7 Things the New Beatles Documentary Can Teach Writers

December 22, 2021 § 16 Comments

By Rachel Bucci

From virtuoso jam sessions to the fantastic late 1960s fashions, The Beatles new documentary “Get Back” has captured our collective imagination. I was mesmerized watching their creativity coalesce into iconic lyrics and melodies, and along the way, gleaned priceless reminders about the writing life.

1. First Drafts are Messy
When one of the Fab Four brings a song to the group, it’s rarely fully formed. They may have a few key lines or a riff to get started, but we see them sing off key – sometimes with instruments out of tune – happy to babble along with nonsensical phrases till the right words surface.  As we watch the group painstakingly work out classics like “Get Back” or “Let it Be,” we see them settle on a guiding phrase or melody and then hone it over time. There are several lessons for writers here. Our ideas rarely emerge fully-formed, creativity isn’t always pretty, and your first impulse may not be the best. Set aside preciousness, and don’t be afraid to rework and rework something until it clicks.  

2. Trust the Process
The path to a finished piece can be meandering, sometimes rocky and even painful, but if you have a trusted method for getting to the end point, magic happens along the way. In the case of The Beatles, we get a front-row seat as they seemingly will melodies and lyrics into existence. When Paul seems anxious about where a song (or their overall project) is headed, George and John reassure him that it doesn’t really matter; the important part is to keep playing, singing, and improvising. For writers, the most important part is to just write. Where it takes you and what you end up with will be revealed in time. For now, just write.

3. Set Artificial Deadlines
When The Beatles enter the studio in early January 1969, they’ve set an ambitious deadline for a live performance, with Ringo’s film commitment and producer Glyn Johns’s schedule forming a framework for containing the project. But when things go awry – George walks out and they relocate their recording sessions to the Apple offices in Central London – they kick the deadline down the road, but don’t drop it all together. When, where and if they will perform is constantly debated and in flux, but it’s ultimately a creative construct. As writers, we are often at the mercy of outside deadlines and may flounder when there isn’t one. For projects without any deadline – that novel or essay you’ve been meaning to write – set an artificial deadline (or enlist an accountability partner) to keep you on track.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Have Fun
While The Beatles are under significant pressure (from their producers and manager) to complete a new album, they don’t abandon fun – they embrace it. Playfulness is central to their process; we see them engaged in word play, noodling with melodies and experimenting with new instruments as they solve the musical and lyrical problems at hand. They revisit some of their old songs, performed at different tempos and with improvised lyrics, and jam their way through standards and honky-tonk classics. For writers, this is akin to reading through your old journals and half-finished essays, picking up a book by your favorite author, using a prompt or writing in a new genre.  Stretching and flexing your writing muscles can open up new paths to creativity. 

5. Know When to Take a Break
For The Beatles, outward signs of hard work manifest as bloody fingers and sore throats, along with flagging creativity. When the group recognizes they are too tired to make progress they don’t hesitate to call it a night and go home. On one occasion, George returns to the studio the next day talking about a science-fiction film he watched on BBC the night before. Inspired by it, he develops the faintest outline for a new song, which later becomes “I, Me, Mine.” The lesson for writers: don’t force it. Take a walk, watch a movie, or listen to some new music. In fact, active procrastination can open you to inspiration, allowing new ideas or a solution to a creative problem to make its way into your consciousness.

6. The Power of Blah Blah Blah
It’s fascinating to hear John or Paul employ a musical gibberish – a blah blah blah, if you will – while working out the lyrics to a song. Instead of stopping and searching for an immediate solution, they simply hum through the words, knowing they can finesse the lyrics later. In the same vein, when drafting an essay or article, it’s OK to leave an expanse of unfinished text. It’s easy to get sidetracked doing “more research” or looking up details online. Next time, plow ahead. Don’t squander that creative momentum; you can fill in the missing pieces later.

7. Embrace Routine and Ritual
Despite a reputation as counterculture seekers, it’s heartwarming – almost quaint – to see The Beatles embrace British tradition and kick off their work sessions with copious amounts of toast and tea. Writers will do well to follow their example of using familiar routines to set the stage for productivity. Maybe it’s as simple as a favorite pen or notebook, a comfy chair, a morning run or daily meditation, but nothing beats a good routine to keep you grounded and jumpstart your day. And no matter what the hour, nothing beats a good cup of tea.

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Rachel Bucci is an Oregon-based freelance writer who covers a broad range of topics, from art and interior design to travel, food, wellness and parenting. Her work has appeared in Oregon Home, Oregon Humanities Magazine, Preservation Online, AAA VIA Magazine, 1859 Magazine, the Oregonian and more. She also works as a communications consultant for art museums, healthcare and education. An avid tennis fan and recreational player, she enjoys smashing fuzzy yellow balls to smithereens. Find her on Twitter at @RachelBucci or visit www.rachelbucci.com

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