Tag Archives: mastery

Crawling Toward the Finish Line

I haven’t posted in MONTHS.

Holy crap.

I’m embarrassed.

Quick update.

I have been working on a Steampunk book for, oh, far longer than I ever intended to. It is my day-in-day out obsession, and it’s been a four-mile trek on broken legs; but I see the finish line. The main agent of resistance calling me away from my work has been music. Specifically, Rammstein.


Twenty years of Till.

I joke that Till Lindemann is my spirit animal, but that’s only half a joke. I wish I were as big as him, both in stature and in presence. I wish I were as brave as him as an artist. I wish I could channel my own monstrous or rapacious nature the way he has. I don’t know him personally, and I will probably never meet him; but that’s fine.  The man is not the idea.

He’s said in several interviews that he gets stage fright really badly and hates being looked at.

Turns out that he’ll be on a lot more people’s minds than mine in a little bit. Till Lindemann of Rammstein is coming out with a new album in May. It’s a solo project, in English, so I’m wary. But, I love how he channels his insanity and monstrosity into something that’s both vast and beautiful; and simultaneously childish and silly. To get a sense of what kind of writer he is, I offer up translations of both Rammstein’s lyrics, and a rough translation of his book of poetry.

I have heard that Rammstein developed their songs music first, lyrics second. The band would put something together, and then it would be on Lindemann to create words to go along with it. For his solo project, he collaborated with Peter Tagtgren who is Swedish. Eschewing the rougher, stronger German lyrics, this time Lindemann writes in English so that Tagtgren would understand the feel of the subject matter and match the music. I’m excited to see what they come up with, but I’m nervous about it too.

Richard Kruspe’s solo project, Emigrate, was its own creature and felt totally different from Rammstein. He is an amazing guitarist and musician, but his vocals don’t command the same attention that Lindemann’s does. It was both musically lighter, and lyrically more vulnerable than his work with the band and reminded me somewhat of VAST. Kruspe was always the prettiest and most done-up, his costumes had the most flare (without actually being on fire). Comparing Lindemann to Kruspe made me think about the rest of the band. It’s so easy to assume a band is its frontman; but it never is. It’s a collaboration. Lindemann would have no one to play with if Flake weren’t there; and I would suggest that his keyboard work supplies the core of Rammstein’s musicality — from the iconic whistling in “Engel,” to the haunting outros of “Reise, Reise” and “Sonne.” The same goes for Paul, Oliver, and Schneider, each one a fucking metal ninja even if they’re not pushed the the forefront through stage antics.

There are a lot of antics.

mein land

These are the guys who light themselves on fire and sing about cannibalism.

I have also heard it told that they remained a band through a combination of talent, united vision, lots of therapy, and respecting each others’ wishes when someone says they need a break.

Each one, individually, is a master artist. When they unite as Rammstein, they are gods.

Find a group like this. Find it in sports. Find it in writing. Demand the best of yourself, and of your friends.

paul and richard

Back to the steampunk book. If anyone needs me, I’ll be hanging with Till by the Victrola.



In Writing, There Is No Max Score

A creative endeavor is a never-ending journey.  It can be frustrating.  You write and write and work and work but to what end?  You will never finish.  Ever.  Never ever.

How’d that feel to read?

A.  The never-ending journey is a daunting, exhausting sisyphean task.  The boulder will never just sit flat on top of that friggin’ mountain.
Or, B.  The pursuit of mastery is a quest for growth, new understanding of the craft, and more advanced application of that craft.  It gets better and better.

B seems the healthier perspective.  Inherent in any qualitative pursuit is the goal of mastery.

Keeping positive about a never ending task can be difficult.  One method is to use healthy competition.  Everyone reacts to competition in a different way.  For some, it’s an opportunity to measure one’s skill and maybe show off something they’re proud of.  For others –those incapable of discerning defeat from death — it turns them into snarling rage-beasts.  Competition should never be about the opposition, but rather about yourself.  Competition is a tool to gauge where you are now, and how far away your goal is.  Competition lets you mark, surpass, and then set new goals.

Ultimately there may be cash prizes and publication involved, but start smaller.  Small competitions — competitions with yourself or with your fellow writers — can give you just the push you need to improve.  Make a bet with a friend to finish a poem by next Friday.  See how you do.  Writing has no finish line.  There is no maximum score.  Constant growth, new understanding, and application of craftsmanship is your prize, and the prize is the journey.

Bakers, theoretical astrophysicists, and writers all have the same goal in mind: mastery.  Let your victories and losses mark the path of your eternal journey.  Then keep going.

“Writing is a profession you can practice while upside down and experiencing total blackout in a cave. You just use the mental recorder instead of pen and paper … or portable … and hope you find a use for the experience.”
— C. J. Cherryh
“It has to be learned, but it can’t be taught. This bunkum and stinkum of college creative writing courses! The academics don’t know that the only thing you can do for someone who wants to write is to buy him a typewriter.”
— James M. Cain

Commercial vs. Eternal Writing

There seems to be a big philosophical split between commercial writing and eternal writing. If you’re in one camp, you tend to think little of the other. For every web-site describing the Eight Steps To a Successful Novel, there’s another that emphasizes the purity of authentic expression in all art forms (because grammar is The Man’s way of keeping us down). If you’re open to what each side has to offer, the next thing to consider is whether you’re eager to publish, or eager to publish this story.

Say you want to publish just to get your name out there. Commercial success requires collaboration. Collaboration (even in ideal situations) requires some compromise with your editor, agent, publishing house and/or scriptwriter and director. You may have to demonstrate flexibility and versatility in order to maximize your access to opportunities.

On the other hand, if you have a soul-deep connection to your story as it is – you must honor that connection. Compromising on your baby hollows you out. The more specific your needs, the longer it may take you to find a dream team that doesn’t want to change what you have. If you’re committed to telling this story, then that’s the only story you can tell.

Ultimately we’re pursuing mastery: the balance of technical expertise and purity of expression. A ballerina will practice dancing thousands of routines in her lifetime. Only a few of those will be opening nights with giant crowds. As he hones his craft and develops technical excellence, he’ll be better able to express his art at will. His greatest and most breathtaking performances may take place in the studio, with only his reflection as a witness. Does that make the standing ovations less gratifying? Is commercial success or highest excellence more important?

I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.

The more you write, the more you read, the more you study – the more you hone your craft – the closer you are to excellence: your ability to manifest your dearest aspirations. Whether skin-deep or soul-deep, your writing is always yours.

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
― Aristotle

The ludicrous element in our feelings does not make them any less authentic.”
― Milan Kundera

(Fun fact: the Greek arete and the Chinese gongfu are similar terms; the former expresses manifestation of one’s full potential, and the latter describes any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete. It is implied that athletics are an integral part of arete
, and the word gongfu/kung-fu has become synonymous with martial arts in its modern usage.

Healthy body, healthy mind, eh?)