Here at the Independent Producer Project, we believe in pain. At least, we believe in the power of high-pressure situations: that firm deadlines and sparse resources — combined, perhaps, with the well-intentioned ruthlessness of a partner, editor, or overlord — can yield unbelievable creativity, and can push us to produce completely awesome works of art, thought, or miscellaneous other greatness.
This outlook may seem overly rosy, but we can’t help ourselves; we have history on our side. Our pioneer crop of Radio Racers proved us right last year with the bold, beautiful pieces that seemed to leap, fully-formed and armor-clad, from their heads. Already we see signs of the same badass courage in our 2014 crew. But if, while gearing up for the Race, you find yourself in need of a quick infusion of inspiration, consider these five adrenaline nuts and the amazing stuff that came from their short bursts of turbo-powered productivity.
1. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
By her own account, Hurston’s 1937 novel, a seminal work of African-American literature, was written in only seven weeks.
If you’re feeling cranky, or are simply resistant to the uplifting message of this blog post, you may be thinking about the (admittedly vast) difference between seven weeks (also known as 1,176 hours) and a single hectic day. But let’s establish some context: while writing her novel, Hurston was also working full time, living in Haiti on a Guggenheim Fellowship and conducting research on a strain of West Indian folk magic called Obeah.
Haitian author Edwidge Danticat, in her foreword to the 2006 edition of Their Eyes Were Watching God, writes: “Many of my contemporaries, including myself, often complain — sometimes with book contracts in tow — about not having enough time, money, and space to write. Yet Zora battled to write and she did, knowing … that ‘there is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.’”
2. “My Sharona” by The Knack
In her advice to this year’s Radio Race contestants, defending champion Cristina Parry said: “If you have a contact book, now is the time to dust it off and have it at the ready.” That approach, loosely interpreted, is precisely what catapulted rock quartet The Knack from relative obscurity to chart-topping fame.
Legend has it that Doug Fieler, the band’s lead singer, wrote their defining hit, “My Sharona,” in only 15 minutes. Of course, that timeline only works if you don’t count the months he spent writing other songs about the same woman, then 16-year-old Sharona Alperin, with whom Fieler (who was 25 at the time) had recently become involved. Skepticism about the relationship aside, the song that immortalized Sharona — and The Knack by association — became an international number-one hit after its release in 1979.
Before he was Bach, the celebrated composer lived the life of a humble church cantor, writing and performing music for the churches of St. Thomas and St. Nicholas in Leipzig. (Confession: it actually wasn’t all that humble. The churches are magnificent, and the whole thing was probably pretty glamorous.) New cantatas, which included parts for multiple instruments as well as vocalists, were performed every Sunday and holiday — and as a result, many of the hundreds of cantata Bach composed were slapped together in the space of a week, between one Sunday service and the next.
Lucky for him, the cantatas were typically written in response to the week’s readings from the Lutheran liturgy, which — not unlike the theme Bob Carlson, in his benevolence, will deliver to all Radio Race participants on the morning of August 2 — must have given Johann some relief.
4. Dozens of fabulous theatrical productions, by the good folks at 24 Hour Plays
We admit it: we didn’t come up with the idea of making a bunch of people do something cool in a short amount of time. There’s National Novel Writing Month, Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest — and there’s 24 Hour Plays, a yearly theatrical frenzy that has raised over 3 million dollars for arts education since its 2006 debut.
The game is simple enough. A pool of actors tell a group of writers what kinds of characters they want to play; writers claim the actors they want and dash off their scripts in just six hours; then directors battle for the chance to produce their favorite scripts and slap a production together in time for an 8 o’clock curtain call. 24 Hour Plays have been performed around the country, and just last month the festival made its second appearance at the Broad Stage here in Santa Monica.
The organization’s website quotes performer Julia Stiles’s description of the experience: “Like running into a burning house, surviving, and then setting the house on fire because you missed the excitement.” We understand, Julia.
5. The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Our friend Fyodor takes the Radio Race Medal of Honor for his unrivaled butt-kicking on The Gambler, his relatively little-known but still widely studied and celebrated novella about a disastrous romance between a tutor and his reckless student.
The story goes like this: it’s Moscow in 1865. Dostoevsky is broke, hungry, buried in gambling debt and plagued by hemorrhoids (it’s all in the record, we promise!). In a last-ditch effort to save himself from ruin, he enters into a dangerous contract with his publisher, F.T. Stellovsky: produce a novel ready to sell in a month, or everything he writes for the next nine years will belong to Stellovsky.
Dostoevsky finished the novel. He even picked up a wife in the process, a stenographer named Anna Snitkina whose help pushed the project to completion. But the story doesn’t end there. In the middle of his mad dash to finish The Gambler, Dostoevsky became inspired by another idea, for a novel about radicalism and moral anguish. In a show of stupidity enormous enough to be brilliant in itself, Dostoevsky took a break from his urgent project to pursue that line of fancy. The first installation of his masterpiece novel, Crime and Punishment, was published just two months after his deadline for The Gambler.
This year’s 24-Hour Radio Race will begin on August 2, at 10 a.m. PDT. Registration is open now, and if there’s no time like the present to sign up. Bach would have.