Leonard Cohen On Writing

Cohen Once Told Me – Fight Against the Clay Pots!

Leonard Cohen once told me things. Not directly, of course, but through song. When he sings, though, he sings directly to the listener. He stops the heart long enough for you to hear the things he tells you. “There is a crack in everything…that’s how the light gets in.” (From ANTHEM, from the album THE FUTURE, 1992) Maybe these are the truest words that a writer should hear and embrace into their life. The pain that we endure in life…the struggles, the denials, the slights and blights and fights and jabs—these are the things that wake us, that make us listen. Every crack we endure is testament to the light. Open your heart to the cracks, accept them, and you will have the light. Living our lives…every detail—good and bad—is a good way to embrace the emotions you will need to write a story others will want to read. When Cohen tells me things, I listen.

“Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin, dance me through the panic ‘til I’m gathered safely in, lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove.” (From DANCE ME TO THE END OF LOVE, from the album VARIOUS POSITIONS, 1984) Find the muse who resides inside of you. Dance with the muse. Accept that YOU have the power to create your words—you wait for nobody else to do it for you. The creativity comes from within, not from some non-existent muse you wait for…don’t panic. Dance. The words will come.

“From bitter searching of the heart, quickened with passion and with pain, we rise to play a greater part.” (From Villanelle For Our Time, from the album DEAR HEATHER, 2004) After you write, write more. And when you finish writing, write more. Sometimes Cohen tells me to keep on trucking. Keep searching, keep struggling, keep digging. The more we reach into that deep well to find our passions and pain—those things that make us tune in and forget that we are WRITER, those things that allow us to be simply WRITING—the more we will connect to the words we write. The more we connect to the words we write, the more the reader will connect to our words they read. Go deep…and rise to play a greater part!

“He would never learn the names of the trees he passed, he’d never learn anything, he’d always confront a lazy mystery.” (From BEAUTIFUL LOSERS, a novel, 1966) When I read that line, I said, “Yes, yes, yes!” I don’t know what it is about me, but I don’t know anything. I live the lazy mystery. I sometimes fret over not knowing simple things about everything around me. But the poet inside me says, “forget about it”. To not know the concrete information about the world around you helps you to see it more brightly. Still, I sometimes feel like the blind. There is good and bad in being fully in the know AND being fully ignorant. Just, whatever you do…take notice of the world around you. As a writer, you are reflecting it back to your reader. Either reflect it through intellectual channels or emotional ones. If you don’t know the name of the tree, you better write a hell of a description about the way its leaves caress the sky!

Leonard Cohen tells me always, not directly, but through songs and words, to never lose youth. Stay forever gold, if you can. A writer is to listen and record with the ears and eyes of a child. “Seven to eleven is a huge chunk of life, full of dulling and forgetting. It is fabled that we slowly lose the gift of speech with animals, that birds no longer visit our windowsills to converse. As our eyes grow accustomed to sight they armour themselves against wonder. Flowers once the size of pine trees, return to clay pots. Even terror diminishes. The giants and giantesses of the nursery shrink to crabby teachers and human fathers.” (From THE FAVOURITE GAME, a novel, 1963) Don’t allow those flowers to shrink, your terror to diminish, the birds to stop conversing. For the love of God, please, whatever you do, do not allow your vision to grow accustomed to the wonder. When you sit down to write, remember the childlike wonder you once had…embrace it fully before you begin to reach inside. Be a child when you play in the field of words. Children don’t have as many rules, they are not as rigid…they allow what to be to be. A child doesn’t harness in his muse, her creativity, his editor, her suspension of disbelief. Just do yourself a favour and do not bring your baggage with you, when you sit to write your words. Fight against the clay pots!

These words, and all the other words that Cohen gives us, mean something different to each reader, to each listener. It doesn’t matter what they meant to you…that they may mean something completely different. What matters is that we let Leonard Cohen tell us things, not directly, of course…but through song and word. This concludes this sermon on the man who sometimes tells me things.

Enjoy the Cohen tune below, and enjoy your Saturday.

