Beyond the Bulb: How to Be More Creative at Everything
Creativity is not just for artists. Whatever your occupation, whatever your hobbies, passions, or interests…whatever it is that you do, thinking creatively can make you better at it. In Beyond the Bulb, Aaron Cheney teaches you how to prepare your brain for its most creative light bulb moments, and then go beyond them to transform those ideas into real creations.
For me, the typical creative cycle goes something like this:
Brainstorm: a meager assemblage of ideas, all of which are stupid.
Epiphany….at last – a world-changing idea!
Insomnia…my brain now refuses to stop pondering and expanding upon my idea.
Unbridled enthusiasm: still basking in the glow of my idea. Work begins.
Realization 1: bringing this idea to fruition is going to require an ass-ton of work, a lot of caffeine, and ultimately psychological counseling. All fun ends here.
Willpower: completion of the first draft.
Agony and endless revisions, wrought by stubborn pig-headedness and the false promise that any revision must somehow be better.
Realization 2: I’m pushing the idea too far.
Acceptance that I will never be completely happy with this creation.
Resolve: the return of hope and the determination to execute better next time. Return to step 1.
Creativity is definitely not what it is romantically thought to be. It is not luminous and lofty ideas descending upon unsuspecting people, quickly brought to existence in one simple stroke. It is almost never that easy. In fact, usually it is very hard. At times it can even be torturous and daunting. It will fill you with self-doubt, and do its best to intimidate you into giving up on your ideas.
These are exactly the kinds of things I am feeling right now. As I type these words I am eyeball-deep in step five. Sure, the idea for this book seemed great when it first came to me. In the light of that initial glow I quickly gathered my thoughts, arranged them into chapters, and set up my computer documents. Now that the writing has begun I realize completing this book is going to involve suffering.
It’s not going to materialize out of thin air just because I had the idea. It’s going to require countless nights working in front of my computer when it would be easier veg’ing in front of my TV. It’s going to require me to give up sleep. It’s going to require me to do research on sunny Saturday afternoons while the rest of the world is hiking, boating, going to baseball games, and laughing at me. In short, it’s going to require of me the discipline to do things when I don’t feel like doing them.
What Creativity Isn’t
Wow….what a downer.
Well, seeing as how I’ve started this book on a resoundingly negative note, we might as well finish this melody. Let’s dispel some myths and spend a minute talking about all the other things creativity is not.
Creativity is not art. One can draw or paint and not be creative. One can sing or dance and not be creative. Conversely, one can make pancakes in a creative way. One can pour a glass of water, hammer a nail, organize a closet, broker a deal, or close a sale in a creative way. Creativity is not following instructions or doing things as others have shown you. It is approaching something in a new way, your way.
Creativity is not imagination. Imagination is a component of creativity, to be sure. It is the genesis. Creativity, however, is more than that. It requires that you actually create something. A person with a fertile, active imagination, who makes no effort to bring their imaginings into reality, is simply an idle dreamer. To be creative you must produce something you can demonstrate, hold, or share.
Creativity is not passive. The best ideas do not manifest themselves unbidden. They are invoked through preparation, received through keen attention, and recorded with urgency. Great works do not come to fruition through idleness. They are made real through effort and sacrifice. Creativity is work, and to create great things you must sometimes conquer the hardest task of all: doing something when you don’t feel like doing it.
Creativity is not convenient. Creativity is a monster. It’s not really a horror movie monster, but more like a Disney monster; it’s only scary at first. By the end of the movie you realize it’s beautiful on the inside, with a heart of gold. Nevertheless, it is a monster, and that monster must be fed.
As you will soon find out (or may already know), creativity does what it wants, when it wants. You don’t get to schedule your “creative time” every other Thursday between dinner and the ten o’clock news. Instead, creativity knocks on your door unannounced at 1:00 on a Monday morning, walks in and grabs a beer out of the fridge, plops its fat ass down on your sofa, and expects to be entertained. And if you don’t crawl out of bed and keep it company – right then – it will leave.
