I just googled the title of this post to find an answer for myself, but as there was no answer from our friend Google, I will have to come up with one of my own.
I am a writer. I can say that now, officially, seeing as I get paid to write, but most of the time I don’t feel like a writer. Stephan King wrote in his book On Writing, that if the words don’t come naturally to you then you are not a writer- and to that I say: Stephan King you, sir, are a liar.
Like any profession writing, as a craft, a hobby, or a job, is work. It is straining to a degree that those who do not write will never understand. It is both my favorite activity and my least. I end most of my days by staring at a blank screen, which I will feverishly write on and then “delete all” before closing my computer and going to bed. I can remember, though, a time when I did not do that. A time when writing 10,000 words in a day was a norm rather than a struggle. So I must beg the question, why, what happened, and most of all is writer’s block a real thing?
To answer the first is relatively easy. While growing older has its benefits, (I’m well aware of them right now seeing as I just turned 21) it also has its drawbacks (aside from wrinkles and all that stuff). Growing old hardens you, it makes you more conscious of others, it makes you more critical of yourself and all of these things are very bad for writing. Writing became harder because I became harder on myself. What I would have fawned over when I was 15 I would blush at now. Words don’t spill out of me anymore because I won’t let them. I get frustrated by phrasing and structure, so much so that if I get 500 words down in a day I’ll be lucky.
Along the same lines, the second question pertains a great deal to how I have changed, but it also depends on how others have changed me. I went through three major genre phases when I was leaving highschool/entering college. I became obsessed with Westerns, Classics and The Beat Generation. I read everything by Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Austen, Woolf (regretfully), all of the Brontes, McCarthy and Grey. William Faulkner once wrote “read, read, read. Read everything- trash, classics, good and bad and see how they do it” and it turns out this Faulkner guy was actually pretty smart.
It is important as a writer to have a grasp on the greats and to understand what made them so iconic, but it is also important as a writer to realize that a majority of books that are written and published are not good. If you only read the best, you will always feel inadequate, if you only read bad books you’ll always feel superior. As with most creative fields, in writing it is helpful to gain perspective and see where you are located compared to others. So yes, in the words of Faulkner read everything.
As for writer’s block. I have a feeling writer’s block is a myth. It’s not a real thing, writer’s just needed a word for frustration that pertains to writing, and so they came up with the term writer’s block. The term, however, is misleading. If it were indeed just a “block” it would suggest one solid mass is standing between you (the writer) and it (the writing), but from what I’ve just ruminated on, I would suggest that this is not true. Writer’s block seems instead, the gradual cumulation of angst, frustration, comparison, sleepiness (definitely sleepiness) and fear of failure. If it was a simple solid mass, well it would be much easier to get rid of. Unfortunately writer’s block is like a tumor, slowly growing until it debilitates you. This is a devastating realization I must admit as I have just arrived upon this conclusion at the same time as you. Hope, though, I feel is not lost.
If writer’s block wants to be treated like a tumor then like a tumor we shall treat it! In an attempt to discover the english equivalent of chemo and surgical removal, I think it wise to return once more to some of the most prolific writers in history.
“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”
—Allen Ginsberg, WD
"Write drunk. Edit sober."- Ernest Hemingway
“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”
“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.”
—Larry L. King, WD
How you take these words is up to you. As for me I suppose now I’ll just go get drunk.
By Kathleen Crowley
Gavin Jasper- The front man of the emerging band Saints of Valory, rests, content, against the grimy, wood fence behind the Gothic Theater. The band’s recent success, having just signed a deal with Atlantic Records, has yet to convince Jasper to change out of his stained, white tee. He wears it proudly, like a uniform marking his
gradual rise in rankings from a broke musician from Rio De Janeiro to the lead singer of a band that is gaining some serious momentum. He stands across from promoter Chuck Morris, their liaison of sorts in the Rocky Mountain Region. An eccentric man by his own means, Morris got his start at Tulagi Nightclub, a bar in Boulder, Colorado where the floor was always sticky and the smell of pot lingered permanently in the air. Morris helped launch the illustrious music scene in Boulder back in its heyday, hiring greats like The Doobie Brothers, ZZ Top and The Eagles early in their careers. Today, though, he stands beside Jasper, making quick remarks about heavyweights in the music industry, and why so and so was fired.
Jasper himself seems more amused by Morris’s ramblings than fascinated, and peers past the animated man to get a better view of the line circling around The Gothic. A little less than a year ago Saints of Valory stole a coveted spot at the annual Jazz Aspen-Snowmass music festival, opening for a blossoming band called Mumford and Sons. Jasper makes a point to mention the fact that Marcus Mumford asked about them back when the British band was playing a show in Taos, New Mexico (another location where the two bands had paired up). The boast, though harmless, is fairly reminiscent of a teenage girl, talking about a senior football player. It embodies, to a degree, the amount of excitement that Saints of Valory exudes. They are eager, buzzing, giddy and moderately star struck- still intrigued by the industry and the swooning girls that have already begun to surround them.
