We all know how hard it is to get down to actually writing, especially with our busier and busier lives. There are numberless pieces of advice on writing every day, on building a habit, on just getting butt-in-chair time. And that is valuable advice, but — you knew there’d be a “but” — some of us have a harder time than others writing in short spurts, and write better and much, much faster if we have a longer unbroken block of time.
I used to beat myself up for not being able to accomplish much at all when I had an “hour or two,” for not using that time to actually write. I could read writing books. Noodle on character images in Daz 3d, absolutely. Get ideas outlined or laid out in list form, sometimes. Actually write new material . . . The closer it was to “real writing,” whether it be new words or quality revisions/edits, the less I could do it in short time frames.
How to Get into the Zone Faster – Music?
Rachel Aaron’s wonderful book, 2K to 10K, however, taught me (among many other great things) that it’s ok not to be the “daily writing habit person.” It’s like learning theory – different people learn in different ways (some visual, some audio, some kinesthetic, etc.); therefore, to maximize the learning experience, good teachers attempt to offer different routes to understanding the same material or concept. But even when the teacher doesn’t, the learner can.
The trick as a learner is to know how you learn and find ways to accomplish it by working with – not against – your natural tendencies.
Why can’t it be the same for writing?
So, instead of knocking myself for being, well, myself, now I’m trying to figure out ways to work with my tendencies. Part of why I seem to need the longer blocks of time is that it takes a while to “get into the zone” – be able to see my setting, feel what my characters feel, hear and smell what they do. Basically, it takes time to immerse. That is true for a lot of us.
A recent Writing Wednesdays post over at Rachel Aaron’s blog talked about how to create your “turtle shell,” to speed up that transition from normal life to your story world or writing zone, and one method is to use music.
Roz Morris’ Undercover Soundtrack Series is based on this idea, as well, and she has a really interesting series of posts on other authors using music to enhance their writing.
And author Tam Francis not only uses music to inspire her, her books are centered around music, specifically swing dance and the wonderful music of the Jazz Age and Big Band Era. She even links to the songs to listen to and buy on her Soundtrack Page. Her blog is a treasure trove of goodies from those eras – you should really check it out! Go on, I’ll wait till you come back. . .
Now, I’ve used music to get me in the mood for certain things forever. For example, bagpipe music makes me want to clean the house. Not kidding. Or, even more often, cry. Like a baby.
Honestly, if Loch Lomond doesn’t make you weep, you’re dead inside.
Usually, when writing, I’ve always stuck with instrumental music, some kind of classical mix, because music lyrics interfered with my thought processes. And there are a great many movie scores that are amazing, as long as I don’t get distracted by images/feelings from the movie itself, if they don’t apply to the current WIP, or something else I’ve already written. For example, the opera Carmina Burana, is actually the soundtrack to the prologue to my long-languishing historical novel. I simply can’t hear that song without the tragic events in that scene springing to veritable life before my eyes.
But those aren’t pop songs. I always found the lyrics in pop songs distracting while writing. But that did not stop me from thinking, when I’d hear a song in the car, wow, that is so Thorn, or hey, that’s what Merika’s doing, or this is exactly how Kor feels after he leaves. . . Finally, it dawned on me: why not use that? If I feel like certain songs are like the characters speaking to each other, why not harness that and use it to my own benefit?
So, I am.
I’ve collected the songs that have spoken to me in my characters’ voices and am putting them together in playlists.
I’m using Amazon’s music app to do this, but you can use whatever app or software you’re most familiar with. I own most of these songs, but there are a few I’m getting off Amazon Prime (if you haven’t tried the music feature in Amazon Prime, you’re missing out). And Prime is allowing me to add more as I come think of them, many for free.
I thought others might find my Unbound Soundtrack interesting, so, here (in a particular order) is what I’ve done so far, with notes on how or when in the series chronology the song applies.
Due to the nature of most popular songs, these tend to apply mostly the the relationship elements of the books. That doesn’t necessarily mean the romantic relationship elements. Those are only one aspect the books. But relationships inform our humanity, decisions, and worldviews from the smallest encounter with a clerk at the grocery store to how great statesmen like Churchill and Roosevelt felt about working with Stalin during World War II, or how Henry VIII’s romantic woes changed the course of Christian history in Europe forever!
No matter what part of the books the songs illustrate, however, listening to these picks me up and drops me right into these people. It’s like Muse Magic!
Here you go. I tried to note the significance of each song without too many spoilers, but some are inevitable. Skip to the conclusions if you don’t want spoilers….
