Blogging: Counterpoint

“Produce content that your audience wants to read.”

(Common advice for bloggers)

“Produce content that feels meaningful or important to you. You won’t resonate with everyone, but your tribe will love your work. In other words, Be Yourself, don’t contort yourself to be what you think other people want you to be.”

(Better advice)

Who embodies the latter advice (in my opinion)?

  • PewDiePie (probably the world’s most famous YouTuber)
  • Flume (musical genius)

Can you think of other people who do this, and are also hugely successful?

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… AKA Why I Love Flume

Over on the Flume subreddit, it seems that Amber is a fan-favourite from his “Hi This Is Flume” mixtape release a few months ago. Even Flume himself said this track is special to him and will go in every single live set. He spent a long time getting the sounds just right.

(Watch & listen to the Amber music video on YouTube below)

According to the “Big 5” personality test (the most widely-respected way of describing someone’s personality according to modern psychology), I’m extremely high in Openness, I think the 98th or 99th percentile.

That means I’m very creative, which I do believe is the case (even if I didn’t believe I was creative at all until my late-20s).

I seek out novelty. I love new ideas, new sights, new sounds. I love exploring. And, on the other hand, convention bores me.

Flume reminds me a little of a modern-day Aphex Twin – exploring sounds, having fun.

He doesn’t give a fuck about sticking to musical conventions. In fact, he often seems to go out of his way to defy convention.

But he’s not an anarchist. His music isn’t just noise. It’s awesomely beautiful… and Amber is a fantastic example.

For me, Amber does that strange spiritual thing where it aligns all the components of my being… Mind, Body, Soul, Higher Self, Conscious, Unconscious… however you choose to describe them all.

It takes me to another place. It makes me feel like me – the best parts of myself.

I love Flume because his music makes me deeply happy.

I really hope I get to see him live one day soon.

How to Get Inspired as a Writer

Since my Spiritual Awakening on 13th August 2019, I’ve been publishing an average of 2-3 blog posts per day. They’re on a wide variety of subjects, and they’re usually pretty substantial.

How the hell do I have the energy? Where do all my writing ideas come from? What lessons might be useful for other bloggers?

Building Skill

Well, it’s worth remembering that this isn’t my first rodeo. I started writing blogs way back in the mid-2000s. Sadly I didn’t keep any copies of my older work, but there’s one thing I’m pretty certain about: my writing sucked.

I mean, it wasn’t totally worthless, but I’m now a much better writer than I was back then.

How do you become a better writer? The most important thing is to keep practising.

Just start. Do a bad job at first. Then try to make it a bit better. Keep repeating this, over and over again. You’ll gradually improve over many weeks and months. Be patient.

Identifying Meaning

My inspiration… Hmmm… that’s harder for me to put into words.

For a few months now, I’ve been trying to follow Jordan Peterson’s advice: choose to work on whatever feels most meaningful to you.

At first it’s kinda tricky to work out what’s meaningful to you. In which case, you can literally start anywhere, as long as it feels at least a little worthwhile.

I’ve repeatedly been drawn back to writing, especially in the last month. It feels like I have a lot to say that’s important (at least to me).

Also… it’s not every day you undergo drug-induced psychosis. I realised this has been a pretty rare experience for me recently, so I wanted to capture as many of my insights and thoughts as I could – hence this blog.

Dealing with Critics

One of the hardest parts of writing is learning to deal with criticism. At first, it can really sting, especially if it’s coming from someone whom you respect greatly.

I wonder how many potential bloggers have never put finger to keyboard because they are scared of being judged by others. All that creativity, wasted. It’s so sad.

My advice would be to learn to trust your own judgement about your work. If you are happy with your writing, that’s the most important thing.

If someone criticises your work, see if there’s something valid in that criticism which you can learn from. Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t.

Try not to take criticism personally. For me, this is often really difficult. When a friend repeatedly called me stupid for writing this blog, I decided to end the friendship. If he couldn’t find a way to support my creative endeavours, then I guess he wasn’t really my friend.

However, I managed to learn something from his criticism. It actually made me even stronger and more fearless.

I now believe in myself more than ever. I know that I don’t have to accept as true everything that other people say about me or my work.

The most important thing I keep telling myself:

“It doesn’t really matter what other people think of my work. If I’m happy with it, that’s the most important thing. You can’t please all the people all the time… and you shouldn’t even try. Trust that your work will resonate with the right people.”

