On Our Debut Album and Vague/Ambitious Goals for Fall 2016

I’m a little shocked to report that I just reached the “end-of-summer” goal I set for my novel draft progress—technically still within summer! Arguably not even at the last minute! (Though I could have cut it less close.) I’m setting the vague but ambitious (always a winning combination) goal of finishing the remaining section, and thus the draft itself, by the end of 2016. I’m shakily confident about my ability to achieve this mostly because for two years running now I’ve had a mysterious burst of productivity from October through the end of the year—maybe Pavlovian back-to-school energy? Maybe writing takes over as a kind of holiday stress management? I’d like to figure it out if for no other reason than trying to harness that energy during, say, August, when every world is a pulled tooth.

Although possible, this is a reach goal. So I’ve been looking around even more than usual for work ethic inspiration—and I’ve found some this week in Dave Shumka and Graham Clark’s podcast Our Debut Album. Dave and Graham—who are not musicians—get together once a month and write an original song together in under an hour, then record it in a studio session. The idea is that after a year they’ll have twelve songs, a debut album. I love this podcast because they’re working both on skills that are totally new to them (songwriting and music performance) and established ones (podcasting and comedy); they’re jump-starting creativity through limitations and challenges; and they’re holding themselves accountable by releasing both the podcast and the songs themselves.

One of the most remarkable things about Our Debut Album is that Dave and Graham take the whole project exactly as seriously as it should be taken—they’re really trying; they’re never self-sabotaging; but they don’t put too much pressure on themselves to do anything but their best. Both process and product (you can buy their songs on Bandcamp; the podcast includes behind-the-scenes segments on recording as well as writing them) are charming and genuinely impressive—of the songs themselves so far I’m especially into “Magnetic Pulse,” which has a Mountain Goats-y feel.

I have Dave and Graham in mind this week coming up with my game plan for the rest of 2016—including, perhaps, some intense ground rules inspired by the rigorous pace and ambition of their project. September is back-to-school time! Don’t underestimate what you can do when the pressure’s on!