There are times when I want to write, have the time to write, and I just can’t get into it. At these times there are a whole bunch of things I do to try to focus on writing but one of the most effective is music. Here are my top 5 songs to get me into a writing mood.
1. Flying Without Wings: Westlife
Why does this song work? It begins with one of the best lines ever – even if the song itself is not that great. “Everybody’s looking for that something. One thing that makes it all complete.” With just that opening I suddenly think about what my characters are looking for and how to get them to where they want to be and instantly I feel the need to write. This makes it one of my favourite writing prompts.
2. The Fear: Lily Allen
Firstly, I just love this song. It is so boppy and lyrical and yet listening to the lyrics there is quite a bit of depth to this song and the issues it raises are quite serious. This song reminds me to look into the inner parts of my characters and to find their true motivation.
3. Words: Kate Miller-Hiedke
This song moves really quite quickly and helps me pick up my pace. It jolts me to action. At the same time it makes me think about the transitions we go through and how our characters can change and development over time. It also reminds me about the highs and lows.
4. Grace Kelly: Mika
Asks the question really of how face will a character go to reach their desire and is it worth it in the end? Plus this song always makes me smile.
5. The Rose: Not sure who sings the version I like
Sad and sweet and hopeful and yet slightly lost. I find this song puts me in a very thoughtful frame of mind and that always helps get me writing.
I guess for a song to be good for my writing it has to inspire some emotion and usually it leaves me with a question. It can’t be too loud or boisterous because that makes me not want to sit still so tragically Prisoner of Society misses the list here because while it is an amazing song it doesn’t make me want to write. It also helps if I don’t associate the song with a particular movie because that then distracts me and makes me want to watch the movie.
What are your favourite songs for writing?
Character, plot and setting.
All three are vitally important to the story. Usually I like to focus on character but today I think I’m going to have a quick look at plot.
Plot is one of those tricky things because you would think, to make a plot interesting, that is needed to be fresh and new and complex and twist and turn and all of those other splediferous (yes, I know it isn’t a real word) things plots can do. Yet simple is sometimes much better.
So many times you read the advice that you should be able to explain what your story is about in a single sentence. An entire novel boiled down to one sentence that explains the whole point for the story. For Death’s Daughter this caused me no end of headaches because I didn’t figure this part out before I wrote the story. I wrote the story and then asked what it was about would rattle off a bunch of things that Calandra (my protagonist) did but I didn’t really get to the point. What I finally came up with was this:
A girl, cheated of her chosen destiny by forces beyond her understanding, must find a way to end a war between gods and discover the truth about who she is.
Once I knew this about the story, I could see how I had distractions and how some of the sub-plots weren’t working and I just found it much easier to work through the story because I knew exactly what the story was about.
Keeping in mind how much easier working with plot was once I knew what the plot was meant to be, I decided that for my next project I would start out with a simple statement of what I wanted the story to be and work from there. Admittedly, I haven’t even finished the first draft and I already know that what I decided the main point of my story was, isn’t. I’ve gone down a totally different track at this point but I know that once I finish this draft, I will be able to say in a single sentence what the point of my story is and I’ll be able to edit with that in mind.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on plot and how you go about crafting one.
I’m going to admit it. I’m becoming very critical.
I’ve always been critical – particularly of myself – but lately I’ve been really critical of a lot of things.
Today I was given a short story to read. The purpose of the story was to demonstrate how to use descriptive language to create an emotional affect in the reader. Possibly it succeeded in that but the only emotional affect it had on me was the desire to grab a red pen and have at it – I managed to resist the urge but barely.
So what was wrong with the story?
Every single person or thing in the story was described by at least two adjectives in almost every single instance. Every single time. I’m sorry. The person is whistling. Sure, you can tell us how they are whistling and what it sounds like but the next time you feel the need to mention it you could just say whistling. You don’t then need to come up with two new adjectives (or an adverb and an adjective) to describe how the whistling is happening.
