As I’ve been writing the first draft of my new novel I have been having a ridiculously good time. It is so much fun to set my characters up in a world and then throw things at them and see what they do. I have a daily goal for writing: 2000 words a day. For the most part I have kept to that goal. I started writing this book on September 8 and I am maybe now two thirds of the way through. Plot twists! Murder! Romance! Intrigue!
This year the most influential book I read was Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. In it she talks about what it is to be an artist (of any kind, really) and how to get around what is blocking you and create without fear. It is an amazing book. What’s more, she does a podcast called Magic Lessons where she talks to ordinary people about their creative process and helps them get around their fears. It is really interesting and much of it I can apply directly to me.
Towards the end of the book she writes a lot about trusting your creativity, and the topic of the Tormented Artist came up. Gilbert believes that suffering does not make on a true artist. She says, “…I do not deny the reality of suffering–not yours, not mine, not humanity’s in general. It is simply that I refuse to fetishize it. I certainly refuse to deliberately seek out suffering in the name of artistic authenticity.”
I used to romanticize the idea of the Tormented Artist when I was younger. I thought that pain could produce something achingly beautiful. Thank God for therapy! Because today I have to tell you that writing and creating in general is one of the biggest joys in my life. I still have to work a full-time job, yes, but I live for the time I carve out for myself where I can create without interruptions. It is as vital to me now as breathing.
Some attribute the following quote to Ernest Hemingway: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” But I wish to remind everyone that yes, he is respected as one of the great writers of the twentieth century, but he also committed suicide. I posit that it is entirely possible to be happy and still produce great work.
Elizabeth Gilbert also reminds us in Big Magic of a quote from Wendell Berry: “To attribute to the Muse a special fondness for pain is to come to close to desiring and cultivating pain.” And in the same breath I quote Yoda: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. ” I know you just read that in his voice, didn’t you? But more importantly, why would you suffer unnecessarily? Because you think you are supposed to?
I’m not saying I refuse to suffer pain for the rest of my life. I know there will be times that will be more difficult than others. But I do not have to welcome that pain into my center of creativity. It can visit, but I will not allow it to unpack and make itself at home. Writing is my joy and I will not let it be corrupted.
Last week I wrote about my writing process but I neglected to mention the type of environment in which I like to write best. In our library at home (yes, we have a library) we have a blue Queen Anne chair that is also a recliner. I like to sit in that with my feet up with my laptop and and tap tap tap away.
I also require total silence. An sculptor friend of mine and I were talking about this the other day and he says he needs silence too. He pointed to his head and said, “This is all the noise you need right here.” I totally agree.
However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think there is an intersection of inspiration between music and words as both are different mediums in storytelling. I can’t tell you how many short stories or vignettes I’ve written based on songs. I don’t know the way your brain works, but I think for a lot of people listening to music conjures pictures in their heads. And words can do the same thing.
And it can work in the opposite direction too. Lots of songwriters have based songs on stories they’ve read. On The Sounds of Silence album by Simon and Garfunkel Paul Simon wrote the song “Richard Cory” based on the poem by E.A. Robinson of the same name. There are countless examples of artists taking inspiration from each other to create something new and that’s an amazing thing to witness. It’s even more amazing when it happens to you.
The current novel on which I am working has a soundtrack, for sure. I just can’t listen to it while I’m pounding out the words on the computer. But I did put a playlist together and I listen to it whenever I can. It’s amazing how listening to a particular song and thinking about a particular character can give me an idea on how to fix a problem with a plot point, or how to add a new facet to their personality.
When I was constructing this playlist I first started out with my characters and tried to find a song that best fit their personality. Some are bang on, some I am still searching for the perfect anthem. But then after the “character sketch” songs, I put in songs that represent scenes or events I know are going to be in the story. And it isn’t a rigid playlist at all. As I’m listening and something doesn’t feel right, I’ll take it out and put something new in to try it out. It’s always evolving and growing along with the story in my head.
Here is the current playlist with which I am working:
- “Lightning Crashes” by Live (Throwing Copper)
- “Homesick” by Soul Asylum (Grave Dancer’s Union)
- “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne (The Best Damn Thing)
- “The World I Know” by Collective Soul (Collective Soul)
- “Easy Target” by Blink-182 (Blink-182)
- “Creep” by Radiohead (Pablo Honey)
- “Rock n’ Roll Lifestyle” by Cake (Motorcade of Generosity)
- “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry (One of the Boys)
- “What is Love” by Haddaway (What is Love)
- “Enter Sandman” by Metallica (Metallica)
- “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed (Immortalized)
- “My Immortal” by Evanescence (Fallen)
- “Song 2” by Blur (Blur)
- “Pain” by Jimmy Eat World (Futures)
- “Starlight” by Muse (Black Holes & Revelations)
- “She Loves You” by the Beatles (1)
- “Invincible” by Muse (Black Holes & Revelations)
- “Run to the Water” by Live (The Distance to Here)
- “Song for the Asking” by Simon & Garfunkel (Bridge over Troubled Water)
- “Whispers in the Dark” by Mumford & Sons (Babel)
Tracks 1-6 are character sketches. Everything else is situational. While I know you can’t deduce my story from these songs, you can’t deny there is a story in each one of them. There is a little movie in your head when you listen. When I put it all together that little movie becomes the novel I am writing.