’cause I wanted to know
You’ll find poems about pirates, superheroes, cowboys, and thieves, and enjoy the fanciful black and white illustrations – awaiting your touch of color – when you read this imaginative collection of rhymes. Written and illustrated by Aaron Cheney for his children, this little book is loaded with fun.
I once tried to see what a telescope sees
When it looks at the mountains on Mars;
So I looked without luck ‘til my eyeballs got stuck
And now I can only see stars.
I once tried to hear what an Indian hears
When he puts his ear next to the ground;
So I listened ‘til veins beat like drums on my brain
And now all I hear is that sound.
I once tried to know what the wisest monk knows
At the peak of a hill in Tibet;
So I studied in school ‘til my memory got full
And now all I learn I forget.
I once tried to taste what a hummingbird tastes
When he puts his tongue into a flower;
But my tongue wouldn’t fit so I got mad and quit
And now all my candy tastes sour.
Don’t tell me I’m silly for trying such things
I tried ‘cause I wanted to know,
And knowing means trying and not just relying
On somebody else’s say-so!
Songwriting Step by Step
If you are an aspiring musician, poet, or wordsmith who has ever wanted to write a song – or if you want to write better songs – this book will lead you step by step through the songwriting process and help you to discover tricks and techniques for creating powerful, memorable lyrics and music.
Unlike poems, lyrics are meant to be sung. Hence, the sound of the words is equally as important as the meaning of the words. For this reason it is vital that you always check your lyrics by singing them. No matter how glib they may be on the page, if they are difficult to sing they are not done yet. Trust your intuition here; if you come across a phrase that just doesn’t sound right to you, it’s a good bet it needs to be changed.
We have already seen that an inside rhyme can make a lyric more sing-able, but it is not the only tool in your wood shed. Here are a few others:
Assonance Assonance is the repetition of a vowel sound in a series of words. Basically, it is a string of false rhymes. Assonance makes a lyric easier to sing and speeds up the pace of a line. You’ve already seen an example of assonance in this line from the song Intimate Strangers:
It’s lucky for me to be home when you leave in the morning.
See how the repeated long “ee” sound gives the line a smooth flow? Compare it to this line:
It’s lucky for me to get back while you’re here in the morning.
Doesn’t roll off the tongue nearly as well, does it?
Alliteration Alliteration, or “head-rhyming” as it is called in some circles, is a series of words with similar sounding beginnings. The most obvious example of alliteration is a tongue-twister. Once again, alliteration is a great device to pick up the pace of a lyric and make it easier to sing. To see for yourself how this works, compare these two phrases by reading them aloud:
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
Peter the Flutist harvested a bushel of preserved spices.
Prosody Prosody is the pattern of stress and intonation in a language, and the practice of arranging words in a lyric according to their natural pronunciation. If that’s too much to swallow, just remember this: you have to sing it the way you say it. To quote Mike Meyers, “Don’t put the emPHASis on the wrong sylLABle.” When you are writing you will often find that the word you want to use stresses a syllable that doesn’t jive with the meter of the lyric or the melody. Your options are: rearrange the words so that the word you want to use can go elsewhere or find a different word. Don’t become so married to that word that you use it anyway; it will always sound awkward.
Recently I was writing a country song in which I needed to use the word “guitar”. Sounds easy enough, right? Problem was, the word “guitar” stresses the second syllable and it simply wouldn’t fit the lyric. I fretted (sorry) over it for weeks until one day my wife happened to hear me struggling with the problem. As casually as the office dress code on a Friday she remarked “You know Aaron, real county folks always say the word ‘guitar’ with the accent on the first syllable. Why don’t you just say it the way they do?”
I was stunned. The solution had been so simple and I had completely missed it. I had forgotten to look deeper. Even worse, I had to share songwriting credit with my wife!
Contributing writer for Songwriting for Dummies, 2nd Edition. Articles and excerpts from Aaron’s “The Song Garage” blog were reprinted in the book with permission.
