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3 Non-Writing Influences to My Writing

In reading Jeff Vandermeer’s “Booklife,” (which is by far one of my favorite writing books and I shall write up a review when I finish it) he talks about identifying the non-writing influences on your writing. The goal is to find those people/artists that indirectly affect your writing by seeking out indirect methods of influence. Jeff is a big sports fan, so his influences are athletes, which is such a different perspective than my own that I had go through the same exercise.

For anyone who has known me or read this blog for any length of time, you know that music is very important. So clearly at least two of my influences would be musicians and most likely drummers. In fact, so much of my life is influenced by music I could easily say all these influences are musicians, but I wanted to push myself to look somewhere else. It didn’t work.

1. Neil Peart, drummer: As the greatest drummer of all time (and the lyricist for Rush), it’s easy to overstate Peart’s influence on both writing and drumming. And though many people find his lyrics overwrought and too thinky, it’s actually his drumming that has a huge influence on my writing. Here’s the thing about Peart’s drumming and how it got to be so good — he has a massive imagination and creativity in his parts, but he always makes sure those parts are interesting to him. And THEN, he has these massive chops to pull off just about anything. Talk about a combination that I would love as a writer: to have a one-of-a-kind imagination that I use to keep myself interested, buoyed by a strength to just make it happen. Actually, that sounds like my favorite writer Iain Banks. Hm.

2. Terry Chambers, drummer: We call Chambers the “meat and potatoes” drummer. As the original drummer for XTC, Chambers played on their three essential albums “Drums and Wires,” “Black Sea” and “English Settlement.” That weird backhanded rhythm on Making Plans for Nigel? That’s Chambers. He has an amazing strength that is usually reflected in his four-on-the-floor — that chugging rhythm when the bass drum is hitting all four beats in a measure — but he also has an amazing range of power that is best illustrated on the English Settlement album. This record is a bit of a mess. The first side (back when we had LP records) contains perhaps the greatest five songs in a row; a pop masterpiece that very few people have ever replicated. But from there, the record has another ten songs that vary in tempo and rhythms and don’t always work. However the drums are always very interesting and never miss their beats. See, when we talk about “meat and potatoes” we’re talking about how Chambers never misses the fundamentals. As the listener, you never worry about where the beat is and there is always a drum beat to guide you through the song, even if in some backhanded way (like on Nigel). Chambers understands that a drummer doesn’t have to be fancy (but can be creative) to do his job. I think that’s a great MO for a writer as well.

3. James Murphy, musician/record label owner/DJ: Murphy is best known for being the one-man band behind LCD Soundsystem, but he’s also known for running DFA Records and being a great DJ in his own right. So he’s a master of dance music and understands what works and what doesn’t — great. But here’s why he’s such a strong influence on me: when LCD was alive, Murphy would write and perform his own songs in the studio, and then take his own band (“the world’s best LCD Soundsystem cover band in the world” he would say) on the road, and they would translate all of his electronic music into music played by people’s hands. The implications of this musically are impressive, but let’s transplant that to writing and see what comes out. Imagine writing a novel, by yourself in your room, and publishing it. Great, nice work. Now go and hire six people to work as voice and Foley artists to perform your book with you on tour. The idea is staggering, imaginative and embodies true art — to create a unique experience that the reader/viewer will never forget. Damn.

This has been a very powerful and fun exercise (especially at 530 in the morning) to open my mind to all of my influences. Which non-writers influence your writing?

2 Comments


  1. // Reply

    Good stuff, Dave. My non-writer influences would probably be astrophysics/quantum mechanics, religion (both organized and primitive), archaeology, true crime, and folklore (but that’s writing, I suppose). As for specific people, I’d have a hard time with that. Probably visual artists such as Beksinski and Bosch, and any number of doom/heavy musicians.

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