Words and music

August 12, 2008 at 1:23 pm (Inspiration, writing) (, , )

As I was going through my RSS feeds today, I found two posts that address writing and music. The first, at FWJ, was an icebreaker question; the original poster, whose identity is still a secret, said that music was a distraction when trying to write. Another commenter agreed, and so did I. Then I wandered over to the Aldersgate Cycle, where Natania made a post about music and worldbuilding. She said something that helped me to understand why I can’t write while listening to an existing song (although her point, I think, is pretty much the opposite of mine):

Every book has its own song. You can’t always hear it, but it’s there. Sure, it isn’t the kind of song that you can play on your iPod, but any story has its own melodies and harmonies, moments of dissonance, and at last, resolve.

When I listen to music, it tends to take over my brain. The images that flit through my mind are tied to the tunes and words of the song’s artist. Anything I imagine belongs to the world that artist created, and to the story they’ve already told. I think it would be false to claim that nothing I’ve ever written has been inspired by a song, but the inspirations, I think, are filed away somewhere and detached from their original context. If I listen to a song while I’m actively trying to write, I feel that what I’m telling is the song’s story and not my own. The worlds I create are not devoid of music. It’s just that their music is theirs alone.

I think some of this might be related to the fact that I feel very passionate about music and like to give myself over to it, both as a loss of self and as a way to explore my emotions. I’ve played the baritone, the flute, and the violin, and the act of playing was always somehow a way to let go of my usual thoughts, which almost always occur as words. I enjoy listening to music when I draw, because it’s easier for me to translate the sounds to images, and I don’t break my reverie by trying to find names for ideas.

I’m still not sure I’ve managed to put my finger on why I can’t write to music, but I think I’m starting to get there, anyway.

Advertisements

Permalink Leave a Comment

Go Go Speedwriter

August 12, 2008 at 1:14 pm (editing, Inspiration, motivations, writing) (, , , , )

Some path in my wanderings around the web led me to an article on writing a novel in 30 days. I could have written the first part of this article; so many of my papers in high school and college were night-before extravaganzas. I guess I’ve always been lucky that what comes out of my head is generally coherent and interesting without much editing, because like Catherynne, I always got As on these. I never met a deadline I didn’t like, and in fact I trained myself to need a deadline; it got to the point where I couldn’t even start writing a paper until twelve hours before it was due. Eventually I learned to create artificial deadlines for myself and to actually believe they were real, which was key. Now I actually have time to revise and reflect, and my writing is better for it. I remember the first professor who actually told me she knew I didn’t revise. I wondered how she figured it out, but now that I know how to go back in and tighten up my writing, I realize it was pretty obvious. Craige Roberts, if you read this, thank you; your comment was the kick in the pants I needed.

I still tend to write the first draft in one huge, linear brain dump, because that’s just how I work. For nonfiction, the order it comes out in is generally pretty good. When I’m writing fiction, though, these plot bunnies just start running on to the scene. Rather than follow them, I usually make a note about them in a separate document and work them in when they fit.

One great thing about actually revising my work is that I don’t edit as much as I go, now. I have a lot more freedom to run with ideas that my inner critic says are silly; if they don’t work, well, I’ll take them out later. But sometimes they do work. I still have to fight with my mind sometimes, though. It still has days of believing the first draft has to be perfect. These are the days when I feel the dread of writers’ block the most. If I get really stuck, though, I visit a forum or a generator to grab a quick story idea — something I don’t register as Real Work — and just let the ideas come out. These are throwaway scribblings, and usually they do just end up in the trash, but they remind me that the first try isn’t the only try, and I can allow myself to stutter and stumble knowing that eventually my voice will again be sure and strong and steady.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Writing days are here again

August 12, 2008 at 11:23 am (fiction, Inspiration, motivations, nonfiction, writing)

I’ve always loved writing. There’s just something amazing about playing with language, shaping it into the form you want. The first thing I remember writing was a Christmas poem in first or second grade; I showed it to my teacher, and off it went to the ditto machine to be included with the holiday curriculum for our elementary school. When the first thing you show someone else gets published, it provides a lot of encouragement to continue writing. If the only copy I have weren’t at my parents’ house, I’d include it here so you could laugh a little.

In second grade, one project for art class was to write and illustrate a book. I decided to make a Haunted Mansion (oh no!) and created cutouts of the characters so they could be moved through the illustrated scenes in the story. At the time, I had no doubt that this was the most fascinating story ever told. The teacher loved it. More approval, more motivation to invent stories. I dictated a lot of them to a Sears tape recorder, and usually made my mom listen to them — repeatedly. I was especially proud of a story about hares and hairs, as I recall, though the details now elude me. I was full of ideas, and confident that these ideas would be just as fascinating to everyone else as they were to me.

Of course, then I got older. By the time I hit high school I was writing horribly pretentious stuff, most of it bad, because I started trying to impress other people. There was a lot of bad poetry in there; if the term had been around at the time, I probably would’ve called myself emo. None of my stories had a happy ending, and all of the prose was, well, affected. I was never really happy with any of the fiction I wrote during this phase of indulgence in Oh I’m So Writerly and Depressed. I began to enjoy writing critical essays and research papers, and so my writing focus changed for a while. I cranked out plenty of papers, both for school assignments and for personal enjoyment. And so the world of nonfiction revealed itself to me.

For years, I mostly stuck to writing about things that were real. Then one day I woke up with a story in my head, and a need to get it out on paper. Unfortunately it turned out not to be a very interesting story, and after 60 pages I abandoned it. Still, it made me think again about creating my own worlds, and setting characters in the worlds to see what they might do. Several things happened in my personal life around this time, and much of what I wrote was intensely personal and never meant to see the light of day. I took another break from writing fiction, mainly because I didn’t want to deal with the thoughts that came with probing my brain for ideas. I still wrote a lot of nonfiction; the drive to set things down never left me.

Then, last year, my mom passed away suddenly. It sounds horribly cliched, but this really made me consider the brevity of the time we’re given here. I realized I’d been stomping all over my creativity, trying to box it up so I didn’t have to think uncomfortable things. I decided the time had come to unpack those boxes, and I started writing stories again. I need to write these stories; it’s no longer so much an issue of wanting to or not.

I still love writing articles and essays, but I’m thrilled that I can now write from my imagination again. In many ways, I’m more patient than I ever have been, and that allows me to flesh out stories instead of charging ahead with tissue-thin plots and uninteresting characters. These are my stories, and I’m stickin’ to ’em.

Permalink Leave a Comment

« Previous page