Category: Creative Writing

On Writing, Music & Character Playlists

Friedrich Nietzsche once said that “without music, life would be a mistake.” I believe there’s a lot of truth in that. Music has done its part in getting me through plenty in life so far. But as important as music may be to my life, it’s just as important to my writing.

Every character I’ve ever written (every main character, I should say) has had his or her own playlist. These playlists go through changes and are always evolving as I write through a story and develop the character. I’ve found, over the years, that it’s difficult to develop a character without taking his or her favorite music into account, and I attribute this to my own borderline obsession with music. It’s truly a lifesaver, and while that’s another story for a different day, that same life-saving music obsession is found in every one of my main characters. The process of developing characters and their playlists is one I very much enjoy, even when the process is at its most meticulous stage.

My Process for Character Playlist Creation

Depending on your own process and such, the process I’m about to lay out may seem convoluted or complex, but I assure you that it really isn’t as bad as it may look. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I tend to devote a lot of time to early details to ensure the later steps go as planned.

And so, here we go.

1. Conduct a Character Interview

While this is technically a character development step, it’s an important part of character playlist creation, too. Conducting this interview allows me to learn every little thing about my character, and those little details are what influences the character’s musical tastes. Details like ancestry, background, where he or she grew up and what he or she is interested in — all of these things are incredibly important. If you’re curious about the questions I use for character interviews, look here.

2. Create a Basic Character Profile

This step is pretty self-explanatory. I take the answers I get from the interview and create a basic character profile. I try to find a photo that embodies what my character looks like (sometimes i’ll sketch one myself). It’s important for me to really dig in and understand who my character is. When I’m able to understand a character’s psyche, it’s pretty easy to establish musical tastes and a playlist.

3. Pinpoint Artists

This is always the fun part for me. I love searching through the music I own and the music I’ve saved and liked on platforms like Pandora and Spotify to nail down the artists I think my character would listen to. If I can pinpoint a favorite artists for my character, that’s great. I love adding little details like that wherever I can. There’s no limit to this listeither. Some character only like a handful of artists, whereas others claim a whole genre.

4. Take Those Artists/Genres and Create a Playlist

This is the step that typically takes the longest for me, and that’s because it never really ends. I’ll listen to songs and if they fit into the life of my character and/or his or her story, it gets put in the playlist. Because music and musical tastes evolve, just like the story typically does, my playlists tend to change as I write further into the story.

Below is part of the playlist I created for the main character in the novel I’m currently working on. This one is mostly rock, but it’s also the playlist that the character (Bryna) listens to before she fights. I thought I’d share it, just so you get a general idea.

And that’s really it as far as process goes. I love doing it this way, and I don’t think my characters would be as detailed or as well-rounded if I didn’t do it.

 

Featured Image Credit: Brett Levin Photography via Flickr.com.

 

 

 

On Writing Podcasts & What I’m Listening To

In a world increasing overtaken by technology, you may be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t listen to podcasts these days. I like to describe podcasts as talk radio, but in an episodic format. Topics vary, of course, and if you’ve avoided podcasts by using the excuse that there’s nothing that’ll interest you, you’re likely wrong.

On Mental Vacations & Writing Feels

I’m definitely not one of those lucky folks who gets to take vacations. I mean the long vacations to some beautiful place where work can be left behind and relaxation is the only thing on the to-do list. Every once in a while (read: maybe once a year), I go to Chicago. That’s the extent of my vacations, mostly because I don’t have the funds to go anywhere further away. To compensate, I take mental vacations. They’re usually pretty short, but the idea of it is that I can go wherever I want to, even if it’s only for an hour (or sometimes less).

I’ve been taking these little “vacations” quite often lately. I always go to Boston, but lately, I’ve been visiting Cambridge. It’s been six months since I’ve graduated from the MFA program at Lesley University, and I don’t know that I’ve missed anything more than I miss that program.

On Turning Over a New Leaf

We’ve all run into times when we’re just not willing to let something go. I had my experience with this recently during residency at Lesley University. This is the place where I’m always pushed out of my comfort zone. Always. It happened at the first two residencies, and I should’ve known it would happen at the third.

Because I’m a writer and I love what I do, it’s always been especially hard for me to stop working on something, to set it aside and start something new. Especially something as large as a novel. It’s a big investment, and as many people know, I’ve been working on a specific one for quite a while now. It was dismantled over the spring semester, but I was ready to get back into it–to bring it back to life and push it forward. That’s what I do. When times get hard, I push on. We all do. It’s part of writing.

On Getting Back to Work After Residency

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I’m two days removed from the end of my third residency in Lesley University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. I’m back in Wisconsin and sadly away from my writing friends and all things literary in Cambridge and Boston. And now that the classrooms are dark and empty, the seminars are over with, the workshops have ended, and the general atmosphere has returned to something resembling normality again, there’s still one question that burns at the back of my mind:

What do I do now?

I already know the answer to this question. The answer is a simple one: Write. This has always been the answer. It always will be.

So, why is this questions still at the back of my mind? It’s a funny thing, really. In the few days following my return from Cambridge, Boston, and Lesley, I go through these feelings of being lost, of wondering not only where I belong, but also if I have what it takes to get through the upcoming semester. A few more days go by, and I’ve settled back into a routine of reading, writing, and a general malaise of missing my school friends and the literary atmosphere that surrounds Cambridge. But the good thing about getting to this is that I’ve begun to write again.

