Playlists for Plotting: How music helps me write #amwriting #writing #mondayblogs

Similar to lots of jobs

Sorry if I’m shattering any illusions here, but being a writer is hard work. In lots of ways it’s a job like many others.

You have to turn up at your post. You have to put in the hours. You have to produce some sort of result.

Sometimes it can be tiring, frustrating and nerve-wracking.

At other times it’s invigorating, rewarding and morale-boosting.

And as long as there are more of those good times than the not so good then you’re motivated to keep going.

A different way of working

But working as a novel writer also has some unique aspects to it – or if not unique then they’re shared by only a few other professions.

Firstly, it’s a job where you have to work on your own. Even if you work in collaboration with another author, it’s still only you who can write your contribution.  You can’t share or delegate.

Secondly, you’re the boss. You’re answerable to you – and so it’s easy to let yourself off the hook. ‘Not in the mood? Don’t feel writing several thousand words today? Rather wash the windows, sort your sock drawer, play around on social media? That’s okay. You’ll easily catch up when you’re in the mood.’ But of course you won’t. You’re procrastinating and the novel won’t write itself.

And thirdly, even when the spirit is willing and you’re at the desk and keen to get going, it can be hard to know how to proceed, hard to shut out the world and hard to stay in the zone.

The magic of music

And that’s where music comes in. I find that background music really helps me both get in the writing zone and helps me stay there. I don’t necessarily even hear or at least actively pay attention to it as I’m writing, but if my concentration does go then it’s the music that brings me back on task.

The plot playlist

That’s why I compile a playlist for each of my books. And it’s amazing how just hearing that first track gets my brain where it needs to be and the fact the tunes continue to play in the background helps to keep the real world at bay.

So, today I thought I’d share a sample of five tracks from each of the playlists I used for the first two books in my Skye series of novels as well as some from the one I’m currently using as I write the third book in that series.

Displacement Playlist

And I love you so – Don McLean

Lon-dubh (Blackbird) – Julie Fowlis

Meadowlarks – Fleet Foxes

You are the best thing – Ray LaMontagne

I’m gonna do it all – Karine Polwart

 

Settlement Playlist

Mad World – Michael Andrews

I still care for you – Ray LaMontagne

Your Ghost – Greg Laswell

Wherever you are – Military Wives

The sound of silence – Disturbed

 

Fulfilment Playlist

Wicked Game – Chris Isaak

It’s always been you – Ray LaMontagne

I could never say goodbye – Enya

Fuel to fire – Agnes Obel

In our tears – Secret Garden

 

All the tracks on my playlists are atmospheric, evocative and appropriate for the feelings, moods and ideas I write about. These are just some of them.

If you click on a song title you’ll be taken to the track on Youtube where you can listen to the song for yourself and see what you think.

Do you find music helpful when you want to concentrate on something? Or is it distracting – if so what does help you focus?

 

Once Upon A Time In A Gallery

The cruelty in fairytales such as Little Red R...
Image via Wikipedia

Some readers may remember my review from last year of the Eight Cuts online gallery’s exhibition – ‘Into the Desert’.  Indeed you may have visited for yourself. Well,  Eight Cuts  has a new exhibition. It opened yesterday. Below is a copy of the press release for the show. This will set the exhibition in context for you. I have visited and have written a review, which will be my next post here on the blog.

I should also come clean and tell you that I have two of my stories in the exhibition – I haven’t reviewed them. 🙂

 Once Upon a Time in a Gallery Live

 International writers, artists, filmmakers and musicians join in a new kind of online exhibition, using the oldest form of storytelling to offer a unique perspective on the foundation myths of the digital age’s new societies.

 Once Upon a Time in a Gallery is an online literary exhibition offering a new way of presenting a modern book of fairytales that combines technology with work from some of the world’s most exciting writers and artists to cast a fresh light on some of our oldest stories. Running through February and March, this is the second exhibition from eight cuts gallery, a project designed to blur the boundaries between literature and other art forms, and make the public think about what literature is, as well as about a series of important cultural questions.

Curated by Dan Holloway, who runs eight cuts gallery, the show creates possibilities that aren’t possible with a traditional anthology or storybook. Like the first exhibition, Into the Desert (http://eightcuts.com/eight-cuts-gallery/into-the-desert/welcome-to-the-desert/), which featured stories, poetry, photography, art, music and film by 19 writers from around the world, the virtual exhibition will guide readers through the pieces using hyperlinks. “Once inside, people can click on pictures, or words and phrases within a piece, and by choosing where those links take them, I can make people question their presuppositions about the nature not only of fairytales but of literature,” Holloway explains. “I can also create an experience that’s different every time someone visits. It’ll be like being lost in a forest and trying to find your way out – what could be more perfect for a fairytale experience.”

 Fairytales are our foundation myths, reflections not just the manifestation of our own Freudian psychosexual neuroses but of the fears and aspirations of our communities. For diasporas everywhere they provide roots that creep back in time and place to a utopian or dystopian ancestral home. As the digital age pulls us increasingly into communities not just geographically dispersed but born in diaspora (and often, ironically, subsequently drawn together physically), fairytales will inevitably be recycled and refreshed to form the foundation myths of these new societies – ones that have no physical homeland, whose communal roots lie lodged in the internal, not the external, lives of their members. What better time to re-examine the way fairytales relate our individual psyches to our social networks, and ask: Have we reached a tipping point in the evolution of collective cultural consciousness, where we can opt freely in and out of communities, picking up and leaving behind their roots as we go? Are there any universal archetypes left?