Just a quick orientation: the series has four main characters, Merika, Thorn, Kor, and Tynan, with the first novel focusing on Merika, the second on the guys, and the third on Thorn (at least as I have it currently planned. Book 2 might become two books, with one each for Kor and Tynan, but I’m not sure yet). Kor is the focus of the novella, Unbound: Insurrection (released!).
And, yes, I know, there’s not much here for Tynan. . . yet.
Merika & Kor Songs (separately and together)
At the beginning of Book 1:
- I Still Haven’t Found I’m Looking For, by U2 – Merika’s life in general.
- Kings and Queens, by Aerosmith – her past and what thinking of Demar means to her.
- Danger Zone, by Kenny Loggins, from the Top Gun soundtrack – Merika’s attitude toward and love of flying.
- The Attack Begins, by John Ottman, from the X-men soundtrack – this song has given me huge inspiration for introducing Kor, and the ir’drakhon, as menacing.
- Princes of the Universe, by Queen from the original Highlander movie – Kor’s stolen birthright as Rom.
- Carry On Wayward Son, by Kansas. The Rom and Kor.
- Drops of Jupiter, by Train – Tynan’s (mostly unspoken) feelings when meeting Merika again after so many years.
Moving into Book 2
- Queen of the Night, by Whitney Houston, from The Bodyguard soundtrack – Merika’s attitude about relationships.
- Goodbye Stranger, by Supertramp – how Kor usually views romantic relationships.
- Holding out for a Hero, by Bonnie Tyler, from Footloose. Merika’s idealized version of what relationships should be.
- I Would Do Anything for Love, Meatloaf. (My version of “that” in “I won’t do that” isn’t exactly what the song means, but fits perfectly)
- Iris, by the Goo Goo Dolls – Kor to her.
- Take My Breath Away, by Berlin – Merika getting over Kor being ir’drakhon.
- Dog Days are Over, by Florence and the Machine – her reaction to her feelings – freaking out!
- Rolling in the Deep, by Adele – after the big reveal of Merika’s identity.
- Theme from the Bodyguard Soundtrack – the aching loss
- Here Without You, by 3 Doors Down – Kor after leaving.
- Jar of Hearts, by Christina Perri – about Kor when he comes back.
- Just Say Yes, by Snow Patrol – Kor convincing Merika to take him back
- I Will Follow, by U2 – Their eventual resolution
- Kryptonite, by 3 Doors down – about Thorn.
- Faithfully, by Journey – the “new normal.”
- Destination Unknown, by Marietta, from Top Gun. Their future. . .
- Hummel Gets the Rocket, from The Rock soundtrack.
- Kryptonite, by 3 Doors Down – about Merika.
- Time’s Up, John, Ottman, X-Men – just very atmospheric
- Uninvited, by Alanis Morisette – upon meeting Tynan.
- Bring Me to Life, by Evanescence – about Tynan and actually having feelings after so long.
- Collide, by Howie Day – Tynan about Thorn. Not comfortable having these feelings.
- Dark Horse, by Katy Perry – about Tynan, and Tynan about her. She’s not safe.
- Half the World, by Belinda Carlisle – trying to have a relationship you have to hide. Hard on Tynan in particular.
- Set Fire to the Rain, by Adele
- Circle in the Sand, by Belinda Carlisle, about Tynan. Tynan about her – she’s beginning to make some big decisions.
- My Immortal, by Evanescence – Thorn about Tynan. Waking feelings in her wakes other things longs suppressed. Also, when she comes back so very changed.
- The Flame, by Cheap Trick – Tynan about Thorn after she leaves.
- Go Your Own Way, by Fleetwood Mac – Tynan to Thorn.
- Where the Streets Have No Name, by U2.
- Rocket Away, the Rock Soundtrack
- King of Pain, by the Police – Thorn in general
- My Heart will Go On, by Celine Dion – Tynan to Thorn
- Who Wants to Live Forever, by Queen, from the original (and best – yes, I’m one of those) Highlander movie.
- Theme from the Bodyguard movie.
If you know these songs, you can actually see some of the character arcs across the series, with Merika much more in the beginning, and Thorn heavier at the end. Some songs apply very much to specific scenes, others to a more overarching “tone” for a whole Act in a book. Either way, they are great for focusing, and for setting the mood.
That part alone helps keep me focused on the character arcs as well as the plot points that accompany them.
So, there you go. My very own Unbound Series Soundtrack! I hope you enjoy it and that it inspires you to come up with creative ways to get into the zone.
Final note: I will be adding more songs as I go, especially some instrumental pieces, for the sheer swell of wordless emotion. I’ll update the list when I do.
Does anybody else use music to inspire or inform their writing? How?