A wonderful live recording on YOUTUBE of Cohen singing my favourite Cohen song – ANTHEM.


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On Writing

Don’t Forget to Talk to the Animals!

Dear Writer,

Don’t let people tell you that the MUSE is a tiny creature with wings and a golden wand who will come land on your shoulder and whisper sweet-plottings into your ear.

The muse is inside you. You are the muse you seek. Millions of thoughts race by within the human mind every minute. The writer has the unique ability to reach inside that chaotic slipstream and pull out the not-quite-shiny diamond among the cosmic dust. They cuddle that diamond, mold it, smash it, crush it, stretch it and eat it. That diamond may be a snatch of dialogue, an odd little character glimpsed out of the corner of their eye, a random thought that makes them shiver with delight…or anything else that travels through their brain shouting for attention. The muse is you. It’s those thoughts and your special ability to pluck the right ones and haul them off to the drafting table of your imagination.

If you wait for a scantily clad Roman Goddess to come walking into your life and deliver unto you the wild wanderings of a poem-spark or novel-idea…you’ll wait forever, my friend. There ain’t no muse. Sit with yourself and think. Or, better yet, DON’T THINK. Become a being sitting, not thinking. Yes…I know. It’s very Zen and crazy to consider this. But the milk of an idea comes not when we’re concentrating…grasping and begging for it to come. The diamonds that must be rubbed to a shine are the ideas that come to us when we are busy doing other things. Our muse (remember…we are the muse!) picks the oddest moments in our workaday lives to drop brilliance into that aforementioned slipstream of human thought. Your job isn’t to CONCENTRATE on the flow and grab at the diamond…your job is to be the sitter. Your job is to jump up and scream, “OOH! SHINY!” As your own muse, you are only gifted in the silence. You only ‘listen’ when you are the quiet amidst the chaos.

When do I find the muse inside myself?

I ALWAYS talk with the animals. And they always lead me to that place where we become the flow…where we can see the sparkle of ideas and know instinctively which ones will take us places. When you allow yourself to talk to animals, anything is possible. Again…it may sound crazy. But I gave up worrying what other people think a long time ago. When I found myself returning to writing in 2003, after an extremely lengthy absence from it, I decided I would not THINK about writing. I would just DO writing. And I would take my dog for walks and discuss my writing with her. She listens. Or, rather, she allows me to listen. Talking to her is a bit like escaping reality. And when one escapes reality, their senses are more preternatural. They ‘see’ more. They ‘hear’ more. When I talk to the animals, I’m not THINKING. I’m not struggling, “What should I write about???!!!” I’m just being the me that can watch the chaos of ideas slip through my mind. I can ignore them and laugh at them and push the bad ones away. Some sort of net (we’ll call the net THE MUSE) seems to strap itself down and stretch itself across the shores of this slipstream when I’m not looking. It catches all the glittery diamonds that would otherwise sneak past. When I’m walking through the woods discussing things with my dog–not thinking about things–this net does the work for me.

What is this rambling post about? I knew you would ask me this. It’s about unplugging. Writers too often try desperately to find topics to write about. They struggle with not knowing their true desires, their true sparks, their true muse. All you have to do is shut up and listen. You have to completely unplug. My form of unplugging is talking to the animals. Yes…I do talk to more than just my dog. When you’re talking to your dog, other dogs listen. Pretty soon, you’re the pied piper of the dog park. And this makes my muse extremely happy. My muse reaps what I sow. He puts himself into action the moment I unplug.

Find the thing that makes you silent. Find the thing that makes the chaotic mix of ideas swirling around in your head take a pause. You are your muse. You are the only person who can stop that chaos long enough to pull away the shiny diamonds. The pleasure is in the polishing of those diamonds–the process of writing your story after you find that diamond. But you can’t wait for an outside source to bring you your kernels. You need to do it yourself. You need to accept that you–and you alone–are your muse.

Franny – Who is NOT my Muse

Don’t forget to talk to the animals! They always send me in the right direction.