Watching The Beatles’ Get Back documentary recently, I was amazed at the unassuming origin of songs I know so well: how they started out as nothing much in somebody’s head and became an extraordinary something that will last forever. Something was created out of nothing.
Yes, I appreciate that this might be stating the bleedin’ obvious, but watching the process of bringing these songs into being is so striking because I grew up knowing the finished article so well. And when it’s a song like, say, Let It Be and it’s Paul McCartney who’s struggling to find a way to make it work, then it’s encouraging for anyone who has ever started a piece of creative work from scratch.
I’m a bit of a Beatles nut so I knew about these Get Back sessions, but I had no idea they turned up to rehearse without actually having any songs to sing. As I recognised little snippets of melody and half-baked lyrics, I soon realised I was watching The Beatles effectively create what would become the Abbey Road and Let It Be albums from a starting point of nothing but the ideas in their head.
Each song – or each idea for a song – niggles away at the writer. It keeps coming back and refuses to go away. Or there’s a melody that they’re trying to match up with words, often using nonsense to get the lyrics to scan satisfactorily. Worried all along that what they have will come to nothing. Not knowing where the song will go to from here. Not knowing if it amounts to something or nothing. Dissatisfied with what they have, unhappy with what they’re trying to say or how they’re trying to say it. Do they forget all about it or come back another day to see if they can make it work? How about doing it that way instead?
Every writer will recognise the self-doubt, the concern that what they have just isn’t good enough – and this is The Beatles! As I say: kind of encouraging, in a way.
The process is remarkable in that they’re working as a team, collaborating to make each song better. Often, one Beatle’s nascent song acts as the solution to another band member’s frustration. Most fiction writers work alone and only come across this kind of invaluable assistance in the editing process – if they’re ever that lucky! There are many examples of songwriting partnerships – Jagger & Richards, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Bacharach & David, Leiber & Stoller – and it makes sense when there are the two distinct elements of music and lyrics. So, Lennon and McCartney bouncing off each other is one thing, even if this strict demarcation of roles was not how they worked, but what we see in the Get Back film is a genuine collaboration of the whole band working together. They arrive individually but feed off and help each other, and they do all this with the lights, cameras, caterers, girlfriends, sound technicians, security staff, teamakers and general hangers-on, all present in the same workplace. I’m not sure there are many writers of fiction who could ever create something from nothing under those conditions.
(One of my favourite moments in the film is George helping Ringo with Octopus’s Garden. Or, very early on when George suggests they run all these short songs on into each other without a break – which is exactly what they did for the second side of Abbey Road. At the time, nobody appeared to pick up on George’s suggestion, but the seed must have been planted and something wonderful came to be created.)
Yesterday I sat down to write out a scene that I had absolutely no interest in writing. It was a necessary scene for my overall story to make any kind of sense – certain things had to happen, characters had to do and say stuff for the narrative to move on – but this scene was certainly not what inspired me to want to write the book. At moments like this, writing can be boring, and there’s a very real danger that this lack of interest will seep through into the words you write – that the story becomes boring too. But I did the necessary and it was . . . okay. There were some positives to what I had written, the overriding one being that there was at least something down on the page. I had created something out of nothing and today, this morning, I was able to revisit what I’d done to see if it was any good. I was no longer bored by the scene: I couldn’t wait to finish my porridge so I could get at it, to see how it might be improved upon.
I don’t have a John, Paul, George or Ringo to help kick my book into shape. I only have my own judgement and my own critical faculties. I know when I’ve written a good piece of work and, by the same token, I also know when the opposite is true. So, this ‘boring’ scene: do I use it or lose it? In a way, it doesn’t matter. The key fact is that I’m now working on something that didn’t exist two days ago. For better or for worse, I have created something out of nothing.
If you’re a writer, it’s what you do.
(c) Adrian White
Adrian is the editor of Writing.ie and works as a consultant to writers through The Inkwell Group.
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About An Accident Waiting to Happen:
A young woman disappears. Her partner Gregory, under suspicion of having done her harm, is left to care for her son Tomas from a previous relationship. The race is on for Gregory to find the woman he loves before the police take Tomas away. How far would you go to protect the ones you love?
A tough subject, desertion, handled with compelling simplicity as a father and son cope alone in a rough world. Extraordinarily engaging and sensitive, wringing one’s emotions. Sarah Broadhurst, The Bookseller
Adrian White’s debut is irresistible . . . it’s like life. Afric Hamilton, Irish Examiner
Dark, unsettling – and definitely not touchy-feely. Anna Carey, Image Magazine
Disturbing and sometimes irresistible, this is a story that will find a responsive audience in the growing ranks of dispossessed fathers. Lucille Redmond, Irish Independent
White offers a porthole on the male dilemma – the pressure to plumb his emotions and articulate them, the quandary of a sense of alienation from his environment. His unflinching honesty, coupled with an accessible writing style, produce an assured debut. Martina Devlin, Dublin Evening Herald
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