Music is such an important part of my life. Almost every pivotal moment–for better or worse–has been marked by a song. So, of course, I write with music. A certain song can get me in the right frame of mind for the emotion of a certain scene or into the head of one of my character’s. But more often than not, music serves as nothing more than white noise.

I can’t write in silence. I’ve never been able to write in silence. For as long as I can remember, whether it be doing homework in high school, writing a research paper in college, or a report for work, I have had my headphones on and a song playing in the background.

It occurred to me tonight as I was writing that more often than not, I play one song on repeat for the duration of my writing session. Tonight it was Bat for Lashes’ “Daniel.” Last night, Sarah Jarosz’s “Can’t Hide.” And the night before that The Swell Season’s “High Horses.”  Occasionally, I’ll go with pure instrumentals (Zoe Keating’s album is always a favorite.), but for the most part, lyrics don’t get in the way. The beginning of every writing session involves at least 10 minutes of me trying to find that one song that I want to hear, but that I can also completely tune out. I’ll sometimes spend 2 hours listening to the same song over and over again. I finally realized this is part of my writing ritual. Everyone has their own unique routine that helps them get in the mood and get focused. Apparently, those 10 “wasted” minutes and iTunes on repeat are mine.

…oh, by the way, the writing is going well. And most recent comments on second submission of pages to class were largely positive. The issues pointed out were the issues I was already conscious of. So, moving in the right direction.

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I’m going to admit something…and yes, it pains me to do so.

I have been listening to the new New Kids on the Block album non-stop for the last 2 weeks.

Nope, nothing else. I wish.

I have 5424 songs on my iPod, over 600 different artists, and 970 albums. And yet, I’m stuck on repeat with this one.

And no, I’m not listening to it because it’s in some way genius or ground-breaking for its genre. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not experimental on any level. Most of the lyrics are derivative. I would argue it’s a tad overproduced & it sounds like every other pop/R&B album out there. Plus, as a general rule, I don’t listen to pop or R&B.

So, why the hell am I, someone who considers Radiohead brilliant, Imogen Heap creative, Interpol & Damien Rice engaging, Silversun Pickups the best band to come out of LA in recent years, someone who makes a yearly pilgrimage to spend 3-days in the California desert at Coachella, unable to turn the damn thing off?

Maybe nostalgia. But mainly because, as I briefly mentioned in a previous post, it’s complete & utter fluff. And at the moment, the rest of the 969 albums on my iPod depress me, remind me, or require me to think. And those are just not things I really want to do when I listen to music right now.

There is not a serious or profound line to be had on this album, & I’m glad.

Yes, music heals, but it also reminds & drives my mood. I have enough external & internal influences that do that without music having its say as well.

I love music. I think the iPod was one of the greatest inventions ever. Before it existed, I’d been known to carry a 100-CD carrying case around Europe when traveling. I don’t like silence. I can’t drive without the radio on. I hate talk radio. I can’t read without something playing. I can’t write without something in the background. So the fact that all but 1 album on my iPod manages not to set me off in the wrong direction…I’m just rolling with it.

At this point, I’d thought I’d be tired of the damn thing. Really, I was sure this would come to an end sometime this weekend. Seriously, how many times can I listen to this thing?!?! Even I admit this is ridiculous & seriously screwing with my last.fm profile.

But as I sit here waiting for the vet to call to give me Leo’s prognosis with chemo, while trying not to be reminded that today is my brother’s 1st birthday without our mother, it’s the only thing keeping me from climbing the walls. So, I accept it & I’ll go hit repeat one more time.

Image: …..dotted….. via flickr

I realized today, that since that day, I’ve been listening to my iPod on shuffle. I never do that. I’ve been cycling through all 5000+ of my songs rather than a playlist based on my favorites or my mood of the moment. I’m too scattered, unfocused, and disconnected to narrow down my choices or determine what I like.

I have the same problem with food. When I go out with friends or family, they ask what I want & I have to tell them, “I honestly don’t know. I can’t make a choice.” And I can’t. I’m not just being indecisive. I am that disconnected from what I want. I’ve solved the problem of cooking & feeding myself by basing the decision on whatever is easiest or closest to the front of the refrigerator. Grocery shopping, however, is still a bit of a disaster. It takes me forever to come out with either not enough stuff or stuff I’ll never eat.

