How to Write: Lesson 3
There is a personal element to writing. No two writers are exactly the same, otherwise we wouldn’t have such variation in our works. Truly, a homogeneous talent pool is the most dystopian ideal to create for creative fields. Sometimes good advice needs to be amorphous and vague so that each listener can take the important elements and adapt them to their own needs and situations.
So, I’d talked prior about the important of turning off your own internal filter and how to keep yourself on track through the use of (or lack thereof) plans. I’m going to do a last little lesson on writing “prep” and it’s a little insight into how I approach a work.
Personally, I don’t just do one project until completion. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and loathe finding errors in my own works. This doesn’t combine well with being an imperfect being and so I can get lost in a novel if it’s the only thing occupying my time. Setbacks can lead to hang ups and, invariably, I’ll grow tired of working on my project and long for greener pastures elsewhere. Thus, I tend to have several projects on the go at any given time. That way, should motivation be lacking in one department, I can refresh my mind by looking at something else. On average, I have somewhere between three and five things on the go.
It works for me but hopping around from wildly different stories can make for other challenges. How do I keep tone and language consistent within a Victorian steampunk murder mystery after I’ve just spent some time working through a multitude of speech patterns in a wild west adventure? There’s a real danger of losing sight of stylistic choices or forgetting important characteristics of my characters that are necessary for conveying the theme and atmosphere.
Thus, I’ve found being able to recreate the “head space” I was in while writing the first draft or conceiving the initial idea aids in refocusing my attention. It’s especially important since, while I do keep extensive notes on my projects, I also have a bad habit of carrying a lot of my work in my head and weighing ideas and options before committing them to the page.
But I have a shortcut to remind myself of how I wanted my stories to feel.
I use music.
It’s a little cheat. When doing a lot of my mental preparation for a story, I’ll seek out songs and create playlists that inspire me for the project. Often these revolve around hitting the right atmosphere in my head for what I want the piece to convey. Thus, style over substance takes precedence for me. For the Clockwork Caterpillar, I had a rather eclectic mix of folksongs, foreign metal and American rock. Derick Steals a Baby is largely jazz and orchestral. Part of what determines the shape of the playlist is determined by how the concept for the story germinated. If I imagined and refined the story idea while listening to music then I have an easy start to my list.
But if the inspiration struck elsewhere then it can sometimes be harder to think of a good list. Sometimes, I’ll think of a piece of creative work that is somewhat similar and search for music from or associated with it. Other times it can simply be what’s playing in the background while I’m musing about the ideas and trying to make a coherent story from them.
And having something work well in the background is key. I don’t make lists of my favourite songs or what’s popular currently. This isn’t a method of distraction and a discordant or “flavour of the month” song that’s apt to get overplayed and annoying quickly simply isn’t helpful. I don’t think any of my work lists have any of the bands I listen to for pleasure in them. Not to say the songs I pick aren’t pleasurable. But I need something with as few mental associations as possible so I can latch my story ideas to the melodies. Thus, hearing that song reminds me of my story and not anything else in my life.
And when I have a really great list together, it’s truly something special. But I’ve had some poor lists before that just simply didn’t do the work. This is hardly a necessary step to writing but similar elements to my playlist can be incorporated into other writing styles. Finding what motivates you is just as important as coming up with the greatest ideas. The best story isn’t one that exists solely in your imagination. Thus, it’s necessary that you take whatever shortcuts, cheats or tactics you can to make sure that you get your writing done. Whether this is specific food or drink, a cosy little corner or a collection of motivational pictures doesn’t matter. Perhaps even a simple ritual of sharpening a pen and cracking open a fresh, blank tome is all that’s necessary to start feeding those imaginative juices and getting the words to flow free.