February 12, 2024

The "Rhapsody in Blue" method

Somebody recently asked me what was the best tool for writing a book.

I used Notion for capturing and organizing ideas, Google Docs for most of the writing, and Grammarly for some help proofreading. But those aren’t the most important things that helped me while I was writing Simply Put.

Instead, it was a much older and less obvious tool that did a lot of the heavy lifting: “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin.

This orchestral jazz piece just turned 100 this winter, and that’s as good a time as any to share how much I’ve become smitten by both its beauty and usefulness.

What do I mean by all this? Well, “Rhapsody in Blue” is about 15 minutes long, it’s got a constant driving energy, and there are no lyrics. It’s the perfect track for a sprint of deep work. Put it on, start writing a new section, and by its bombastic ending, you’ll have a handful of fresh pages in the bag.

It’s the Pomodoro method with jazz instead of kitchen timers. And if you want to continue the sprint, queue up Gershwin’s other iconic piece, “An American in Paris,” for another 15 minutes of writing.

Anytime somebody tells me they want to write a book but don’t think they could do all that writing, I respond with a question – how do you eat a whale?

The answer is “one bite at a time.” You never sit there and write a whole book, or even a whole chapter. You write a sentence, or a paragraph, or a section. Enough bites later, and you eventually have yourself that chapter or that book. For me, “Rhapsody in Blue” is that perfect bite.

I’m particularly fond of the 1959 Leonard Bernstein recording, but any of the many, many renditions on Spotify will suffice. As long as the piece has its trademark relentless momentum, it works.

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="" title="YouTube video player" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture; web-share" allowfullscreen></iframe>

There’s another secret power to this piece of music. In the fall of 2022, I saw Arcade Fire at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Before the band went on, they turned off all the lights in the arena, and the speakers went silent. Then we heard a solo clarinet start its whine. For the next 15 minutes, we all sat in the dark listening to “Rhapsody in Blue” before the band came on, and it was magical.

The next day, I did something I hadn’t done in years: play “Rhapsody in Blue” in my headphones while walking through Manhattan. It’s a vibe. The piece has been used to symbolize New York for generations, and rightfully so. Nothing makes the city feel more cinematic – I highly recommend it.

The “Rhapsody in Blue” method isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea. But is it really any sillier than a tomato timer?

About the Author

Ben Guttmann ran a marketing agency for a long time, now he teaches digital marketing at Baruch College, just wrote his first book (Simply Put), and works with cool folks on other projects in-between all of that. He writes about how we experience a world shaped by technology and humanity – and how we can build a better one.

Get my new book, it just came out.

Read Next

Got it. You're on the list. 🍻
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Ben Guttmann
Copyright Ben Guttmann
Privacy Policy