Jasper’s three band mates saunter from end-to-end of the Gothic’s dirtied alleyway.
Their listlessness and general ease suggest sleep deprivation, intoxication or both. The four men that comprise Saints of Valory: Gavin Jasper, Godfrey Thomson, Steven Buckle and Gerard Bouvier, still travel like the gritty, hardworking, perpetually exhausted musicians that they are- squeezed inside an aging white Suburban, with a trunk of instruments in tow. They drive anywhere from 100 to 1,000 miles a day, covering a string of small to medium-sized venues across the country. While they consider Austin, Texas their home base, Saints of Valory is a global band hailing from various points of the world. Jasper from Brazil, Bouvier from France, Thomson from California and Buckles from Canada.
In the song Kids, the first track on the band’s EP Possibilities, Gavin sings “welcome to my story/the story of my life” an apt way to begin a collection of four songs, that when deciphered reveal the band’s struggle. Although newly indoctrinated to the “alternative” charts on iTunes, their dedication to music and their attempts to break into the charts has been a long-winded journey. The boys have changed the name of the band twice, have lost and gained their drummer Bouvier, numerous times, and have played countless, local bars. Like most bands, Saints of Valory, has spent years as an unsigned and fairly unknown band. Their journey has been a tedious one- a compiled mess of both serendipitous and ill-fated moments that have transformed a once lowly and misguided band into the cohesive one they are today.
If you were to ask the guys from Saints of Valory where they will be in five years, they’d probably all answer with a shrug, but that’s not to say they don’t have a plan. In a perfect world, Morris and Jasper would most likely agree, that the five-year goal would be selling out arenas the size of The Staples Center. Realistically, Saints of Valory has a long way to go. Right now they devote their time to opening shows at reasonably sized venues for headliners like Fitz and the Tantrums and Michael Franti. Their sound, though often compared to the likes of Coldplay, The Wombats and even the newcomers Imagine Dragons, is dynamic in its own way. Often featuring an ominous drumbeat and synchronized clapping, the tracks are undeniably catchy while staying far away from pop. Jasper’s voice is soulful but well controlled and the perfect accompaniment to the upbeat and rhythmic melodies laid down by his band mates. The past year has marked a sharp turn for the Austin-based rock band and although it may be a few years out, it appears safe to say, that The Staples Center is within reach.
Saints of Valory’s newest EP, Possibilities was released in late May and their debut album titled Into The Deep is set for release within the upcoming year by F Stop/ Atlantic Records.
As a follow up to my previous post here are three Saints Of Valory songs you will want to listen to…
3. Dear Ivy
Plus any other song they’ve written because, as I mentioned before, they are awesome.
This blog has been sadly neglected over the past few months and I’d like to say it was for some good reason, but the truth is, I sorta just forgot about it. So what warrants this spontaneous update? Two things that just simply must be shared: a band and a book.
I love music- I am also very bad at containing my enthusiasm about certain bands, so what is about to follow may be a bit more “fan girl” than I would normally aim for, but alas so it goes…
Nearly a year ago I saw Mumford and Sons in Aspen and they were of course amazing, but not only has my love for them already been told to a tiring degree, but the world’s admiration for them has (perhaps) surpassed even my own. So, this story is not about them. Sorry. It was at their concert though, where I magically found myself backstage, because sometimes truly serendipitous things like that happen. It was backstage where I saw Country Winston and Marcus Mumford but Ben and Ted were hidden somewhere else. In my search to find the two missing Mumfords, something else rather fateful happened. Instead of finding Ted or Ben I found another band. This band had opened for Mumford and Sons and I had heard them and liked them but if we are being totally honest, my focus was elsewhere.
As the night progressed, though, my attention was not only drawn away from the Mumford crew (a feat indeed!) but was enthralled by The Band I had come across during my hunt. They were charming, they were excited, they were genuinely kind and they looked like rockstars. Like real rockstars, not the phony crap that is dripping out of every media outlet these days. I spent a solid amount of time with The Band and when we went our separate ways I can truthfully say that my heart panged with the knowledge that I would, most likely, never see or hear from them again.
When I got home that night, as most girls who just met a band would most likely do, I googled the crap out of them. Like full on stalker mode for sure. There wasn’t much about them, a few youtube videos, some quippy tweets, but no wikipedia page. And let’s be real, if there is no wikipedia page the thing itself does not exist. It was after that night of fitful searching that I reluctantly gave up, said ces’t la vie and filed away that memory as a wonderful night to be remembered.
Eight months later or so I got a text. It was my last day of summer classes (praise God) and I was walking to a bus stop in the sweltering heat to try and get home. The text was as follows:
"Hey this is Gavin from "Saints of Valory". Remember us from Aspen last year with Mumford and Sons? We’ll be in town at the Gothic with Fitz and the Tantrums. The show is sold out but if y’all were free we can put you on the guest list."
That is a great text to get. Believe me. Of course we went and if there is one thing to say about that night it is this: it was idyllic. Speaking of serendipitous, this night was precisely that. Everything seemed effortless. We had a free parking spot right in front of the Gothic, we ran into Gavin in the alleyway behind the venue, without even meaning to, and what followed was bliss.