The hook. All songwriters have heard the term. It is a musical passage designed to “grab” a listener. At their most basic (and boring), hooks are just phrases repeated enough times in a song to be remembered. However, good hooks are far more sinister. They lay in wait to surprise and shock. They grab the attention, engage the ear, and imprint themselves on the subconscious. They are a musical ambush.
Baiting the Trap
A good ambush is always hidden; you don’t see it coming until it is too late. The obvious place to hide hooks is in a chorus, but don’t hesitate to plant them in other parts of a song as well – the more the better. They can be lyrical or musical. Heck…hooks can even be unusual sounds or samples – the “pop” in Lollipop by the Chordettes, for example. Regardless of what type of hook you are using, the key is for it to be unexpected.
Bait your trap by making the listener think they know where a song is going. Let them hear a simple chord progression once or twice. Give them a melody that would seem to have a predictable resolution. Feed them lyrics and rhymes that seem obvious. Lull them into a false sense of security. Then pounce.
Boom! Bend their ear with an unexpected note. Bam! Rattle their brain with a crazy rhythmic twist. Whoosh! Throw in a beat or two of complete silence. Do something that refuses to go unnoticed; that forces a listener to sit up and listen.
Once you’ve sprung the trap, use it again and again. The most beautiful thing about a musical ambush is that once it is sprung, the listener looks forward to hearing it again the next time around. Let them. The idea is to surprise them, and then make sure they remember it.
“Precious Dust – The Dirt on Seattle’s Oldest Jewelry Designer” company history written for Sholdt Design.
As you walk through the shop the first thing you notice is the dust. It is easy to tell which tools get used every day and which do not. Dust has a memory that way. Unlike most workshops, however, the dust here is not a hindrance but a gold mine – literally. It is chock full of precious metals. As a result, every drain, vent, and workbench in the place is specially filtered to collect and store it.
“The last time we replaced the carpet, we got a ton of dust out of the old one we pulled up,” says Dustin Sholdt, one of the owners. “We cut it up into twelve inch squares and sent it to a refiner, and it pretty much paid for the new carpet.”
Sitting next to Dustin (known to friends as Dusty, appropriately enough) is older brother Brian Sholdt. Together they own and operate this shop, and it bears their name. They are proud of their dust, and rightly so. For over 75 years the Sholdt family has been making jewelry – and the dust that goes with it – in their unassuming Seattle area workshop. In four generations the business has grown from a repair bench to an internationally recognized design and manufacturing house for wedding and engagement rings, known simply as “Sholdt”.
Their work area is an intriguing blend of old and new. Rolling mills from the ‘30’s share floor space with modern laser welders. Old-fashioned pendulum scales see-saw next to digital scales accurate to one thousandth of a gram. There is a palpable sense of history. Every workstation bears the benchmark of hundreds of hands, and all the wooden cabinets and tool-handles glow with the patina of use. Many of the tiny folded gemstone papers still bear inventory dates from the late 1800’s.
The Early Days The Sholdt history dates back to 1935. Seattle was different then. The Pike Place Market still allowed livestock, and Boeing’s newest aircraft was the prop-driven 247. Bill Gates and Howard Schultz wouldn’t even be born for another twenty years. A young man named Milton Sholdt purchased a fledgling jewelry repair business and set up shop in the Fourth and Pike Building. Milton spent those early years doing trade-work for the local jewelry retailers. He was an outgoing, friendly man that loved to travel, and a shrewd businessman. He was also an enthusiastic drinker and lady’s man
“I remember coming down here with Dad and Grandpa when I was just a kid” says Brian, “and watching Granddad taking sips off a pint of Old Rocking Chair Whiskey. I doubt he ever envisioned the business going this far.”
Milton’s original safe, with the words “Milton H. Sholdt” hand-painted across it, still stands in the shop today. Within it is smaller combination lock-box that hasn’t been opened in 50 years.
