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Scott Lax Blog

The Drummer

The joy of drumming
I've played drums my entire life, and began playing professionally when I was 13. It's been more than a decade since I retired from playing out with bands, though now and again I sit in.

Now it's Finn's turn. He really is that fast with the sticks to create that blur. No matter if he joins the ranks of Buddy Rich (the best ever), Ringo Star (who is underrated) Uriel Jones (probably my biggest influence) and the rest of the greats (Bonham, Elvin Jones, Gene Krupa, Tony Williams, so many others), I don't care. As long as he keeps that joy of drumming as evidenced on his face in this photo.  Read More 

On Influence in Writing

Finn being thoughtful (at nearly four months in the world)
Lydia and I were talking this morning about how much a writer should allow herself or himself to be influenced by other writers. We both agreed: learning from and being influenced by a writer (or other artists) is fine and good. Imitating, on the other hand – notsomuch, as they say nowadays.

As a writer, I'm influenced by a variety of artists, and they widely vary. Here's a sampling: poets Pablo Neruda and Walt Whitman for their cultural sensibilities and lyricism; French film director Francois Truffaut for his love of story-telling about the elegance and pain of everyday life and love; F. Scott Fitzgerald for his ability to write astonishingly beautiful sentences that happened to exist within great plots; my dad, for his ability to write succinct business letters, which was my first important lesson in writing after college (he took a two-pager and showed me how to edit it down to a couple of paragraphs); E.B. White, for his elegant simplicity and brevity in nonfiction essays; Dorothy Parker for her wit, which was layered with the understanding that life isn't fair, but that you can be funny anyway; Ernest Hemingway for his often short, gorgeous, utterly misunderstood sentences (misunderstood because he was a much better writer, and more complicated, than the simplistic view of him as a writer of silly, tough prose); James Baldwin for his searing portrayal of post-war America (I would put John Cheever in that category); Tim O'Brien for his wondrous ability to weave realism and fiction in a brutal yet tender way. And drummers Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich and Uriel of The Funk Brothers (drummer for many Motown hits) for the execution of controlled, powerful rhythmic excellence and varying dynamics.

Whew. And there are others, but if you got through those, maybe you want to take a break and make your own list.

So to put a finer point on this subject: Don't imitate. Be inspired. Be influenced. But find your own voice. How do you do that? I'll write more about that in coming months, but for now, here a bit of advice:

Be honest. Don't ever hide behind experimental or clever technique. Allow the story and the language to be the star of your writing, but not yourself. Creative writing is not an advertisement for you as a woman or man. It's an art form. Read More 

How Do You Stay Afloat in an Ocean of Bad Writing?

There's so much bad writing on the Internet that I feel compelled to advise aspiring writers to ignore ninety-eight percent of it when it comes to learning to write.

If you're an aspiring author, and most of what you're reading comes from amateur blogs and badly or non-edited Web sites, I'm afraid you'll pick up a lot of bad habits. Your noble desire to learn to write well may drown in an ocean of polluted writing.

Put it this way: If you wanted to learn to play drums, you would need to watch, listen to and learn from great drummers. You wouldn't want to copy choppy paradiddles from the local rock knocker at the corner bar that's pounding away to "Moon Dance." (Sorry, but as a former professional drummer "Moon Dance" a good song, but with a cliched, deadly boring drum part, made to order for amateurs.) If you want to be a good or great drummer you should listen to Buddy Rich or John Bonham or any number (there are many) of great jazz and rock and blues drummers.

If you want to be a good or great writer, you need to read good and great writing. Go to the bookstore or library and get good books. Don't learn style from tweeters and bloggers. Learn style and usage from Strunk & Whites THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, not from amateurs that use substitute snark for prose.

Or you can learn from good or great writing teachers. They exist. But do your homework -- read their work and/or hear what others have said about them. Just because they have a Ph.D. or M.F.A. after their names does not necessarily make them good writing teachers -- or good writers.

And if you want to learn to write well, read well. Read often. Think about what you read and why it works and why it moves you.

And then, of course, practice. Just as if you want to play drums, after you hear and study with the good and the greats, you have to practice drums. So it is with writing, too. Read More 

Don't Be Discouraged by the Greats

I'm reading Tobias Wolff's, OUR STORY BEGINS, his most recent collection of short fiction. He's a master at the short story genre. He's so good that there are moments when I wonder if he's writing from another dimension.

I've learned not to get discouraged when reading the greats like Wolff. I learned this many years ago, when, as a young drummer, I went to hear perhaps the greatest drummer of all time, Buddy Rich -- not once, but three or four times. Buddy was a freak of nature. He was to drums what LeBron James is to basketball -- maybe even more extreme.

I was a professional drummer. I had to come to terms with the idea that I wasn't, and would never be, Buddy Rich. And I'll never be Tobias Wolff, or write short fiction like him.  Read More