Thursday, August 12, 2010

Writing process idiosyncrasies, part 1

Now playing on the iPod - "White Punks on Dope" - The Tubes

Probably one of the toughest parts about writing over the long term is determining your process. What steps do you take or circumstances have to happen for you to write consistently and effectively?

Some writers create outlines. Some write on 3x5 index cards. Some use a certain kind of paper. Some write in the nude. Some can write anyplace or any time; others need to be in a certain place and can only write in the evenings. Some can listen to music while they write. Some create detailed biographies of characters.

What makes the process so problematic is that it's a highly individual thing, and none of the idiosyncrasies I've listed in the preceding paragraph are good or bad in and of themselves. What matters is: is it effective for that writer?

Writers need to find their idiosyncrasies for themselves. And this is tricky - it's often a trial-and-error process. You may try to emulate a writer you admire, but that's as open to success and failure as choosing a process at random. You have to find what works for you, and not worry when people say, "Gee, but [famous writer] wrote while standing on his head, eating a strict diet of corn dogs and gin-and-tonics. Maybe if you did that, you'd get published." If you know the head-standing and corn dogs/gin-and-tonics method won't work for you, don't do it. Do what works for you.

One of the things that works for me is creating what I've named "Soundtracks to Imaginary Movies." I got the idea from the novel The Bridge by John Skipp and Craig Spector, in which they provided a list of the various albums that they listened to while writing the book - music which helped inspire them. I started creating playlists for my books - if there were movies made of these books, these songs would be on the soundtracks.

I have a few oddball rules when creating these Imaginary Soundtracks (hey, it's an idiosyncrasy).

First, I try to avoid done-to-death songs (no "Gimme Shelter," no "Solsbury Hill," no "Knockin' on Heaven's Door") or songs that are indelibly linked with a particular film (Quentin Tarantino, I hate you for using "The Lonely Shepherd" before I could).

Second, I think of how the songs could be incorporated into the story in a "found" way - playing on characters' stereos or on jukeboxes (falling-in-love montages are generally avoided, but I allow the occasional "mopey" montage - see Sarah McLachlan's "Full of Grace" below).

Third, I take into account the characters - is this something they would listen to? I've rejected several songs that were lyrically appropriate - Joan Baez' "Diamonds and Rust," Public Image Ltd's "FFF," and the Gin Blossoms' "Hey Jealousy" spring to mind - because those songs didn't mesh with the characters' tastes and personality.

Similarly, the songs have to be appropriate to the setting. I had to nix a number of songs for a party scene when I remembered that the party was put on by a church (a very hip church but a church nonetheless) and the DJ probably couldn't get away with playing The Violent Femmes or House of Pain. That said, the jukeboxes in the KellyVerse are very well-stocked and eclectic - hey, it's my imaginary world and I get to make the rules.

Below are the Soundtracks for the Imaginary Movies of my four books. I've included YouTube links to songs when available. These aren't "concept albums" - they won't tell the whole story in song - but they will give you a feel for the book's dramatic arc and overall mood. And if you're wondering why Johnny Cash is the common denominator, it's because he is awesome.

Novel: Ashes
Garry Eister - Quintet for Glass and Strings, "Dance"
Jackson Browne - The Pretender
Tori Amos - Spark
Pink Floyd - Dogs
Creedence Clearwater Revival - Run Through the Jungle
Wilson Pickett - Mustang Sally
Liz Phair - Polyester Bride
Donald Fagen - New Frontier
Dave Brubeck - Take Five
The Everly Brothers - Devoted to You
Johnny Cash - Delia's Gone

Novel: Reckoning
Dennis James - Irish Lullaby
Sarah McLachlan - Full of Grace
Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street
Danielle Dax - Touch Piggy's Eyes
Sleater-Kinney - Entertain
Johnny Cash - Hurt
The Clash - Brand New Cadillac
Social Distortion - Ball and Chain
Golden Earring - Twilight Zone
Switchblade Symphony - Dirty Dog
Elvis Costello - Watching the Detectives
Oh Susannah - Johnstown
David Gilmour - A Pocketful of Stones

Novel: Undertow
Jethro Tull - Bungle in the Jungle
Liz Phair - What Makes You Happy
B. B. King - Slidin' and Glidin'
The Beatles - Dear Prudence
Rolling Stones - Far Away Eyes
Cheech and Chong - Basketball Jones (video not safe for work)
Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues
The Cure - Just Like Heaven
Motorhead - Ace of Spades
Elvis Costello - Pills and Soap
Bob Dylan - Ballad of a Thin Man
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Gold Lion
Soft Cell - Tainted Love
Tom Waits - The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)
Stone Temple Pilots - Big Empty
Marianne Faithfull - Incarceration of a Flower Child
Isaac Hayes - Walk On By
Concrete Blonde - Joey

Novel: The Day After Yesterday
Tori Amos - Pretty Good Year
k. d. lang - Crying
The Smithereens - Gloomy Sunday
Julee Cruise - Into the Night
Sleater-Kinney - Jumpers
Phantom of the Paradise Soundtrack - Faust
Grateful Dead - Brokedown Palace
The Mediaeval Baebes - The Coventry Carol
U2 - Bad
The Pogues - Sally MacLennane
The Cars - Drive
Elton John - Harmony
Harry Nilsson - Without You
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - People Ain't No Good
Robert Plant - Big Log
King Crimson - Matte Kudasai
Tanita Tikaram - Valentine Heart
Tears for Fears - Head Over Heels
Faith and the Muse - Willow's Song
David Gilmour - On an Island
Arcade Fire - Wake Up
Pink Floyd - High Hopes
This Mortal Coil - Song to the Siren

Bonus soundtrack for The Day After Yesterday (music for the Halloween party chapter)
Dick Dale and His Del-Tones - Let's Go Trippin'
The 5 6 7 8s - Woo Hoo
The Blasters - I'm Shakin'
Van Morrison - Wild Night
Shocking Blue - Venus
Marvin Gaye - Got to Give it Up
Adam Ant - Goody Two Shoes
ELO - Rockaria
David Lindley - She Took Off My Romeos
Michael Penn - No Myth
Dexy's Midnight Runners - Come On Eileen
The Primitives - I'll Be Your Mirror

Coming soon: Writing process idiosyncrasies, part 2!

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