Cue it Up

Cue it Up

Playlist of records
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

The ancient Greeks divided up inspiration among nine different Muses, crediting their influence for the creativity that flowed over the known world. Terpsichore held dominion over music and dancing. So the Greeks felt music held the same importance as poetry and comedy. Probably because separating music from writing is damn near impossible. And when you’re stuck, mired in writer’s block, Terpsichore lies in wait in the wings, waiting to assist you.

Simply put: Turn on the radio.

Nowadays, finding inspiration has myriad forms. Music lurks everywhere, in every form. CDs reside in hefty binders or stacks against the wall (don’t deny it – you know you have them), records have returned to weigh down shelves, and computer drives hold decades of MP3 files. Not to mention the variety of streaming services open to people – free or paid. If you can think of it, there’s a station for it. Type it in, and you have music blaring from your computer, laptop, or phone.

I’ve said before that I refuse to work in the vacuum of silence. The music calms my brain, but it also helps me when my writing brain locks up and refuses to work. I have playlists designed specifically for inspiration. They’re chock full of songs that take my breath away and energize my imagination. They transport me into different places, different times, even different worlds. They drop the curtain on the world around me, giving me a chance to breathe and reorient myself with what I’m struggling with. And they jolt electricity through my imagination, sparking new ideas into my writing.

Magical playlists? I guess you could say that.

The funny part is, none of the lyrics have every prompted a story idea. I don’t take inspiration from the words, from the scenery (a lot of the entries on the playlist come from Broadway shows), or even the original concepts. It’s the feeling generated by the music that does the trick. And I know you have songs that engender that feeling in you. Music that gets into every nerve fiber, causing you to freeze up. You find yourself in another place – somewhere YOU created – feeling emotions only your writing brain has words for. Maybe it’s the beat, or the harmony, or something less definable. You just have to stop and let the power sweep over you.

And then the words flow – so fast your fingers can scarcely keep up.

Maybe that’s why the Greeks felt there were demigods behind inspiration. It’s an immediate rush. Or, sometimes, it’s perfect quiet. Other times, you break down completely. The music provides the emotional connection your brain needs to break down that wall blocking your creativity. Or it ignites the imaginative spark in the first place. The rush is crazy, and when you “wake up” from it and see how much writing you’ve accomplished, you’re amazed.

Everyone needs that playlist.

Think over the songs that resonate with you. Start setting them aside into their own playlist. Organize them into the order you need – or leave them on shuffle. (I get some amazing results when I do that) Keep it labeled so you can find it the next time you need a jolt of inspiration. And each time you stumble over a new piece, add it. Will the songs have any kind of cohesion? Of course not. Will people look at you strange if they hear that particular playlist? Probably. (Mine bounces from classical music pieces, through musicals, to modern instrumental pieces, to hard rock, some pop, a couple 80s – it’s a crazy hodge-podge and I love it!) It doesn’t matter. If it resounds with your imagination center, that’s what counts.

And the next time writer’s block rears its ugly head, sit back and cue up the list. You’ll clear the obstruction in no time.

Background

Background

Screen shot of Groove playlist

Everyone has their own preference for a working environment, and no one is wrong (okay, scratch that: standing around gossiping about people and not actually working is wrong).

Much as it drives me insane, my fiance’ likes to have the television on while he works, despite the fact that it isn’t even in the same room as his office; the noise reaches his office and provides sound.

Some people require absolute silence and make me question how in the world they function (seriously, what is wrong with you?!) How you don’t go insane with nothing but your own internal dialogue and buzzing of your surrounding electronics (or worse – the scratching of your pen) is beyond me, but if that’s your modus operandi, more power to you.

I’m a music afficiando.

Regardless of what I’m working on – contract work, speculative fiction, or even personal essays – I have music going through my speakers. Music keeps me from tearing out my hair, greases the wheels on my creativity, and even manages to loosen stubborn plot knots. (It also blocks the sounds of the television, but that’s a different story)

What I decide to put on depends on what I’m writing. Contract work tends to flow best with hard rock. Why? I think because it’s what I usually listen to, so the lyrics don’t distract me as much. If the assignment is particularly difficult, I switch over to Disney and show tunes. Again, I have those lyrics down cold, and the familiarity is soothing on my brain. There’s the slight chance of my getting distracted with the need to perform, though, so I have to use those playlists sparingly if I actually want to stay on schedule.

When it comes to my sci-fi and fantasy work, it really depends on what I’m writing. My novels DO have playlists, and I’ll leave them on endless loops when I get into writing/editing jags. I think by now most writers have playlists for their novels – assuming they don’t fall into that silent category (the very idea of writing an entire novel in silence makes me want to climb the walls – and not in the good Ghost-Spider way).

