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Tool Time

A session with Bruce Ferber

This post was written two months prior to its republication date on AuthorsFirst. I Buried Paul has since been released.

It’s now less than two months until I Buried Paul drops. Launch events are being planned, interviews are getting booked; once again, people are telling me there’s nothing wrong with self-promotion, even if it makes my skin crawl. As someone who has little patience for our “hey-look-at-me” culture, it’s always hard for me to embrace the notion of “Stop everything and pay attention to Bruce Ferber! He has a new book out!” Luckily, this is my fourth go-round, so I’m familiar with the antidote for profound embarrassment. No cloud of shame is powerful enough to quash the sense of wonder that comes from seeing a new novel make its way into the world. Something was built out of nothing. How did I manage to do that? Again?

For most creative people, self-doubt is baked into the process. The trick is to get loose and be unafraid of doing something that sucks. Since at least half the first pass usually does suck, but improves with each revision, why is it so hard to remember that? Because a blank page still scares the crap out of us.

Assembling a “get-loose” toolbox is an essential task for a writer, especially this one, who struggles to identify many of the items in his regular toolbox. Music is the screwdriver of my rig. As I was writing I Buried Paul, the story of Beatles Tribute Band bassist Jimmy Kozlowski, Beatles songs were an obvious play. But which ones would be the most energizing and inspiring? During my research, I found a line in Rob Sheffield’s Dreaming the Beatles that aptly describes our ever-evolving relationship with the Fab Four. “Your Beatles change as you change.” For me, all these decades after the Ed Sullivan show, there was a lot more George, including extended listenings of the deluxe All Things Must Pass. Group-wise, Hey Bulldog was big, as was the Let it Be Naked album, and even though I’d worn down the grooves, the British Revolver and American Rubber Soul.

There was plenty of non-Beatles music, too. Sometimes it’s hard to write while listening to lyrics. In those moments, Lee Morgan, Marian McPartland, and Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach cello suites helped me gain focus when I needed it most.

Another effective tool for me is changing up the place where I work. If I’m feeling uninspired or cranky, I take the laptop outside and it shifts my perspective. The fresh air is rejuvenating. There are robins and hummingbirds. Sometimes, there are a thousand leaf blowers wailing and spewing dust, which sends me scurrying back inside. Once there, I try switching up the actual tools I use to write. As we all know, staring at the screen can quickly devolve into loitering on social media. The minute you find yourself ogling pictures of somebody else’s lunch, it’s time to dump your keyboard for a pad and a pen. Going offline gives you the chance to time-travel. It’s amazing! Suddenly, it’s eighteen years ago and you’ve returned to the Pre-Zuckerbergian Age. You don’t need to know everyone else’s Wordle score before putting pen to paper.

I imagine it’s not only writers and artists who use such methods to help them do their best work. I’d be curious to know what yours are. Should the urge strike you, please send your tips along. There’s always more room in the box.

Meanwhile, keep a lookout for upcoming events and other IBP news. I’ll be right here, in an ongoing wrestling match between Shame and Wonder.


About the Author…

BRUCE FERBER built a long and successful career as a television comedy writer and producer. A multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominee, his credits include Bosom Buddies, Growing Pains, Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, Coach, and Home Improvement, where he served as Executive Producer and showrunner. In addition to being recognized by the Television Academy, Ferber's work has received the People's Choice, Kid's Choice, and Environmental Media Awards. He is the author of two previous novels, Elevating Overman and Cascade Falls, along with the nonfiction book, The Way We Work. He lives in Los Angeles, CA with his wife, large dog, and assorted musical instruments.

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