Have you written anything today? Will you? What about yesterday—or tomorrow?
This past week a friend sent me a set of quotes from famous writers. My eyes gravitated to a statement by science fiction writer Ray Bradbury:
Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you're doomed.
I've been reading Emperor Norton's Hunch,* a history of trumpet player Lu Watters, who sparked a revolution in jazz in the 1940s and early '50s. Like many of his generation, his career was deferred as he answered his country's call to arms. But rather than abandon his dreams or put them on a shelf, he did what he could during the war to prepare to launch a reconstituted band in peacetime.
Serving in the Navy aboard a slow transport, the S.S. Antigua, bound for Hawaii, he forced himself to engage in what became his most productive period as a composer.
Every day, just to get away from everything . . . I went to the bow of the ship . . . and I wrote a tune a day. Some of them weren't very good, and . . . of course I knew this. When you write a tune, once in a while you get a wild inspiration and you outline a tune and if you have any sense after that initial stage you'll play around with it a little bit, but anyway I wrote one a day.
Those “tunes,” the author notes, were not just simple compositions, but ones of some complexity. And thanks to Watters's postwar band, The Yerba Buena Jazz Band, and others they influenced, many become traditional jazz standards.
A photo caption in the book identifies the dates that Watters, at the bow of the S.S. Antigua, wrote these tunes:
“Annie Street Rock”—Sept. 10, 1944
“Sage Hen Strut”—Sept. 11, 1944
“Antigua Blues”—Sept. 12, 1944
“Big Bear Stomp”—Sept. 13, 1944
“Hambone Kelly”—Sept. 14. 1944
If you want to write something good, you have to write something. To avoid writing mistakes, false starts, and material you'll have to discard, don't write anything.
The acronym comes in several forms, but the one I know is FOKSIC. Fingers on keyboard, seat in chair.
* See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTUjnl5C5l8 for a video of the Yerba Buena Stompers, a Lu Watters tribute band, playing “Emperor Norton's Hunch,” composed aboard the S.S. Antigua.