Lessons from Tom Waits

I came across this wonderful interview with Tom Waits that Elizabeth Gilbert did for GQ magazine back in 2002. She mentioned it in her Ted talk Your elusive creative genius which is also a great watch. In the interview there were some gems of wisdom from one of the most unique musicians and writers in the 20th century, certainly one of my favorites. I thought I’d collate the quotes I found interesting here but I’d urge anyone to go read the article itself in full.

Everybody knows me at the dump — Tom Waits

tom waits

Kids are always working on songs and throwing them away, like little origami things or paper airplanes. They don't care if they lose it; they'll just make another one.

Tom said this after relaying a story where his daughter came up with one of the key lyrics to Hold On off the top of her head. What it says to me is that you should focus on just getting creative work out there, and not really worry about whether it succeeds or fails. Just write another story, or another song, paint or draw another picture, just get it out there and keep going.

He believes that if a song "really wants to be written down, it'll stick in my head. If it wasn't interesting enough for me to remember it, well, it can just move along and go get in someone else's song."

I can really relate to this and I’d say it’s part of my creative process, but in equal parts I think it’s also important to do work that doesn’t come to you. Sometimes you need a prompt, or a guide, or something. But all of my novel and longer short story and novella ideas have come to me in this way. I’d read an article, or see or hear something, that gets me thinking on an idea. I don’t write it down. If it’s still stuck in my brain after a few days percolating up there, I know I’ve got something to work with.

A collaborator at heart, he has never had to make the difficult choice between creativity and procreativity. At the Waits house, it's all thrown in there together- spilling out of the kitchen, which is also the office, which is also where the dog is disciplined, where the kids are raised, where the songs are written and where the coffee is poured for the wandering preachers.

This is how I want our house to be as my kids grow older. The boys already like reading, and I hope to continue to guide them that way, and maybe they’ll do a bit of writing when they’re older too. It’s a great outlet. My partner loves it too, reading and writing. It’s one of our common interests that we can talk about for ages (when we can get a word in over the screaming and the barking).

I’ll stop here, but you really should go and read the article. It’s beautiful. Then, go and listen to Rain Dogs, and thank me later.

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