Objects were appearing ‘out of nowhere’. Umm, no. Unless they were tearing through interdimensional portals I’m pretty sure they came from somewhere. Maybe it wasn’t an important somewhere but to explicitly state they came from out of nowhere just leads the reader to wonder how that is even possible.
Characters were behaving out of character – which in a short story is really distracting because you don’t even have the benefit of later explaining the out of characterness (I know that isn’t a word).
I’ll admit it. I’m awful and I’m tearing this story to threads. And it lead me to realise some of the weaknesses I still have in my own writing. I like adjectives (not to this extent but I over use them to be sure). I may not have things appearing out of nowhere but I’m sure I suddenly have people in scenes where they shouldn’t be and have no logical reason to be and I’m sure I need to work on it. I need to turn this critical eye away from things I’m reading and apply it to things I’m writing and I need to look at what I could be doing instead.
Plenty of areas here for me to work on. What are you working on improving?
Okay, I am aware that the list of things I am not would far surpass the list of things that I am.
I’ve recently realised that despite my being part of gen Y and being fully aware that language is a dynamic, living, changing thing and that I am a very big fan of splitting infinitives and breaking other traditional grammatical rules, I am not simply going to go wherever the wind is blowing.
Specifically, I’ve recently realised that when I’m reading other people’s blogs, I don’t mind the occasional spelling error or sentence fragment. Most of us write blogs quickly, do a once over and a spell check and that’s about it. If someone points out a massive error in the comments, maybe go back and edit. Blogs are not generally going to be a perfectly polished type of text. Some people will disagree with me and I know there are people who spend ages over each blog and that works for them.
Despite that, it really bothers me when I’m reading a blog and it isn’t punctuated. I’m not talking about every comma being in the right place and correct use of semi-colons, I’m just talking about basic full stops and capital letters with an occasional apostrophe. It really puts me off to the point where I don’t remember the content at all. Same with lower case I’s. It doesn’t take that much more effort to tag the shift key while typing to make it a capital.
Maybe this is me being overly pedantic about things other people don’t find important but there we have it. It interferes with my ability to enjoy content.
I’d love to hear your opinion.
My characters don’t eat meals anywhere near often enough in my stories. I guess nothing overly interesting happens while they are eating because it doesn’t seem to be a focus point. However, they do eat frequently while walking or just have a snack and I’ve noticed that almost all of my characters are addicted to sugar. Particularly chocolate.
So I’ve decided to sit all my characters that I am currently trying to work with down and to have a banquet.
The problem being that as soon as the first course (chicken and corn soup with sweet bread) was served I had two rival factions throwing the bread at each other from across the room and about a dozen minor altercations breaking out at various tables. Clearly sitting all my characters down and feeding them wasn’t going to work if I actually wanted to find out what food they would eat.
Having called security to run all these rampant characters out of the room I decided to just have a few of the main characters at the table with very strong security forces lining the walls and a clear sign reading ‘no violence’ on the table. They didn’t like it but they did try the soup.
The main antagonist of the story told me that soup was not suitable food for someone of her station and the bread was far too dry. After one mouthful she pushed it aside with a sniff.
Most of the other characters ate it and when asked their opinion shrugged. They didn’t really care. They had other things to worry about than food.
That might be why food does not get a lot of time in my books. The characters have a few other concerns.
How do you work with food? Do you worry about it? Is it important to your story?
I’ve always hated that expression – mostly because it gets me wondering why I was put in the box to begin with. Yet most of the time our thoughts are boxed in and closed off. They follow predictable paths they’ve gone over before, never looking beyond the obvious. I don’t like boxes. I have a thought bubble but it is just as restrictive (though prettier because it shimmers all different colours when exposed to sunlight).
As writers it is important that we recognise our bubbles and boxes. If we were to write only what we know then we would never leave our bubbles. Our stories would also get very samey very quickly and we would hopefully get bored with writing it and move on. Our characters would also be very much for muchness and have similar motivations and moral values and thought processes because their writer and creator didn’t stop to think outside of their comfort zone.
