2 hours ago
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Last Thursday evening my husband and I watched The White Stripes movie based on their Canadian Tour, Under Great White Northern Lights. In case you don't know, The White Stripes is a band made up of two members: Jack and Meggin White (they refer to themselves as brother and sister, though some evidence shows they are no relation and were married at one point). Yep, I said two members. They don't add muscians to their band when they tour, either. Yet when I listen to their music I don't miss the other instruments. As I watched their film, I started thinking about how much of their philosophies translates to writing. The White Stripes have been together for over ten years and have produced six albums. I think we can learn a lot from them.
1. Keep it Challenging
Remember how I said there's only two of them? Jack White stated the reason for the band's small numbers is that he wanted to make it difficult for himself. If he had a bass player, then he would have to work a lot less to produce a song, and in his mind, this ease produces laziness. He also uses guitars that are over ten years old and are difficult to keep tuned up. He purposely positions instruments far from each other on the stage so he has to work hard to get to each one.
2. Give Your Muse a Tight Deadline
The White Stripes philosophy is that if you don't give yourself a deadline to produce an album, then you'll take a year or more to finish it. Jack White believes the best way to get your mind to be creative is to give it a short time to produce good work. They give themselves 4 to 5 days to produce an album. That's it. Jack White believes that creativity is about hard work, so don't let your muse dawdle.
3. Image can be Premeditated; Art Never Should Be
The White Stripes' brother-sister image and red and white striped outfits were definitely premeditated, but their music evolves with time. I think writers should be careful with branding themselves. Marketing and sales people love it, but we want to always make sure that we're pushing ourselves to grow and we're still passionate about whatever project we're working on. For some writers that means changing up styles (like M. T. Anderson). Every story we write should be one that we are inspired to tell, not simply one that we believe will sell to the biggest market.
4. Innovate, Don't Imitate
I don't think the White Stripes are like any other band. Even when they do a cover of a another artist's work they make it uniquely their own. Every album is different as well. It's as if they are trying to set themselves apart even from their own work. I will admit that I don't love all of their songs. In all cases, though, the work is innovative from the lyrics to the instrumentation to the voice.
5. Prove Your Critics Wrong
Jack White said in the film that critics early on said they were good, but they wouldn't be able to sustain it. Other critics said they would be a fad. Ten years later, The White Stripes still are producing music and still have a loyal following. I think the critics words were a motivator for Jack and Meggin White. They were intent on proving that the band wasn't going to fade away after a couple of albums.
6. Don't Restrict Yourself to the Ordinary, and Extraordinary Things Can Happen
The White Stripes decided to do a tour of every province in Canada including some small towns that usually get ignored by major artists. They also made sure that during the day they would do free impromptu concerts. One time they played on a bus, another time they chose a tiny diner, and on a different occasion they played outside to about 250 town people. Jack White said the reason for playing in small towns and giving impromptu concerts was that he wanted something special to happen. The only way to have something special happen is to do something out of the ordinary. For writers, maybe it's grabbing a pad of paper or your laptop and writing somewhere strange like a bus depot or a park. Maybe it's giving a reading for an audience that you wouldn't normally think would suit your work. Push yourself to think outside of the norm, and something unusual may happen.
7. Be Passionate about Your Work
Not everyone is going to want to perform the way The White Stripes do, but if there's one thing to be taken from their style it is their passion. If you listen to Jack White talk about music you can hear the passion that he has for it. You can see it in Meggin White as she moves to the music as she strikes the drums. Passion is the thing that can't be faked or found by following a set of rules in a writing manual. It's inside you. Don't ever let anything take that away.