Bollinger, R. (2019)

When you have this level of confidence in yourself, the creativity just starts to pour out of you.

Other Writing Tips

Generally, I start thinking about an idea for a blog post several days before I actually begin to write it. I mull over ideas, see how they connect to other things I’ve been thinking about.

I don’t force myself to write. I wait until my unconscious mind has mulled over some ideas for a few days. When my mind is ready for me to start writing, I just get a feeling that the time is right/write.

And then, when I sit down to write, I just need to think in general terms about what I want to say… and the words just flow out of me.

If I get stuck on a certain topic or idea, I just wait for a while, maybe do something else for a bit. Sooner or later, my unconscious mind will figure out a way past the blockage. It’ll let me know when I’m ready to continue.

I also recommend listening to your favourite music as you write. For me, it reminds me strongly of who I am. It boost my confidence in myself. And it helps get my creative juices flowing.

A Circle of Monkeys

One of my favourite stories in the history of chemistry is about a man called August Kekulé.

Once upon a time, long ago, Kekulé was trying to determine the chemical structure of the organic molecule known as benzene. It had several strange properties.

One night, Kekulé had a dream which involved a circle of monkeys, each holding onto the next one’s tail.

On waking, he realised his dream explained the structure of benzene: a ring of carbon atoms with alternate single and double bonds.

At the time, Kekulé’s model of benzene was widely accepted as accurate. Skip forward to today and we now have a more accurate and refined model of the nature of the chemical bonds in benzene, but for a long time Kekulé’s model reined supreme.

What can we learn from this?

Inspiration can come from the strangest of places.

– Bollinger, R. 2019

We still don’t have an accurate idea of how the human brain works. As time marches on, our understanding of neuroscience improves, but there’s still huge amounts we don’t have a clue about.

Some of the stuff the human brain is capable of might seem strange or spooky. But just because we don’t understand it, that doesn’t mean we should ignore it.

Is it possible to extract any useful meaning from our dreams? The legendary psychologist Freud and his successor Jung certainly thought so. And I’ve demonstrated above that Kekulé was able to advance the science of chemistry thanks to a dream.

So if dreams can sometimes be useful, what about mental illness? You’ve probably heard some people say that creative geniuses often have a touch of madness about them.

What about drug-induced psychosis? Should we automatically dismiss the ideas and supposed insights of someone who has psychosis?

What does psychosis even mean? Well, all it really means is that the person experiencing psychosis has altered perceptions of reality, compared to most other people.

Altered. Not wrong. Certainly not useless.

Sure, some of the ravings of a madman might be useless nonsense. But some of it might just be genius.

Why would we arrogantly throw the baby away with the bath water? And yet this is a common mistake which even the cleverest of us are inclined to make.

Surely it makes more sense to take each idea on its own merit. If it’s patently absurd, and doesn’t withstand scientific scrutiny, then reject it. But if it looks like it might have a kernel of truth to it, why not examine it a bit more closely?

Perhaps the person with psychosis hasn’t expressed themselves using terms which make much sense to others. But if we attempted to interpret what they’re saying in the same way we might attempt to extract meaning from a dream, what might we learn?

Human brains seem to have an ability to think in pictures. And that ability seems to have been enhanced for me recently. It feels like I found a way to tap into my unconscious mind more deeply. I think of it as a little like dreaming while awake.

It’s now over a month since I last consumed any drugs. I feel back to my usual self (more or less). And I am utterly convinced that 95%+ of the insights I’ve documented in this blog are valid and useful.

Perhaps my work needs a little refining. Maybe some rewording would help scientific-leaning minds to find my ideas more palatable.

But my ideas and insights are certainly not useless. Only those with huge egos and blind arrogance would think so.

My Videogame Idea

One of the coolest aspects of this “psychosis” I’ve been experiencing since the 13th Aug is that I came up with a concept for a videogame which I’d like to make.

I’ve since realised that it doesn’t really matter if I make it myself, I just want the videogame to exist so I can play it. It’s just my ego talking when I think about becoming a famous game developer or getting rich. In my heart, I know I’m not particularly interested in either of those things.

So, I figured I’d put my idea out into the Universe (via this blog). If I’m meant to make this game, I will make it. If someone beats me to it, that’s fine, I will play their game and still be delighted. Maybe by me making this post, it’ll be the start of me finding other game developers to collaborate with… I’m humble enough to admit that my programming skills and development experience are basic at best.