How can we think outside our bubble?
- Talk to people – all sort of people and find out what they think about things and why.
- Read everything. Doesn’t matter if you are interested in it or not. You may just pick up an idea or two that you had never considered.
- Practise empathising. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to really think how they might see the world. Try to put your preconceptions aside and really feel as though you had lived a different life.
- Sometimes it helps just to turn everything upside down. Whatever you think, write the opposite. You can tone it down later but just practise being the complete opposite of yourself. It helps to start you thinking about all the possibilities in-between.
How do you start thinking outside your bubble/box?
Most writers I have spoken to know exactly what it feels like to be sleep deprived. To have gone on well past your limit and to be at that stage where thought is utterly impossible. Your limbs feel heavy, your vision is blurring, sounds are too loud but not clear, and simple questions suddenly take hours to think through to answer.
How long does it take you to get to this stage? I know I am not the kind of person who can go for days without sleep. Possibly in an extreme situation with adrenaline and the like I could be on my feet for a little longer but my thinking would probably still be very cloudy and incoherent.
Which brings us to characters in stories.
We’ve all read stories where the characters have been running, hiding, fighting, etc for days and nights and snatching a few moments rest when they can. These characters are occasionally described as looking tired and they mention a need for rest but their actions seldom match. They still make good decisions and they still manage to lift their weapons and aim and to run in a straight line.
Putting your character in a situation where they can’t rest gives you the perfect opportunity to build tension. It also gives you an excellent opportunity to make a really bad situation much worse as the character muddles their way through the events and makes mistakes caused by just being too exhausted to really think things through.
Are your characters getting enough sleep?
This is the third and final post in the series – which is a shame because I’ve really enjoyed reading some of these responses. Today I have three more writers sharing their thoughts on writing. Given the positive feedback from this series I will have to think of a new question to ask writers for sometime next year and run another series similar to this. If you have any suggestions as to what you would like writers to discuss let me know either in the comments or via email.
Tirza Goodwin said:
Writing is mine. Writing can’t be stolen, destroyed, warped. Sure, the world can tear up the pages, erase the words, but the writing never stops in my head. Like some Phoenix, it rises up from my charred ashes, over and over, each time a bit brighter. Writing is my sanity on those blue days, those hazy crazy days when I’m drowning in my own oily thoughts.
When I was a child, my soul was murdered. It was strangled, slow so I could feel it. I couldn’t breathe inside my own skin. Like Frankenstein’s Monster, I was flesh without animation. And then the words came like lightning. And I was alive, so alive.
Writing is me, electrified.
But I know I’m still poisoned. My head is too full of things I can’t think of, won’t think of. Writing lets me bleed it out. Bleed out that the world isn’t fair, love is conditional, hate is eternal, and pain feeds on itself like fire. I burn.
Writing is my cure. It makes the world right again, me whole again. It paints my black skies blue as sapphires. It lets me love with a heart unafraid of scars. To forgive even though I’m still bleeding from a thousand wounds. I rise, once again, my wings spread wide in flight.
Writing is a window into the mind.
We’re permitted into the music of the soul when we read, and when we write that music is conveyed to the reader in the strategic placement of letters mixed and weaved into words. Some choose to share their voice in story, others in poetry, but always that unique perspective is imbedded into the paper or screen like a thumbprint forever marking its owner.
Writing is the ability to communicate with people we may never meet in life. To transfer our deepest, most secret thoughts to willing minds centuries after we’ve passed away. It’s an imprint of culture, a reminder of the past, an outcry, a revolution, a still, silent voice, a story. We travel as far as the imagination can take us as writers, and we accomplish things we might never have the courage or opportunity to accomplish in life through literature and poetry.
Writing is a journey to the stars, a safari in Africa, a cruise through Europe, a trip to the future, a retreat into yesterday. It’s an expression of our emotions, conveyed in a medium the entire world can receive.