I guess I’ll know I’m getting back to normal when I can make these decisions without realizing it.

…as for NaNoWriMo…yeah, I could make excuses, but I’ll just be honest. I’ve done absolutely nothing. I’m just looking forward to my writing group on Saturday morning. Maybe then I’ll be able to get back in a groove. And there’s still tomorrow. There’s always hope.

Image: nerovivo via flickr

Currently listening to: Black Wave by the Shins*

Spent most of the day working on articles for work. I always leave this stuff until the last minute. At least it kept my day full & busy. Less time to really think. These days that’s a good thing.

So, I’m on the fence with what I’m going to be working on for NaNoWriMo. Part of me wants to go ahead with draft #2 of the WIP, with the caveat that it could take new twists & turns. The other part of me has this other idea bouncing around in my head. Unfortunately, it hasn’t settled down & taken shape. I can see just a sliver of it. Enough to start, but not enough to know where it would all lead. I’m not sure if it’s better for a short story. The only way to know is to actually work on it, to start writing. But I don’t know that I want that to be what I focus on during NaNo. I want to use the next month (actually 2–December as well) to really get a good handle on something so I actually have something to submit to the writer’s conferences at the end of the year. Urgh!!! Decisions, decisions. My plan is to take a big chunk of Friday to sit down & figure this all out, so that Saturday morning, November 1st, the first day of NaNoWriMo, during my writing group, I know what I’m writing. At least that’s the goal. I get this sinking feeling I will be staring at my computer for the better part of Saturday morning still debating with myself over which to go with. Joy! Don’t worry, I drive myself crazy too.

If nothing else, all this is a great distraction from everything else. At least for a few moments. I’ll take what I can get.

Still sucks.

* I’m bringing back the “currently listening to” feature just because I like it & I miss it. I guess it’s a way of getting back to a normal routine. Although, still forgoing the “mood” feature. You get enough of my mood in these posts without me trying to sum it up in one word.

Image: Daeveb via flickr

Found this meme here. Of all the memes I’ve done, this is probably the most blog related. So, here I go…

1. Do you write fiction or non-fiction? Or both?

Both. My paying gig is doing newsletter, brochure, and web site writing. And, I should be doing some freelance writing, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. I write fiction for pleasure. I’m not quite ready to verbalize any professional aspirations there. Let me finish this novel & then we’ll talk. (By the way, I’m answering all the following questions based on my fiction writing.)

2. Do you keep a journal or a writing notebook?

Yes. More of a writing notebook than journal these days. But there’s a little bit of both in it. I carry it with me everywhere, just in case I have a spare moment to write & am nowhere near my computer. But more often than not, I need it around because my short-term memory is horrid & if I try and remember some brilliant phrase or idea to write down when I get home, it will be lost.

3. If you write fiction, do you know your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts before you start writing or is that something else you discover only after you start writing? Do you find books on plotting useful or harmful?

I have an idea, but I’ve found that much of my characters’ personalities, motivations, etc., only come out once I’ve started writing. It wasn’t until about half-way through my 1st draft that I really could get a handle on my characters’ thoughts and motivations. Even now, going into my 2nd draft, I’m finding that I’m still discovering things about them.

I think plotting books can be helpful, but I wish I’d stayed away from them until I’d really developed my writing practice and my voice. If I had to do it over again, I’d say, stay away from the craft books until you’ve had some time to just write. And when you do get around to reading the plot books, I would recommend reading a how to write a screenplay book. I know it helped me really think about how to frame a scene & pacing.

4. Are you a procrastinator or does the itch to write keep at you until you sit down and work?

Procrastinator. Although, I do have moments where I just feel the need to write. I wish those moments were more common than they are. The good thing is, whether it was the procrastinator-in-me or the itch that got me to sit down, once I do, I tend to stay with it for a good amount of time.

5. Do you write in short bursts of creative energy, or can you sit down and write for hours at a time?

It depends. If I have time, I can write for hours with no problem. If I’m just trying to fit it in, then I can also do a couple hundred words to just make some progress on my WIP.