There’s a chance this game (or something close to it) already exists… but I don’t think so. And if it does, then I want to play it.

To help narrow down the genre, it’s a game about music. It has stuff in common with several existing games, including:

  • PaRappa The Rapper (PS1)
  • Rez (PS2 originally)
  • Guitar Hero (plus sequels)
  • … and probably many others

The concept begins with a question:

“Does music have a shape?”

Imagine a symphony orchestra. See the conductor waving his baton in your mind’s eye. Can you see the shapes it traces? Imagine it’s like a sparkler being waved on bonfire night, leaving traces of light behind it.

Imagine people dancing. See the shapes they make with their bodies and with their hands. Imagine lines and colours tracing behind their movements. You’ll have probably seen an effect similar to this in some music videos.

Recently, a VR kit was released which includes individual finger detection. Wow! So it doesn’t just track your hands (like previous versions), it now can make out the movements of your individual fingers.

When I listen to music, I often make shapes with my hands which follow the patterns of the music. Sometimes I’m following the pattern of the percussion (drums, symbols etc). Sometimes I’m playing the notes on an imaginary (and very forgiving!) piano. Other times I’m following the waves or pulses that it feels like the music is generating.

In my (future) game, you would play your favourite music, maybe from Spotify. Then, you would wave your hands around to the music and the computer would record your movements. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, it’s just what feels right for you… a bit like dancing.

Using the game, you can add glowing balls to your hands (or fingers). You can add traces of light following your movements.

And you can “layer up” visual effects, a bit like in video editing software… first you could start with percussion, then you could follow with the main melody (probably using slightly different visual effects). And the game (or maybe “software” is a more accurate term) would allow you to layer all these different visual effects over each other.

The result is a kind of home-made music video based on the movements of your hands and fingers. This means the result will feel deeply personal to you. Then, at the end, you can play back the results and just lie back and enjoy the show along with your favourite music.

There are no points, no leaderboards, no items to collect, no baddies to kill, no way to fail or die. Maybe it’s not really a game, but just an enjoyable experience.

To expand the software’s capabilities, you could collaborate with friends online… so you might make the shapes which follow the percussion, your friend might make the shapes for the melody. And the software could combine both in real-time. This might generate a feeling of unity, something a bit like playing in a band together or singing in a barbershop quartet.

You could share your “music videos” online, for other people to download and enjoy. Maybe they get uploaded to YouTube or similar video platforms.

The VR kit may prove to be a barrier though. It might severely limit the potential audience. So, I started thinking about how the software might work using existing peripherals.

Maybe you could use a game controller (like an Xbox 360 wireless controller) for percussive elements. And maybe you can use a mouse to generate the more flowing or wave-like movements.

It wouldn’t give you the same 3D freedom of movement as you’d get with VR, but at least it’s a start.

So, what next? Well, I have some ideas for a concept video. I could use that video to begin a KickStarter fundraising campaign. I do think I need to collaborate with other developers, otherwise this game could take me forever to make on my own.

Or… if someone makes this game before me, I won’t begrudge them. I just want to play this game, no matter who makes it!

Coming Soon: Potentially a Crap Idea

[UPDATE: Check out my first attempt at this idea here.]

Don’t ask me where exactly this idea came from. Actually… do.

For a while I’ve had the belief that a lot of cool, innovative ideas are born from the marriage of two or more very different ones.

I think it may have been James Altucher who coined the term, “idea sex“. And I’ve seen similar strategies suggested in various books about creativity.

So here’s my idea of two unlikely halves…

A podcast/radio show which combines two of my deepest loves:
1) electronic/dance music with an emotional soul;
2) chatting about personal development, psychology etc.

The risk is that the first part limits me to such an incredibly niche audience that I’d already only have 0.5 listeners… on a good day… and that half-person would be in a coma and only “listening” thanks to a fault with the radio in their hospital room.

But hey, it’ll be fun. I enjoy discovering and collating my favourite music, even if I’m the only witness.

And if anyone sticks around long enough to endure my taste in music, they may just learn something interesting from the intellectual chats (which I may well end up having with only myself).

Watch this space for the impending birth of my musical philosophical hybrid baby. “Oh look, it’s a genius!”

[UPDATE: Check out my first attempt at this idea here.]