Leaving blanks

3 Dec

A friend who teaches people to play music was telling me how hard it is to get some people to try improvising.  They think they must have total mastery of their instrument first.  I have to learn all the chords first, they tell him.  Then all the scales.  Then the modes, then the, then the, then the… forever.  It’s hard to convince them that they can work around the gaps in their knowledge.

There are similar roadblocks to writing, if you let gaps in your knowledge, skills, or ability become roadblocks.

The truth in any art form is that no-one masters all the skills.  No-one has all the knowledge.

My first novel was based on a coal mine disaster, and I almost did not attempt it, because even though I’d grown up in a mining community, I had never actually been down in a mine myself.  When I wrote the first several drafts of that novel, one of the early chapters was called “Down in the Mine” and consisted of several pages of blank paper with the words: “Research Needed” scrawled on the pages in pen.

I’m at the same stage now with the manuscript I’m just starting.  I don’t know the main character’s name.  It appears as an underlined blank.  I don’t know any characters names but one, as a matter of fact.  They are all blanks.  Some of the book is set a long time ago, so prices of things appear as blanks until I can look them up and confirm them.  Addresses of real institutions: blank, too.

Some of these blanks are calling out to be filled soon.  I’m not sure how much farther I can go without figuring out the name of the protagonist.  But for now I’m improvising with what I’ve got.  I’m working around the gaps in my knowledge.

My friend the music teacher would approve.

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One Response to “Leaving blanks”

  1. bushidoka December 3, 2010 at 11:14 pm #

    Works like that in the Martial Arts, too.

    In Aikido we have this thing called “randori”, which is roughly “free fighting”. You have several people attack you, and use your knowledge to defend yourself. I would say that randori is pretty close to a musician’s improvising. For us, we say that you just let the proper technique for the situation come to the surface by itself.

    Several months ago we had 2 new guys start classes, and after only a week or two we had a class with randori practice. Everyone in turn got a crack at it. Generally we start with the highest rank, and depending on the rank will send 3, 4, or 5 attackers after them. Then we work our way down and let everyone have a few minutes being attacked by multiple attackers.

    The two new guys were the last 2 to get their turn, and of course were pretty nervous because really they knew nothing. But one guy did so well that he got a standing ovation at the end of it. He did not have the techniques whatsoever, but he definitely had the rhythm. And for this sort of defense rhythm is the basis of everything. It was pretty impressive.

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