Miles Davis, Mysterious Birds and the Unstoppable Urge to Soar

Photo Credit: Lightfield Studios

There’s a bird that sings outside my window almost every morning with the most haunting, flute-like melody. How can three notes, repeated over and over, be so captivating? Okay, I admit, Miles Davis’s tune “So What?” kind of made it clear that can be done in two notes – and it’s no wonder that Erykah Badu riffed on it in “Rimshot.”

There are countless other examples, no doubt. But don’t you find that intriguing?

I’m equally fascinated with a related phenomenon – how every living creature seems to have such an instinctual need for self-expression, from the shrill cries of coyotes in the wild to people who tell jokes, campfire horror tales or (God bless them) novels.

Top: “Rimshot” is on this Erykah Badu album. Bottom: a Magnolia Warbler, standing in for my mysterious bird. Someday I’ll find out its name. Photo Credit: Wirestock

Every so often, someone proposes that I write a book or script that’s based on their experiences. Most of them don’t realize how many years go into the process of doing those things. Professional writers have to be overwhelmingly enthralled by a story idea if they’re going to commit to it. That said, a friend or two have dangled a juicy confession in front of my eyes, and I’ve bit.

There’s a sort of natural selection process that takes place in writers’ minds, weeding out potential stories left and right to make time for the ones that don’t just move their hearts; the urge to tell them is unstoppable, like a hurricane. That’s what happened to me when I wrote my dystopian sci-fi tale about the media biz, THE JUICE.

Recently the publishing industry expert Jane Friedman quoted a statistic from a New York Times article, that 98% of the books released by publishers last year sold less than 5,000 copies.

Needless to say, writers like me are not in this “game” for the money alone. The odds of success are so slim that at times it feels a bit like fools rushing in, as the old song puts it. For some, the prospect of failure is too great to make writing worthwhile.

But as J.K. Rowling once said: “Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I’ve met people who don’t want to try for fear of failing.”

The trick lies in not thinking about winning or losing. It lies in an overwhelming feeling of love, the love of the craft, the desire to express oneself in an enthralling manner — like a bird that captivates one solitary woman waking up to the sound of its song. That’s something.

Nicholas Pepper, head of studio creative content at Amazon, said in a recent Roadmap Writers webinar that there aren’t any new stories, but there are new voices. For me, finding my voice and expressing it to the best of my abilities is what life’s all about.

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