Writing has the potential to melt away the wall that surrounds each of us, so that for an infinitesimal second, we live one another’s adventures as one soul united, one mind, one imagination, one body terrified and joyous and universally alive.
Corra McFeydon is a writer who longs to be an author. You can visit her on her blog, From the Desk Of A Writer.
Writing is all-consuming. My story insinuates itself into every aspect of my life. When I’m writing (and really, that’s practically all the time), I sleep and eat and dream and shower with my story in my head. My family gets bored of hearing about it every time I see them. My children’s eyes glaze over when I launch into another recap of my day’s work. I’m banned from speaking about the story when I have friends over for dinner.
Writing is also voyeuristic. I often find myself listening to conversations and making notes when I hear a particular phrase I like. I study people at Target and Trader Joe’s (and probably scare them half to death) because I want to remember someone’s walk or the way they flip their hair over their shoulders as they’re leaning forward to look more closely at something on a shelf. I watch the way lovers kiss and touch because it fascinates me the way people interact and the expressions on their faces and their body language tell me more about themselves than their words ever could.
But most of all, writing is a necessity. I need to write like I need to breathe. I need to form worlds in my head and give birth to them on paper. I need to give the people living inside my brain a face, a name, a existence, a life. Writing is absolutely necessary to my mental well-being. If I don’t write, if I don’t let the characters in my head out, I honestly think I’d go just a little mad. Of course, anyone who writes is just a little mad to begin with, aren’t we?
Fiona Skye is the nom de plume of an Edinburgh-born author, who is slightly obsessed with Gummis, coloured pencils, photography, and otters. She is currently at work on A Murder of Crowes, a vampire story with a twist. Visit her blog (http://fionaskye.wordpress.com) to follow her on her Writing Odyssey, as she finishes her manuscript and journeys to get it published.
Thanks again to all the writers who contributed to the series.
After this last week I could write a very long list of things I have been doing that are not editing (and it wouldn’t even include my day job). But for all the distractions and time outs, the editing has been getting done. I am so close to finishing this round of edits and being ready to do another quick read through and I am elated. Not just because once it is done I can get on with some new writing and not stare at a sentence for an hour like it is the enemy but because it has actually made the writing so much better. All of the agonising and frustration and wondering whether or not I was ever going to get anything done will have served a purpose.
It really did take me setting specific targets for each day to get me focused. The strange thing is that the more I made myself sit and work on it, the easier it became to focus because I could start to see the big picture again and how each small change was improving the whole.
My top five “this is not editing” moments:
1. Blogging – naturally. Writing posts about writing rather than actually working on my writing. With blogging comes the reading comments, replying to comments, following back to other people’s blogs and reading their posts, commenting on their posts, etc, etc, etc. This didn’t distract me so much once I set a time limit on how long I could spend flitting from blog to blog.
2. Using the Thesaurus – You wouldn’t think that this would be all that time consuming. Don’t like a word that you have used, look up another word, insert and move on. But there are five or six perfectly good words and what is the minute difference between each and which is the absolute best one for this job. Using the dictionary (both paper and online) and map out the words, their meanings, their origins, in the meantime forget where you were even trying to put the word in the MS. Handy time wasting device which could easily be construed as working to the casual observer.
3. socializing – On the phone, on facebook, on twitter, you name it I’ve been using it to chat away. Now mostly I’ve been talking about writing but that doesn’t get my editing done.
4. Research – And I am only very loosely using the word here. Mostly I’m just surfing the internet and filing random factoids because you never know when you might need a random factoid to throw into a WIP.
5. Reading – I can’t help myself. I love to read. Even when I have day job stuff and writing stuff to do, I have to make time to read. Of course it is quite hard to focus on reading with someone pointedly reminding me that “this is not editing” every half hour or so.
Wishing everyone the best of luck with their writing and editing.