6. Are you a morning or afternoon writer?

Actually, morning or night, but night more than morning. The only way I can write in the afternoon is if I started in the morning & it’s carrying over into the afternoon. Or, if I’m out at a cafe or something with the intent to use that time to write. My afternoons would be more productive if I could just take a nap. Actually, most of my blog posts tend to be done during the afternoon because it’s the only thing that will keep me awake & seem somewhat productive.

7. Do you write with music/the noise of children/in a cafe or other public setting, or do you need complete silence to concentrate?

Most of the time, music. Instrumental movie soundtracks are the best. Sometimes there are songs that just help me get into a mood or into a scene, & I’ll play that song on repeat while I’m working on it. In essence, it becomes white noise for me.

I can also work in silence. That’s usually a result of the music having stopped & me being in such a zone that I haven’t realized that it’s stopped.

8. Computer or longhand? (or typewriter?)

Computer for the most part. I only do longhand when I’m not near my computer or if I’m just jotting down some notes. But, I have found that if I’m having trouble writing on the computer–you know, a nice case of writer’s block–then switching to a pen & notebook can help clear my head. Just like a change of scenery is good; sometimes a change of method is good.

9. Do you know the ending before you type Chapter One? Or do you let the story evolve as you write?

No. Honestly, I tend to only have my stories plotted out about half-way through. After that, it’s a total & complete freefall.

10. Does what’s selling in the market influence how and what you write?

No. I’ve honestly never given it any thought. I just believe in writing well & having a good final piece that I’m proud of.

11. Editing/Revision – love it or hate it?

Hmmm…jury’s still out on that one. I’ve done professional editing and I don’t mind it. But I will admit, I’m not the best editor of my own work. I have a lot of trouble “killing my darlings.” Once I have a draft of this current WIP ready to edit/revise, I’ll be able to give a more honest answer.

I just realized my last post marks my 50th post here. So, in honor of the occasion (& my ability to stick with something for this long, see #29 for an explanation as to why this remarkable), I felt it was time to tell a little about myself:

