Tag: 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.

 

 

 

Calming the Anxiety: Part 2

I like to believe that we all experience anxiety at least once in our lifetimes. I also believe that those who don’t experience it very often are truly the lucky ones. 

A large number of people – at least three million, according to Mayo Clinic – experience anxiety every year. That, to me, isn’t surprising, given the vast amount of things to worry about and stress over. With all of those factors – which differ from person to person, mind you – it can be hard to figure out how to escape the stranglehold of anxiety. Piggybacking on the statement that everyone experiences anxiety differently, there’s also the fact that what helps alleviate anxiety for one person may not necessarily work for someone else. 

Methods

There are a number of simple thing I do that help alleviate and/or lessen the anxiety I feel every day. The first – meditation – is the method that works the best and is the most reliable for me. I wrote a bit about that in my last post, which you can find here

 Music has always been a big part of my life. I listen to a wide range of genres and artists, and I’ve learned to associate certain types of music with my feelings and emotions. In doing so, there are certain songs, etc. that can improve my mood when I’m feeling especially low. I’m a big believer in playlists, and have quite a few that are mood-based.

Chances are pretty high that if you’re reading this, you already know that I’m a writer. It should be no surprise that writing is another way I fight anxiety. Whether it’s working on a novel, writing a journal entry, or writing my daily morning pages, it feels great to get anxieties down on paper. I write my fears and thoughts down, and when I work on my novel, I’m able to escape into my fictional world for a while.

Reading is along the same vein, and I regularly use that as well. I’ve always been addicted to books and reading, but I love that I can escape into fictional world’s or go back in history. When you’re focused on another world or a certain character, there’s little room for anxious thoughts.

Last but not least is running. While this one may not happen daily (weather is always a factor), it’s an important one. Running allows me to exercise, enjoy nature, and empty my head. Exercise – in any form – does wonders in that regard.

This brief list isn’t meant to be persuasive or anything of the sort. It’s just helpful to read about methods others have used, and that’s what this is for. 

Anxiety is tough, especially when there’s so much to be anxious over. Any little thing is worth a try when it comes to finding relief. Wouldn’t you agree?

Digital Storage for Physical Notebooks

If you’re a fan of notebooks — Field Notes, Moleskines, whatever you like — there is sometimes a longing to digitize them, amirite?

I *love* my pocket notebooks From Story Supply Co., and a while back, they shared an incredibly helpful link for digitizing your favorite notebooks for cataloguing purposes, storage, or what have you.

Here you go

Enjoy. 

Digitize. 

Keep writing. 

A Note on Obsession

Writers end up writing about their obsessions. Things that haunt them; things they can’t forget; stories they carry in their bodies waiting to be released.

— Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldman

On Preferences & Writing by Hand

I am a writer.
As such, one would think I do the bulk of my writing on my laptop. That’s true in a way, I guess. I do write a lot on my laptop, but I usually only do that after I’ve written a good chunk of text by hand first.

Many writers I know – nearly all of them, actually – would probably scoff at my overwhelming preference for writing my work by hand. I think doing so is seen by many people as a waste of time to a certain degree, as everything eventually will need to be typed into a computer anyway. It’s true, but in my mind, you have to write in a way that’s comfortable for you.

For me, that way is by hand, with my favorite pens and notebooks. (If you’re curious, I use a Fischer Space Pen or PaperMate Profile pens, and Moleskine notebooks or good ol’ Mead Composition notebooks.) I switch things up sometimes when it comes to these tools, but every project I’ve ever written -finished or not – has begun in a notebook of some sort.

Why?

Simple. I think better on paper.
I’ve always expressed myself in a much clearer way when writing by hand.

Yes, writing by hand takes time, but I use that time to really think about what I’m writing and what I want to say through my writing. Writing this way also presents the risk of self-editing, but then, so does writing on a computer. When it comes to that inner critic, you have to put up a mental block. But that’s a topic for another day.

And call me old fashioned or whatever you’d like, but in my opinion, nothing beats a good notebook and pen combination. Nothing. I’m not sure why that is exactly. Perhaps it’s because I was lucky enough to reach high school before the Internet really became a big thing. Who knows.

You can say I’m wasting valuable time by writing my works in a notebook first, but I’ll always have my reasons for doing things my way.

Have questions? Let’s have a chat.

On New Ideas & Slight Superstitions

Last Friday night, I started writing again.

I started a new story. I started writing it by hand in a small pocket staple notebook from Story Supply Co., a company I had backed on Kickstarter. When I start on new project ideas, I almost always do so by hand, as I’ve always been the type of person who thinks best on paper.

In the last few years, I’ve shifted away from discussing my writing projects and ideas with people outside of my close-knit circle of writer friends. I forget where I read it and also forget who wrote it (Stephen King, perhaps?), but I came across something that alluded to the idea that once you discuss your ideas, they’re dead. Call me superstitious or whatever you’d like, but in my mind, there’s a certain truth to that idea.

Because I believe in that idea, I won’t be discussing my new project here. Not right now, at least. Maybe soon, after I get some more things down in this handy notebook. For now, the mere fact that I have a new idea should be exciting enough, especially if you’ve been following my writing journey through the last year.

It feels good to be writing again, even if I’m unsure of what will come of it.

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

LU

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?