This is part five of my exploration of Captain Beefheart’s Ten Commandments of Guitar Playing. If you’re just coming across this post, you should start with the first post. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them. Please leave a comment if you have any additions or thoughts on things I may have missed or misinterpreted.
9. Keep your guitar in a dark place
When you’re not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. If you don’t play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.
These last two commandments are related. They are both about the care and feeding of your creativity. The first is about respecting your talent. Treat it as a living thing.
Don’t neglect it or take it for granted when you’re not using it. Put it in a dark place so that it’s completely turned off. You’re not letting your car idle in the garage, you’ve got it stored entirely away under a protective barrier. Make sure it’s fed and watered and comfortable, but that it’s hibernating.
Also, notice that he mentions not using it for more than a day as an exception. You should use it every day, but if you do spend more than a day without using it, let it know you’re still thinking about it.
His dish of water is, of course, metaphorical, I think you can “water” your creativity by consuming related art from other people. Read, listen to music, watch a movie, just make sure that you are getting information and experiences that when you pick it back up will inform what you do. Take a trip to a museum, walk through a field of flowers or volunteer somewhere.
10. You gotta have a hood for your engine
Keep that hat on. A hat is a pressure cooker. If you have a roof on your house, the hot air can’t escape. Even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow.
Just like you’ve got to treat your creativity like a living thing, you can’t let it roam around free in the wild. You’ve got to create a habitat for it. There has to be a fence around the field where you keep it.
When you’re charged up and in the middle of a creative burst, you’ll feel like you can do anything, but you shouldn’t. Keep yourself contained. Set limitations for yourself about what you’re trying to accomplish.
Maybe it’s just picking a song to master or writing a short story. Focusing on one project lets you put all the horsepower produced by your engine into one thing, no wasted energy or confusion.
Whether you’re writing a children’s book or a blues song, decide what your project is and focus on that. All the heat from your heater will be keeping that project warm during the coldest moments.
Make decisions that limit what the project is so that you can finish it. People that never complete things are continually moving the target for what the project is and what finished means. If you say you’re going to write a poem on a postcard and mail it to yourself every day, you’ve limited the length of the poem, and you know that each one has to be done before the mail gets picked up. Sometimes it’s not going to be a great poem, but you’ll be finishing things and creating.
If you place the right limitation on yourself, the right hat on your head or wet piece of paper towel on your bean, your talent will grow. The number of projects you complete will grow, and they will be better than you think possible.