The music, the mood, the weather, it was all perfect. Especially the music. As this post is about The Band, I will emphasize this point. Saints of Valory is not good, they are fricking amazing. Naturally I haven’t stopped listening to them since the concert, but I haven’t tired of them- which is proof in itself of the quality. I hate trying to compare bands to other bands, the way I hate comparing writers to other writers- it’s impossible to do and often just makes people angry.
Saints of Valory has a sound of their own, a cohesion rarely found in other bands, and songs that resonate with the listener. It was at this concert where I also ran into Chuck Morris the CEO of AEG Live in the Rocky Mountain District. This is a man who knows music. He discovered people like ZZ Top, The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers and Carole King, if you’ve never heard of him, here’s an article that gives a brief overview of who he is. When I told Chuck Morris that I was there to see Saints of Valory he turned to me and said, “these guys are going to be huge”, and if Chuck Morris said it, you know it’s true.
So here, at last, is the point of this story: Listen to Saints of Valory. Listen to them while they’re still an indie band, because these guys, these guys have that elusive “it” that we are all desperately searching for. They will rival the greats, because they are great. Their songs, their passion, their perseverance, are proof that they are in it for the long run.
Working in a bookstore for two years has its benefits: discounted books (if not free), an atmosphere of book nerds, an automatically updating list of all the new books out there, but it also has its drawbacks: too many books. It’s true, I said it. There is such thing as too many books. There was a point during my time at the bookstore where I was honestly returning home every night with 5 or 6 new books, meaning my bookshelves actually began to bow and I had to make a makeshift device to hold the center up. This proved to be quite the dilemma for me, because I admit to being a book addict. I will take any book anyone gives me. I most likely won’t read it right away (because as those who follow me know, I have a long list of books I’m currently working through) but I will take it nonetheless.
So finally I said, no! I had to save my bruised and battered bookshelves from collapsing, and I had to focus on the 100 books I was already attempting to read. But people at bookstores are pretty stubborn when it comes to recommending books. So every now and then I would find a stray book lodged inside my backpack. I would pull it out and sigh, add it to my weighed down bookcase, and cringe as I watched portions of my plaster wall crumble. It was during one of these bi-weekly routines, that I found The Book.
I pulled it out of my bag and looked it up and down. It had praise on the back by Anne Patchett, who wrote one of my favorite books, Bel Canto and then proceeded to go steadily downhill (in my opinion, although I have not read State of Wonder). The fact that I had this opinion about Anne Patchett did not persuade me to pause my 100 Books To Read Before You Die march, what did, was the quality of the book itself. There are a few things that working in a bookstore has taught me about new release books:
1. ARCs (or Advanced Reader’s Copies) are books that the publisher sends to booksellers (like me!) to review. Oftentimes, unless by a previously established writer, these books are pretty dang bad. There is a lot, and I mean A LOT, of muck to sort through. The quality of the ARC matters.
2. The quality of the book can be deciphered by a few key things: The Binding, Cover, and Pages. The three most expensive things that an author can choose for their book are French Flaps, those neat folding things that often have a blurb about the author or the book, A Multi-colored Cover and Worn Pages. It seems a bit counterintuitive that distressed pages (like those found in Neil Gaiman’s newest book The Ocean At The End of The Lane) are more expensive than pristine, white pages, but books are similar to jeans, you’ve got to pay more for that distressed look.
3. Authors average about $35,000 for their debut novel.
4. Random House only picks up new authors if they are going to be famous writers.
So, with these four bits of information it can be inferred that publishers don’t often waste much money on debut novels. For $35,000 they do not pull out all the bells and whistles like french flaps, unless the book is really good. That is how I could tell this book was something special.
It had french flaps, a multi-colored cover, worn pages, and… it was picked up by Random House. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was Anthony Marra’s debut novel, he had graduated the Iowa Writers Workshop (seemingly a must for authors today) and was currently working as a Stanford Stegner Fellow. Basically, this guy had done the whole writing thing the right way.
So is this book worth all the extra money that Random House handed out? Yes, a million times yes! I read a lot, mostly because I suffer from slight insomnia but also because a great sentence gives me as much pleasure as a spoonful of Phish Food. I have read a lot of amazing books and a lot of terrible books, but I always take a moment to recognize, that good or bad, writing is hard, and writing a book isn’t just writing. It’s pausing your life to build and care for someone else’s, and for most that’s impossible, but for a few, like Anthony Marra, it’s their calling.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is easily one of the best books I have read in a very long time. It is poetic and lyrical, it is poignant and hilarious. It is, to put it bluntly, the story everyone wishes they could write. I would read this book 1,000 times over, just to read it again. Anthony Marra is not simply a writer, he is the writer to watch. If his debut novel is any sort of glimpse into his future as an author, there are truly great things to come.
So there it is, the two things I just had to share. Music and books keep me hopeful and remind of the beauty of it all- the possibility of it all. It’s nice sometimes, falling asleep, believing that greatness abounds.