The hyperlinked, flitting, rootless style of curation of this exhibition invites the audience to reflect on this rootlessness, and whether, when they find themselves lost in today’s dark forest, there is any gingerbread trail to lead them to safety.

 The exhibition has a live launch in the fairytale setting of the O3 Gallery, located in a turret of Oxford Castle on January 27th. The show features writing by local and international authors, artwork from the UK and United States, and music from acclaimed Oxford-based artists Christi Warner, Dylan Gwalia, and Kevin Jenkins.

“Storytelling began as something spoken and communal,” says the show’s organiser, Oxford-based writer Dan Holloway, who runs eight cuts gallery, the experimental literary gallery hosting the online exhibition and the live show. “Fairytales reflect our collective subconscious, and form the foundation myths for our communities. So many of our modern social groups exist online, but we also exist in the physical, geographically limited world, so combining an online event with a real-life show, bringing together writers, artists, and musicians from all over the world, and those from a specific place, Oxford, is the perfect way to reflect on, and maybe start to build, the foundation myths for our new societies.”

 Full details can be found at http://www.eightcuts.com

Contact eightcutsgallery@googlemail.com for more information

 N.B. from Anne and the Write Enough Blog – Some of the content is adult in nature so if you’re offended by sexual references, nudity or erotica, the exhibition is probably not for you. But there is also material that is suitable for children and adults alike.

Music to get the juices flowing

As I mentioned last week, music helped dissolve the writer’s block I was experiencing. And even when there’s no blockage, I find that playing music while I write helps to get me, and keep me, in the zone.  Not only that, as I wrote ‘Change of Life’, certain tunes came to represent particular characters or scenes.

I tend to write in the first person so have to get in role – like an actor – and take on the character’s persona in order to speak their words. To make things even more tricky, in both ‘Change of Life’ and in the novel I’m writing now, I have two narrators – one male and one female. Music has been invaluable for keeping me in character.

So which tracks hit the spot?

When I was writing ‘Change of Life’,  Neil Diamond’s  ‘Girl You’ll be a Woman Soon’ and Dylan’s ‘Lay Lady Lay’ were crucial when I did Tom’s reminiscence scene as he told of meeting Rosie for the first time. Other’ Tom’ music included Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Sanssouci’ and ‘Do I Disappoint You?’  – as well as Tom Baxter’s ‘Our Love has Changed’  and Blair Douglas’s ‘Sonamarg’. Rosie’s music was anything by Cat Power, Karine Polwart’s ‘Hole in the Heart’ and ‘Terminal Star’ – indeed anything from her ‘Scribbled in Chalk’ album. Gorecki’s ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ helped with the creation of some of the most poignant scenes in the book.

For the work in progress – I’m finding that the male narrator responds well to Runrig – in particular ‘An Ubhal As Airde’. Greg Laswell’s ‘Your Ghost’ – and several Bat for Lashes tracks also do the job. My female lead communicates well if I play Paloma Faith – especially ‘Stargazer’, Kate Rusby’s ‘Blooming  Heather’, and just about anything by Goldfrapp. I also find that ‘Gossip in the Grain’ by Ray La Montagne kick starts each writing session for the new book by getting my head in the right place. 

I’ve never been able to work in silence. Maybe it comes from growing up in  a big family and a somewhat chaotic household. When I studied for exams at school and university, I had to have music playing. Research has shown that music can help children to learn – certain tempos and styles have been shown to fit certain types of task by affecting specific parts of the brain. For example Mozart is good for learning maths apparently.

So maybe certain types of music feed the muse and fire up the creative neurons.

Whatever’s going on – it works for me.

Clearing a blockage

Sorry not to have posted anything for a fortnight. I’m told by those who know about such things that it’s very bad form not to post at least three times a week. All I can say to that is – ‘those who know about such things’ are obviously not working full-time as well as writing a novel and having family responsibilities. Apparently I should have postings pre-written for use in the times when I’m too busy to write posts. Eh – what? So –  not only do I have to find time for all of the above but I also have to find time to pre-write postings. Sorry – no can do! My aim is to post once a week and so far I’ve just about managed it.

So what was the problem last week? Writer’s block – that’s what. The novel had stalled. One of my main characters – the male – had gone quiet. I couldn’t reach him or get inside his head – I needed to get to know him better but he wasn’t having it. It was SO frustrating. I’d sit at the PC hoping he’d come through – but no. I tried ‘interviewing’ him, I tried moving on without him, I tried re-inventing him – but no joy.

Then came a breakthrough. There I was staring at the computer screen, praying for inspiration and it happened. I had my i-tunes playing and a track called ‘Your Ghost’ by Greg Laswell came on – and that was it. I’m not sure if it was the words, the tune, or the mood of the track but whatever it was, it did the trick. Mr Main Character was back and he was talking non-stop – desperate to tell me his story.

So I just had to get on and write down every word he said. Hence no posting last week. I managed to write 2500 words in my free time last week. I’m proud of that – no matter what ‘those who know about such things’ might have to say on my neglect of the blog. So there ! 🙂