  1. My name is Alison with one “L.” Growing up, my best friend was named Allison with two L’s. My name is always spelled wrong. And they never had those personalized toy license plates or key chains with my spelling when I was a kid. Yes, I’m still bitter.
  2. I was born in Los Angeles.
  3. I was raised in Pasadena. California, not Texas…god forbid. No offense to Texans. Some of my friends are Texans. But, ewww! Sorry.
  4. I’m 33, but I don’t feel a day over 25.
  5. I went to 3 high schools, because my mother wanted to try living somewhere other than California. Not because I kept getting kicked out.
  6. Freshman year, I went to school in Tucson; but my mom, brother, and I hated Tucson. Seen one cactus, seen them all.
  7. I spent my sophomore year in Albuquerque; my brother & I hated that even more. Drive 12-miles in any direction from the center of Albuquerque & you will wind up in the middle of nowhere. Yes, we tested this theory & then decided to move.
  8. I convinced my mother to move us back to Pasadena so I could finish high school with my friends.
  9. Two years later, I took off for college in Boston.
  10. I majored in International Relations & Journalism.
  11. I originally intended to be a voice major, but was talked out of it by a high school teacher who thought I should do something more practical.
  12. I majored in Journalism because I wanted a major with a writing background, but couldn’t fit in an English double major & still graduate in 4-years.
  13. I wish I’d done the English major, or creative writing.
  14. I’ve always loved to write, especially fiction. But I know the power of non-fiction.
  15. When I was a senior in high school I wrote an editorial for the school newspaper about sexual harassment in high schools. It was aimed at a certain teacher that most of the girls in my class didn’t like to be left alone with. Even though I never named him directly in the article, everyone knew who I was talking about. Including him. He never made eye contact with me again for the rest of the year. The power was sweet!!!
  16. In college I worked at the bar the TV show Cheers was based on.
  17. In high school, I was part of the choir during the Super Bowl halftime show with Michael Jackson. This was during his Heal the World phase, in the early days of his weirdness.
  18. My brother is exactly 4 years, 6 months, and 1 day younger than me. As a child I was always very particular about pointing this out. I don’t know why. His half-birthday is the day after my birthday; and my half-birthday is the day before his.
  19. My parents divorced when I was 12 & I still managed to turn out fairly well-adjusted.
  20. I lived in DC for five years working for the government–which is code for working here.
  21. I hate admitting I worked there. No, not because of the politics, but because people think it’s way more cool than it ever was & always want to ask me questions or talk about it, and it bores me to tears to talk about it.
  22. I don’t want the highlight of my professional career to have been working there.
  23. I chucked my career, the one I’d spent my education preparing for, at 28.
  24. And it was the best thing I ever did. I have no regrets.
  25. The idea of working in an office again makes me want to scratch out my eyeballs.
  26. I don’t believe in having a plan, just a rough sketch.
  27. I believe in doing what & everything that makes you happy.
  28. While money is necessary, it is not important.
  29. I have the attention span of a 2-year old.
  30. And the procrastination skills of someone wise beyond their years.
  31. I love music.
  32. I love my iPod. I happen do believe it is one of the best inventions EVER!
  33. Back in the days of CD players, I had a 100-CD carrying case that I lugged with me everywhere when I would travel.
  34. I would love to say that my music taste has always been cool, but I loved New Kids on the Block during my teen years. I went to 3 of their concerts and actually have a signed CD.
  35. I love concerts & truly appreciate artists who can perform well live.
  36. I always carry a book, my journal/notebook, and my iPod in my purse.
  37. I’ve lived in London; Bologna, Italy; Brussels; and Athens. (I define living as long enough to receive mail.)
  38. When I’m outside the US, I can pass for Spanish, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Persian, or Arab.
  39. In reality, I’m half German-Polish on my dad’s side, and Native American-Mexican on my mom’s.
  40. I moved back to LA when I was 28 in the midst of my pre-mid-life-crisis. I like living here as an adult.
  41. I’m writing a novel…eeks, it freaks me out to say that word aloud. It sounds so pretentious.
  42. I once took the bus from Boston to Tampa and back for no real reason.
  43. I stopped coloring my hair at 28, right when I stopped trying to fit into a career & life that wasn’t me.
  44. I am incredibly sarcastic.
  45. I’m an introvert among strangers, & a total extrovert around my friends.
  46. I am amused to no end by talking animals. We’re talking voice-overs and cartoons here. No, I don’t think animals actually talk. Although, my dog Leo definitely seems to try sometimes.
  47. I am both a morning and a night person, depending on the day; and would much rather spend the afternoon taking a nap.
  48. I didn’t learn to drive until I was 28 & moved back to California. Weird I know. In high school, all my friends drove & I was one of those over-achieving kids who had no time to learn how to drive. And then from 18-28, I lived in cities with great subway systems.
  49. I never learned how to ride a bike. Again, weird, I know.
  50. I’m serious about doing something with my writing.

…to be continued.

Apparently, I’m all about new experiments this week.

A friend sent me this article today.* It’s about memoir writing, but it has some great writing exercises that non-memoirists can totally use. But what really resonated with me was what the author, Abigail Thomas, said about the importance of silence. She wrote,

“Don’t listen to anything but natural sound. Don’t look at anything you have to turn on. This is about the pleasure of silence. This is not meditating; this is reacquainting yourself with yourself. Something interesting might enter your head if you let it alone.”

Given my constant inclusion of what I’m listening to when I write these posts, you can probably guess that I listen to music when I write. Sometimes it’s to tune out other noises & distractions. Sometimes it’s for inspiration or motivation. I love music. But reading what Thomas wrote earlier today, I’ve been thinking about how I tend to neglect silence. If I’m in the car, there is music playing. If I’m taking a walk or on the metro, my iPod is on.

But it’s those moments when I don’t have anything on in the background that I have had epiphanies about my story or new ideas for another project. My ideas and thoughts tend to come together as I’m lying in silence trying to go to sleep. So, it’s made me think that I need to incorporate more silence into my life. I need to let my mind wander without distraction. Yes, music & noise serve their purpose, but I think in this case, I need to loose the distraction and leave my mind alone. So, let’s see is I can spend some of that time at the beach tomorrow in silence. Maybe something good will come out of it.

* Yes, I realize this article comes from AARP magazine. Although I’m about 30+ years away from being a subscriber, I’ve got to give them credit for a good article.