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Head, Heart or Gut: What Kind of Writer Are You? by Campbell Jefferys

Article by Campbell Jefferys ©.
Posted in Resources ().

My doctor has a theory that there are three kinds of patients: head patients, heart patients and gut patients. Whatever is ailing a patient, they will feel it first in the head, heart or gut, depending on what patient they are.

I like this theory, and so does my doctor, because he says it makes it much easier to treat a patient once he’s identified them as head, heart or gut. I think the same theory can be applied to writing.

There are head writers, cerebral over-thinkers who sweat on every word, attempting to transfer their intellect to the page and prove to the world how clever they are. There are heart writers, passionate souls who get to the very essence of things and illicit strong reactions from readers even when sometimes drifting too far into melodrama. And there are gut writers, intense and uneasy sorts who trust their instincts and let the story go where the story wants to go, even when rewriting that same story a dozen times.

My doctor says I’m a gut patient. I’ll trump that by saying I’m a gut person, because I’ve always liked the idea of trusting my instincts, whether I’m hitch-hiking, hitting a tennis ball, falling in love, making decisions or writing a story. Sure, this could all be an example of illusory correlation (me wanting to see connections between things when no such connections exist), but my gut has been an excellent guide over the years.

That’s especially true when it comes to writing. I started writing novels with no training and no idea what I was doing. The first five years were frustrating exercises in trial and error. I didn’t have the background, or the smarts, to write from the head, and I didn’t want to write melodramas. All I had were ideas, which grew bigger and which needed to be put on the page. From the beginning, I trusted the story and myself: I just had to sit down and work, and the story would write itself.

This approach has served me well through nine books and a full-time writing career spanning two decades that has seen me working on everything from travel guidebooks and advertising slogans to glossy magazine features and op-ed pieces. I’m aware that if I think too hard or if I try to write from the heart, I’m forcing it and the words have no conviction.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying all writers should write from the gut. Writers shall write in the way that is best for them. Plenty of head and heart writers produce wonderful books that can be savoured through repeated readings, while plenty of gut writers churn out books that should be tossed across the floor in anger.

Forgive this long preamble, but I felt it necessary as a way of outlining how I made certain creative decisions with my latest book Rowan and Eris. This book has an original soundtrack. With One Hand Clapping (the name of the book’s album), my gut was telling me that the music should be more than something nice the reader could listen to. It should add to the story, help fill in some of the gaps and provide extra layers of texture to characters already fleshed out on the page.

Rowan is a luthier. What he wants to be is a musician, but he’s struggling. As he journeys across America, searching for Eris, who may or may not be his daughter, he starts to find his voice. There are passages that delve into the song-writing process, as Rowan experiments with chord progressions and attempts to write lyrics that don’t sound cheesy and lame.

All through the book’s writing, rewriting and editing, I felt that Rowan’s music needed to be brought to life. This wasn’t a conscious decision or my heart’s desire: it was a need. The question was how to do it. Write and record the music myself? Form an indie super band as in the film Backbeat? Or ask a handful of musicians to write and record a song each?

In the end, my gut told me to enlist someone I could trust. Someone I knew well who would bridge the gap between musical creativity and the words on the page. That someone was Melbourne musician and fellow Hamburg resident Joel Havea.

The resulting seven-track CD far exceeded my expectations. Joel not only composed and recorded in character, as Rowan, he also managed to capture the mood of the book. The songs are a window to Rowan’s character and mindset, while providing insight into other characters and events described in the book.

One Hand Clapping is much more than a soundtrack. It’s a bit like an extra chapter of the book. Or perhaps it’s an epilogue that transports the reader back into the book, shedding new light on certain situations and conversations. Or maybe it’s an interlude, with each song listened to at the point it’s mentioned in the book.

Whatever it is, each reader can use his or her head, heart or gut to decide when it’s best to enjoy the accompanying music.

(c) Campbell Jefferys

About Rowan and Eris:

It’s a simple story, a journey, a search, a pursuit. There is a man from Perth, an American woman, their daughter. The woman is intent on creating chaos wherever she goes, through urban art, and her work extends to creating chaos in her own life by having a daughter. The man is intent on finding his daughter and in doing so finds himself and the songs inside him. It’s a road trip novel, starting in Perth, Australia, and traversing America, Canada and Europe. It is also a meditation on art, creativity, success, growing up and taking responsibility. A highly ambitious project, the book includes an a CD of original music, plus illustrations and song lyrics.

Order your copy online here.

Originally from Western Australia, Campbell Jefferys backpacked around the world working for prestigious travel publishers and as a journalist. He now lives in Germany where he runs a media company working in film, music, TV and books. His journalist has appeared in the likes of the Sunday Telegraph, the Globe and Mail, Decanter and Adventure. He has won four independent publishing awards. A keen athlete, Jefferys represented Australia in triathlon at the World Age Group Championships in London in 2013 and is a dedicated cricket tragic.
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