And, yes, songs cure writer’s block.

I can’t explain how or why, exactly. I’ve had lyrics supply me with words I needed. I’ve also just had instrumental bridges strike the right chord (I know, I’m hilarious) in my brain, and an entire scene has bloomed under my fingers. If something isn’t working with one type of music, I change playlists for another. Tempo, rhythm, tone – the variety is pretty much endless, and it can provide whatever emotion I need at the time. These days, there’s also no shortage of streaming services available. You aren’t even limited to music from your country; the entire world is open to you. Some of my favorite musicians hail from Norway, Spain, and Japan.

Music really is universal.

My work gets done, my writing becomes richer, and I don’t have to sit at my computer in complete, utter, sanity-zapping silence (I really have to know how you work in silence. Have you never heard music?). Since my taste in music encompasses just about everything (except Country – do not bring that twanging mess in here), I also get to incorporate a wide variety of emotion into my work. My writing is better for it, and so is my mental well-being.

Just give it a try, especially if you’ve been staring at the screen for more than 5 minutes without a thought of how to proceed. Pick a song – even at random – and see what comes of it. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Autopilot Concept

The Autopilot Concept

My I Love Kickboxing gloves

Admission: when I first conceived this post, we weren’t in lock down. I considered holding off until orders were lifted, but A) that could be another couple of months for some, and B) I realized there was no reason. After all, it is entirely possible to find ways to exercise in the comfort of your own home. So onward!

Yeah, I know: some of you cringed when you saw the “E” word. After all, as writers, our place is sacked out in front of our computers, shoveling sustenance into our mouths (when we remember to do so). And I used to abhor the thought of taking an hour out of my day, too (not to mention the very idea of getting into anything resembling gym clothes and going in front of other people).

What changed?

For one, a lot of surgery. I have the fortune of inheriting really bad genes, and my body hates me (not a joke – it does…but that’s a post for another time). Some of those procedures came with physical therapy and therapists laughing hysterically (turns out, I am also a freak…and not in the way I knew). Since I didn’t want to keep repeating that process – anymore than I already had – and because I wanted to stave off some of the nastier aspects of my body destroying itself, the E-word was the solution.

Now, before you jump to any conclusions, this had nothing to do with weight loss. I’m a major advocate of loving your body, however it looks. I don’t believe in starving yourself, I definitely don’t believe in depriving yourself (I eat normal food, and I have never turned down anything), and I think all fad diets are absurd. None of my surgeries were related to weight; they really were bad genes, as well as terrible job conditions.

Moving on: I discovered that the gym really wasn’t so bad, especially because I walked in with the indispensable accessory of headphones (you people are introverts – I know you own them).

MAGIC!

I suddenly had an entire hour of privacy to live in my head! Once I had figured out the various machines, my body could go on autopilot, and my brain was FREE.

I get SO MUCH writing work done!

I can unravel scenes that I was blocked on, design characters, sketch out plots, work through dialogue – whatever I need! I just program whatever playlist is most appropriate into Pandora, and I’m all set. With the volume set high enough, even if someone tries to bother me, I’ll never hear them (and I have a great resting bitch face which tends to discourage people).

I did branch out from the gym, and I joined I Love Kickboxing. Even there, where I can’t wear headphones (they play music throughout), and I need to listen for the exercises to be called out, I still get work done. During the bag rounds, my body knows the movements, and my head goes off on its own. When I’m frustrated about a scene or short story that won’t work, punching a bag is the best therapy in the world!

Still not convinced?

Have you noticed how much geek swag is out there?

Above are my actual kickboxing gloves. I deliberately bought two sets of 16-ounce gloves, and I painted them with Harley Quinn’s symbols. My gym bag has a flerken on it. I have a headband with the Cheshire Cat grin. I have a Venom tanktop and a Lion King top and short set.

People, they cater to US!

Yeah, it’s a little harder to workout right now. My kickboxing classes are now via Zoom, and it’s shadowboxing instead of with a bag (it’s a little weird). Instead of using an elliptical, we’re walking the dog around the neighborhood on nice days. It’s also using the Nintendo Switch and our Ring Fit Adventures and Fitness Boxing games.

They still work the same: the body knows what it’s supposed to do, and while it’s exercising, the mind can do something else. You’d be amazed at what you can accomplish while you’re on autopilot. And if you get a little added benefits from the exercise itself, well, that’s not a bad thing, is it?

Just give it a try – see what comes of it. You’ll be glad you did, I promise.