Finding Inspiration From Graceland

By Ramona Flightner/ @ramonaflightner

I recently watched a 25th anniversary special on Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” an album I have loved for years. I enjoyed learning more about the process of how he made this album and the controversy surrounding the album. I had been too young at the time to fully understand the controversy, and it was interesting learning more about it and his creative process as he wrote the songs.

During one part of the show, one of the singers from South Africa, who is a member of the group called Ladysmith Black Mambazo , talked about the trouble they had while creating a song for the album. He said, “the song didn’t want to work at all.”

It seems like such a simple statement, yet I found it struck a chord with me as I continue my journey as a writer. There are so many times when I am writing when a scene, a description, what happens next, doesn’t “want to work.” I have learned to do as they did, take time away and give myself time to puzzle out the problem.  I often have “aha” moments when I am brushing my teeth, riding the subway, or walking to work.  I rarely have them as I sit staring blankly at the blinking cursor on my computer screen.

One aspect I envied as I watched the special was the great collaboration that occurred between many talented artists. Saxophonists, singers, guitar players, bassists, drummers and many more participated in the making of the album. I watched as they danced, laughed, and found tremendous joy in playing with each other. It made me wish that writing weren’t such a solitary endeavor.  Have you ever felt this way? And if you have, what have you done to help alleviate the sense of isolation?


  • Gosh is it 25 years since that concert? I remember I had it on video and watched it over and over, the movement and rhythm had me enthralled. I must look out the CD. Yes writing is a very isolated activity – one I love but sometimes I force myself into other company. Problem is, also, I’m the only writer I know personally and all my friends have no idea what life is really like. Even my husband thinks I can sit down for 30 minutes and have a chapter done at the end! Thanks for reminding me of the fabulous Paul Simon :-)

    • Hi Susan,
      I agree. I love writing, but I find I must force myself into other’s company at times or risk becoming a hermit on my weekends. Sometimes I can get lost for days in the story. I hope you writing is going well!

  • I have that album too; I love to hear the backstories behind how shows and albums are made, so this was great. On the idea of working with others I dunno. It reminds me of when “Smash” was still on this year; I loved it because I could clearly identify the Writer in the group, and I liked how they portrayed her (for the most part). You know how in movies and so on 90% of the time this or that person’s a “writer” but they never do any writing, well she certainly did. Unfortunately, I think one of the few ways writing ends up as collaborative is within that type of thing: a broadway show, a musical, a TV or movie script. So to me it generally seems as if well, I’d never see that kind of thing unless I became absurdly famous and big enough to have that sort of thing happen to a story or book of mine. Till then… I don’t know if I’d want to collaborate too much. The closest I get is brainstorming with my husband if I get stuck on something, or getting ideas from friends. Rest of the time, I’m ok with it being a solitary pursuit.

    (JA Howe)

    • Hi JA- Thanks for visiting! I agree with you that I don’t think collaborating is for me. However, I do sometimes wish I weren’t alone with a computer. However, as we all know, we aren’t really alone as our characters are quite good company.

  • Jen FitzGerald

    Hey Ramona,
    I have a small circle of writer friends with whom I’m in contact daily via Chatzy, an online chat room. We do writing sprints, encourage each other, celebrate word counts or commiserate with stuck scenes. It’s a great way to eliminate the solitary.

    • Hi Jen! Thanks for visiting. How great to have an online support group. I am finding such a group with the WANA group, and it is wonderful to have other writers to share this writing journey with.

  • Hi Ramona, I have nominated you for ‘Lets Play Tag’ hope you can take part here is the link

An Austin DesignWorks Production