“We have no idea what’s in there,” says Dusty. “Somewhere along the way the combination got lost. We can’t get in without ruining it, so we just let it be. Why spoil the mystery? It’s just part of the family history.”
Feature article written for Performer magazine: “3 Common Mistakes to Avoid on When Building Your First Guitar”
Over the last 36 years Warmoth has built lot of guitar parts, and helped a lot of players create their dream guitar or bass. During the time we’ve also observed many of the common missteps budding luthiers make. In the interest helping to create a world with more awesome guitars in it, here are our top three things to make sure you get right:
The Pilot Program
On an electric guitar, there are many components that are mounted with woodscrews, and all those screws need properly drilled pilot-holes. Pilot-holes relieve the pressure the screw will exert as it wedges itself into place, and without them the wood is at risk of splitting.
There is a common misconception that pilot-holes should be as small as possible. Untrue. Pilot-holes should be as large as they can possibly be, leaving just enough wood for a screw to bite into and hold securely. Even pilot-holes pre-drilled by the manufacturer should not be trusted, primarily because the manufacturer has no idea which woodscrews you intend to use. Also, the wood your body and neck are made of might have expanded or contracted as it adjusted to your local temperatures and humidity, altering the size of the pilot-holes. For proper fit is always necessary to measure.
National Park Commemorative Coins copy written for Northwest Territorial Mint.
The gravity-defying formations of Arches National Park are marvels of natural engineering. Cut from ruddy Navajo sandstone, they stand like great cathedrals – testaments to the tireless wind and water that formed them. Perched precariously on the edge of a dizzying precipice, Delicate Arch is the park’s most recognized landmark. Landscape Arch, with a span of 291 feet, is the longest natural arch in the world.
Arches National Park, in the high country of eastern Utah near Moab, was designated in 1971.
The medallion’s front features the world-renowned Delicate Arch. Its reverse shows the park’s visionary founder, Dr. J. W. “Doc” Williams. Minted in the USA from special deep-relief coining dies; struck from solid bronze; and hand-finished with an antique patina for exceptional quality and detail, the Arches National Park medallion is hand-crafted art that captures the history and natural beauty of this time-honored park.
Canyonlands National Park, UT
The bleak grandeur of Canyonlands National Park is both vast and ancient. Its remote canyons, brightly colored mesas, and lonely buttes were sculpted by the churning Colorado River over millions of years. Formations like The Needles and The Island in the Sky tell a beautiful story of the unyielding power of nature. The eerie pictographs in Horseshoe Canyon are among the oldest in America, an echo of the ancient Pueblo people who lived there.
Canyonlands was established in 1964 to preserve this unique area of southeastern Utah.
The medallion’s front depicts one of the park’s dramatic sandstone arches. The reverse shows rafters riding the rapids of the Colorado River. Minted in the USA from special deep-relief coining dies; struck from solid bronze; and hand-finished with an antique patina for exceptional quality and detail, the Canyonlands National Park medallion is hand-crafted art that captures the history and beauty of this historic park.
Article written for Family Strong blog: “Graduating Seniors: 10 Rules for a Well-lived Life”
Graduating seniors, you have the whole world before you. Your slate as an adult is blank, and you can write on it whatever you wish. As you begin your life story, be aware of one of life’s greatest ironies: that the choices you make in these next few years, while you are still relatively inexperienced, will have a longer effect on your life than any others.
Make good choices.
Your life will better if you:
10. Meet people and make friends. There is an old saying in the music business: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. You will soon learn that this saying doesn’t just apply to the world of music. The opportunities that come your way will happen through the people that populate your life. Gather as many around you as you can. I’m not talking about “networking”. “Networking” is a silly buzzword that implies an ulterior motive. I’m talking about befriending good people and creating lasting relationships with them. Help them accomplish their goals, and find the things they want in their lives, and your life will be enriched because of it.
