was hooting like a demented Beatles Fan. Watching all three episodes, after I had calmed down somewhat the hooting, made me realize a useful technique that you could apply in all manner of creative writing.
Goofing Off In “Get Back”
Watching Get Back was fascinating because you saw in real time how the famous songs were sculpted into shape. I realized the songs I heard on the album, did not spring fully formed from the brains of Lennon and McCartney. In the beginning, there was nothing. Then a sound emerged. It was an awkward birth. Lyrics came in the form of nonsensical words, mingled with nonsensical rhymes. Most of the time, McCartney only had a few sentences written down. A fragment of melody. A sliver of a song. So what did the band do?
They goofed around.
They had fun. They played covers of rock and roll songs. They came at the song at every angle, much like how an artist would try and paint from different perspectives or how a cinematographer would walk around and see the subject under different angles of light. McCartney and Lennon trying these chords, Harrison strumming like this or like that, singing at various pitches, but nevertheless they worked and worked at a song as if the song was a beast they had to coax into a cage and they did not stop until they finally tamed the beast.
What the heck has all that to do with writing?
A Memory Of How I Wrote My First Tale of Terror
As a young reader, I loved the moody and gothic horror of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was one of the heavyweights in horror writing. He was the Father of the Detective Genre, and he inspired Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, who said the detective story was nowhere until Poe breathed his breath of life into it. Poe died in 1849. He was the first American author to make a living through writing alone, and therefore, lived a financially challenging life. As it was then and now, writers struggle. His work however lives on. His ability to evoke an atmosphere of terror through his writing influenced writers like Stephen King and Richard Matheson. The kind of fears Poe described were universal. The fear of being entombed in Cask of Amontillado. Fear of being haunted by a guilt-stricken conscience in Tell Tale Heart. And the superstitious fear of black cats and black ravens.
My first attempts at writing a horror tale was a terrible pastiche of Edgar Allan Poe. I remembered typing up the story, imitating the ornate style of his prose. I didn’t have a clue about structure, or how anyone would judge the piece. I was simply riffing and delighting in the fact that me, a boy in a room in my Toa Payoh flat, was hammering words on my typewriter, “clickety clack clickety clack”, and creating a world in my imagination that was my homage to Poe.
Then I recalled tackling my first attempts to write a television script. I was a huge fan of David Kelly’s style and I would write that way. Once again, it didn’t bother me that anyone would judge the writing. Judges begone!
I was simply playing.
I was simply goofing off.
Churn Out Your Vomit Draft As Soon As You Can
I knew someone who told me he wanted to try his hand at writing but could not get past the first paragraph. After his first sentence, his will to create would wither. He despaired that it did not measure up to the high standards of his writing heroes that he would convince himself it was futile and throw in the towel. In this way, his creative efforts were stamped out before they had a chance to bud and flower. It was creative self-abortion at its worst.
My friend had not heard of the concept of a “vomit draft”.
A vomit draft is essentially undisciplined play. It is between yourself and yourself. All flaws are permitted. No edit is allowed. Be free to unleash a torrent of words and ideas in all its crazy permutations as all is permissible in a vomit draft. The only rule that matters is that you must “vomit” your way through to the end of the story. This is something I encourage my students to do when they are at the birthing stages of a script. Just do as what famed French short story writer, Guy De Maupassant advised young writers to do.
Get black on white.
In other words, you need to goof off.
Creating is messy and chaotic and it must be so. Once the lava of creation has cooled down, and when you have barreled your way through to the end of a vomit draft, then and only then, do you pull out the next section of your toolbox and pick up your fine-tuning tools. Then and only then, do you craft, shape, tweak, alter and refine until your work shines.
What goofing off did for me when I was writing, was to open a floodgate and allowed my creative ideas to break through the barricades. It also silenced that awful and beaky-nosed critic that lurks in shadowed corners somewhere in the basement of your consciousness, telling you that what you are writing is terrible and how dare you compare yourself with the greats and you should just stop writing right now. Goofing off means you could go for the jugular vein of creation. Let the creative juice spill out of every artery. Goofing off releases the spirit of play into your art, and allows you to return to the state of being a child. A child has the courage to say I don’t know what the hell I am doing but I am going to do it anyway as long as I have fun doing. Too often, after years of writing, one tends to judge one’s work too harshly. One stares at the blank page with trepidation. Your mental engine is choked with all kinds of unnecessary grease that has built up over the years because you have judged yourself too much. The way to flush out all that grease?
Any creative process must necessarily have an element of play.
It’s a great way to begin writing and sneak around a writer’s block. So the next time you are stuck, be like a child.
Arm yourself with the naivete and courage of a child.
Do as the Beatles did.
Goof off and create your masterpiece.
Have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!