And that’s exactly where I need to be. At that point where I can write again.

I’m looking forward to it. This semester is bringing new work. I’m starting a new novel and setting the old one aside for a while. I’m still a bit upset about this, but I’ve come to understand that it needs to be done and that it’s part of the process. I’m excited about this new work. I’m excited to work with Jackie Davies this semester. And I’m looking forward to where this semester will take me both as a writer and as a person.

So, while I might be feeling rather friendless in an area of backwoods, small-town Wisconsin where all things literary do not exist, I know that I have writing to do. And that is enough to keep me going for now. Because without writing, what else is there?

Lesley University: MFA Residency (January 4-12, 2013)

LUAh, residency. That blissful nine-day span where nothing matters but literature and writing. I love it and am freshly home from my second residency in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Lesley University. While this residency had its obvious differences from the first one back in June, it was still exactly what I needed–a huge push to get back into a writing routine.

Here’s a quick look at the seminars I went to:

  • The Past Coming to You Live (A seminar on historical fiction in young adult literature.)
  • In Cold Print: The Cross Pollination of Fiction, Nonfiction, Drama, and Poetry
  • Indoor/Outdoor Writing: The Inspiration and Imperative of Place
  • An Afternoon With Mark Siegel, Author/Illustrator, Director of First Second Books
  • Chiarscuro: Darkness and Light in Children’s Literature
  • The Art of Juxtaposition
  • What’s So Funny? Exploring Appropriate Humor for Children for and Young Adults
  • In the Smithy of My Soul: When Writing Takes on the World
  • A Place Like No Other: Crafting a Compelling Setting That Readers Will Remember

In addition to these, I also had nine hours of workshops to attend.

Overall, this residency was another great learning experience. I made some great new friends and learned so much more than I thought I would. I will admit that the seminars weren’t as exciting as the first time around, but I still wouldn’t trade them for anything else. The faculty at Lesley is amazing and my work is better because of all of them. My new mentor, David Elliott, is a great guy. I have a great feeling about this semester with him.

And so it begins.

Happy Writing,

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On Preparing for Residency

LUIn less than two weeks–On January 3rd, to be exact–I’ll be leaving for Boston to attend my second residency in Lesley University’s highly-touted MFA in Creative Writing Program. Like the first one last June, I’m nervous, but I think this second residency will go much smoother, mostly because I know what to expect now. In certain ways, I’m looking forward to it.

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Because we change mentors each semester, throughout this second semester I’ll be working with children/YA author, David Elliott. That’s him above. A friend in the program worked with him during our first semester and had nothing but good things to say. He’s a nice guy and he knows his stuff. I think this second semester is going to be a productive one. I sent in two chunks of different manuscripts this time, so I’m looking forward to his comments in the workshops I’ll be participating in.

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been printing, reading, and commenting in order to prepare for this second residency. It’s been difficult as a result of being diagnosed with occular neuritis and other pre-multiple sclerosis symptoms. I’ve tried my hardest and am hoping it will all end well once I get to Boston. There are some great workshop stories both from new students, as well as the “veterans.” I can’t wait to get into full days of discussing writing again. That’s something that I’ve continually miss over the past six months.

During this second semester, my Interdisciplinary Studies project is a class. It’s online and is called “Psychology for the Creative Writer.” It’s taught by Dr, Jorge Amenteros, who is a psychiatrist, as well as a creative writer (he got his MFA from Lesley University, too). The one book I’ll be reading for the class is The Writer’s Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior by Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D. I’ve already started reading it and I love it so far. I think it’s really going to help my main work, the story regarding the school shooting. Much of what I write has psychology ingrained, so this class is really perfect for me. I’ll be meeting with Dr. Amenteros during the residency, as well.

This is one of the few things i’m looking forward to in the coming months. Barring any major health shifts, this residency will be a great one. I’m so glad I decided to stick with it after a rough semester. Stay tuned for a full report on the event after I return on January 13th!

In the meantime, Happy Writing!

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When There Isn’t Enough Time to Write

As I’m sure you’re aware, there have been few posts here over the last few months. My MFA program took over my life, in certain ways. I also finally found a full-time job and had my sister’s wedding to help put together and participate in. Other things found their way into my calendar as well.

And here I am.
It’s November now.
I’m one week away from the last submission of my first semester in Lesley University’s MFA program. It’s been a rough semester. Why? Because I’ve constantly felt as though I didn’t have enough time to write. Yes, I was busy with other things, but that’s life, isn’t it? I can’t use those things as excuses for not writing. I did it anyway.

Here I am. A week from the final submission. I have two novels to read yet and a chapter to finish. All for Chris Lynch, one of my favorite YA authors of all time.

I’ve learned in these last few days that if you wait for time to open up, you’ll get nothing done. When it comes to writing (or anything else, really), you MAKE time for it. You carve it out of your day, regardless of how busy it is. You wake up a half hour early to write even if you already wake up at 5am. You stay up until 1am, just to get fifteen minutes in. Writing is writing, and if you’re serious about it, you DO it. It doesn’t matter if you get ten pages or two paragraphs in.

YOU JUST WRITE.

I’ve dug myself a huge hole. Starting tonight, I work myself out of it. Not only because I have to, but because I’d like to be an example for other writers. We can all do this, right? Make time for writing? Of course we can. Because we love what we do. So, let’s buckle down and do it.

Happy Writing,