Friday, August 24, 2012

Kids! Don't Try This At Home


Some writing advice is stranger than others.  The oddest useful advice I can think of is this:  Don't listen to the Guyoto Monks while writing.

The Gyoto Monks are the Dalai Lama's crack spiritual troops, best known for the fact that they can chant in chords.  Individually, I mean.  Scientists who have looked into this say that clearly what is going on is that they hold the larynx motionless at the first and second resonance points.  Then, like a plucked guitar string held motionless at those same points, the result is a chord.  Exactly how they learn to do this is a mystery because scientists and Buddhist monks simply do not speak the same language.

It is claimed -- and I believe it -- that listening to the Gyoto Monks chant raises your mind to a higher spiritual level.  Again, there's some speculation about alpha, beta, and gamma brain waves, but the explanation still eludes modern science.

The reason I believe the claim is that I used to listen to music on headphones while I wrote.  One day I put on a tape I'd just bought of the Gyoto Monks chanting and began to write.  As they chanted, I grew increasingly calm and peaceful.  And I stopped writing.

I got up and got a cup of coffee, did a couple of minor chores around the house, went back and started writing again, still listening to the monks.  I started out with a clatter of keys, slowed, stilled . . . stopped.

This happened several times.  The chanting would raise me to a higher level of consciousness in which I no longer desired to write.  Writing, it appears, is an inherently low form of consciousness.  Possibly, it may even be sinful.

I mentioned this to a writer friend and he said, "Yeah, the same thing happened to me.  Eventually, I had to throw the tape away to get any writing done at all."

Which is what I did.

The monks, most likely, would tell me that my spiritual well-being is more important than anything I might write.  But, as with the scientists, they and I simply do not speak a common language.

And for those of you who are big Kindle readers . . .

Somebody over on Facebook alerted me that Amazon has The Best of Michael Swanwick available in Kindle format for three bucks.  For a collection of stories that took me over a quarter-century to write, that's pretty cheap.

You can find it here.



Luke said...

It's true for the Nook on as well (I just bought a copy for the same price.)

Lindsay Harris Friel said...

Oh, no. This is like, "don't think about an elephant." Now I want to listen to the monks chanting all night long.

David Stone said...

I heard an interview with the famous voice-over artist Billy West recently in which related how he figured out how to do the voice of Popeye (which had stumped him and his friends for some time) after watching a documentary about Tuvan throat singers. Like these monks, they practice overtone singing/chanting. It's amazing how the same vocal technique can be so calming in one instance and so grating in another.

Ruzz said...

Kindle: sadly the offer is not in the UK. Bah.

Unknown said...

The Kindle version is not available elsewhere in Europe - and the Subterranean print version is listed costing € 128.50 at

Michael Swanwick said...

If I follow Subterranean's business model, it's to make beautiful books and then sell them at significant prices in small enough numbers that they're pretty much guaranteed to go up in value on the collector market.

It's interesting that the e-books appear to go in the other direction.

Chad Hull said...

I just finished that collection and loved it. The Dead was the story that struck me the most; mainly because there are so many ways in interpret 'zombies' in today's world.

Joe Stillman said...

What level of consciousness does it take to write about your level of consciousness?