9. Work hard. Engaging yourself in productive work is still the best way I know to get the things you want from life. Hard work gives you purpose. It brings you a sense of fulfillment that can be found no other way. It bolsters your sense of self-worth and can even bring you peace when you are troubled. I’m not just talking about careers outside the home. Parenting and volunteering are also productive work. Whatever it is you decide to do, be passionate about it. When you have passion, people are attracted to you. Don’t just labor blindly; work smart. Watch for paths of progress, and when they reveal themselves take advantage of them.
8. Continue to learn. Gain as much knowledge as you can. The world is changing at a faster pace than ever before. Adapt and overcome obstacles in your path by adopting an attitude of constant learning. Make it a habit. Knowledge will illuminate dark rooms, and open locked doors. It will make you a more articulate communicator, and a more persuasive negotiator. It will make you a more effective mother or father.
7. Live a principle-centered life. Don’t alter your ideals to suit friends, trends, or fashion. Develop moral courage by standing true to the things you believe in, even in the face of ridicule and scorn. Be honest in all your dealings. Treat people with dignity and respect, and expect nothing less in return. Serve others. Practice integrity. People are attracted to these qualities.
6. Become a giant. When you were a child adults were bigger than you. You looked up to them, literally and figuratively. They had dominion over you. They were giants. You are no longer a kid; adults are now your peers. Walk among them as a giant yourself; an equal. From now on no one has dominion over you. Don’t be intimidated by strong personalities, or discouraged by miserable souls that revel in squashing ambition. You do not answer to them. You are worth as much and have as much right to succeed and be happy as anyone else. Build your life; chart your course. Own your actions and their consequences.
5. Take risks. Don’t be cavalier, but don’t be too timid either. Calculated risks are essential to your growth and success. Go beyond your comfort zone. Don’t fear failure or ridicule; instead fear complacency. Ignore any feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness, and be tenacious. Set and pursue goals. Write them down and refer to them often, and you will find ways to accomplish the things you want. Lastly, don’t wait to start…time is too precious.
4. Never sacrifice happiness for pleasure. Pleasure is fleeting, but happiness is enduring. It is ironic that to experience the latter one must often give up the former. Live the principal of delayed gratification. Save for something instead of buying it on credit. Exercise every day instead of watching too much television. Eat vegetables instead of potato chips. Yes…eat vegetables. Patient, unwavering effort is the doorway through which life’s most enduring joys are found: health, love, friendship, purpose.
3. Never surrender the power to make your own choices. There are many things in this world that can diminish your ability to make your own choices if you let them, including peers, hobbies, food, alcohol, drugs, or debt. Oppressive governments, businesses, and religions can also be included in this list. You must vigorously defend your ability to chart your own course through life. Practice moderation. Be thoughtful about which causes or institutions you support. Be mindful of the consequences of your actions. The happiest people I know are those who, through their vigilance, have preserved their freedom to choose, and the most miserable are those who have become enslaved through apathy or unchecked appetites.
2. Practice fiscal patience. Save. Stay out of debt. Invest early, and stay committed to it throughout your life. Understand how compound interest works. Over time it can make you rich or financially suffocate you. An education, a home, and perhaps a business venture are about the only things I can think of worth going into debt for. Cars, boats, hobbies, and entertainment are most definitely not. Live frugally. Strive for self-sufficiency.When you are in debt or depend on others for your sustenance you give away part of your freedom. Realize that all the possessions your parents own were accumulated over a lifetime. You don’t need them all at once, right now. They will come in their own due time.
1. Choose your spouse carefully. The person you pick to spend your life with will have a greater effect on your happiness than just about any other choice you make. Remember that just like their possessions, the relationship your parents now have was accumulated piece by piece over our lifetime. Just as they have done, you and your spouse will have to build your life together one challenge, one triumph, one tragedy, and one joy at a time. If you dedicate yourself to that person above all else you will eventually accumulate the lifetime’s worth of experiences that make for the deepest kind of love.
Now go out into the world, and make it a better place for you having been here. Make yours a well-lived life.