Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Musical Muse

Melissa Marr has a playlist at the end of her books and Stephenie Meyer made the incorporation of music and writing a national phenomenon.  But this is not a new concept. Music and the creative process go together like, well... music and the creative process.  

I am a hard core musical person.  That's not to say that I can carry a tune, though I do a lot of singing in my car.  And I can't play an instrument to save my life.  I just love music. I find that I have a tendency to go through musical phases.  One month I'm all about classical, and my Sirius radio (my guilty pleasure) is tuned to the symphony station non-stop. The next month, I'm waxing nostalgic and I'm glued to 90's alternative on Lithium.  Music really speaks to me, in all its forms.  When I'm searching for inspiration, I pop in the earbuds and my ipod takes me to creative bliss.  

Music really sets the tone for my writing.  I have to be careful sometimes or I drift from my original course and follow the tunes.  While writing my first novel, I was fixated on one band. I downloaded every Bush song I could find and whenever I felt the onset of writer's block I'd go lay down and listen to my Bush playlist until I'd start to drift off. As soon as my mind was relaxed enough to wander, inspiration would strike.  So I'd jump up, grab my notebook and jot down the ideas, speech, whatever, and start over again.  The dark, emotional lyrics coupled with wailing guitars, mournful drums, and gravelly voice set the tone for my story and I listened to that playlist so many times that my family wanted to flush my ipod.

If I'm not looking for a particular 'tone' to inspire me, classical is my go-to music.  Maybe it's the lack of lyrics, I'm not sure.  But I think my brain's production level triples when I'm listening to Bach or Motzart, Beethoven or Chopin.  Plants grow to classical music, so why can't my brain?  

Of course, I do have 'thinking places' that inspire sans music.  I do a lot of my best brainstorming in the shower.  It could have something to do with the fact that there's no distractions in there, just me and running water.  I can ask a question like: 'okay, how do I get my characters through this dicey patch?' and have an answer by the time I towel off.  But it's not the same reaction that music elicits.  Music speaks to the soul, and isn't that where my writing comes from?  It's not a perfunctory brain action, it's me.  The basest part of me that I don't share with anyone but my keyboard.  Music pulls the plug on my soul and the words spill out like water sucking down a drain.  

I've put music on the back burner while I do edits and revisions.  My WIP is on hold while I decide how to finish the last five chapters and tie up the loose ends.  I did have some Marilyn Manson queued up while writing this second book (my MC is going through a rough patch). It's time for a new playlist though, and new inspiration to go with it.  There's a million musical options out there, all waiting to spark my creativity.  Who will be my muse this time? I'm dying to find out.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring Break?

Around this time last year I was soaking up the sun on the sandy beaches of Mazatlan.  I have to say, it's hands down one of my favorite places on earth. Okay, so I haven't been many places on earth, but even if I had, Mazatlan would still be one of my favorite places.

Ah, the Hotel Playa Mazatlan, where even if you haven't visited for two years, Humberto the cabana waiter remembers you from your last visit.  The beach is vast, not a rock in site, and the sun beats down on you until you have no choice but to seek out solace from the cool ocean waves. And even though the sucker fish in Payette Lake scare me out of the water, I don't even flinch at the prospect that a shark could float by at any moment.

This time last year, the concept for my novel had yet to form in my mind. Where did 2008 go? I've barely seen the outside of my house in 12 months.  I suppose its like this for all writers. Once the muse takes hold, you have no choice but to surrender.  I planted only a few flowers in the beds that I'd tended so lovingly the year before.  Mowing the lawn was out of the question (thank goodness my 12-year old can do it). And as for going to the beach?  My summer ritual of spending as many days as possible at my family's lake-side cabin had become low on my list of priorities.  Sallow and pasty, my kids had to beg me to leave the house.  Parting from my beloved lap top for more than a couple of hours was torture and there's no electrical outlets on the dock! Once in a while I let my trusty notebook and pen act as a surrogate, but it just wasn't the same.  Self imprisonment to be sure, but do I regret it?  No way! This has been the best year ever, despite the carpal tunnel.  

I think though, as others are gearing up their creative minds and flexing their fingers, I'm going to slow down.  I'm not going to quit... I've got query letters to write and editing is a never ending task.  While others are making word count goals for the day, I'm going to impose outside goals, gardening goals, beach goals and adventure goals.

It's almost April 1st and we're expecting two more winter storms.  There's still a foot of snow on the ground, and Mazatlan just wasn't in the cards for us this year. So.... I guess I can sit here and let the muse take over for another month or until the weather straightens out.  ;)


Monday, March 23, 2009

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I was a freshman in high school, our English teacher asked us to write an essay about where our lives would be ten years in the future.  (She's still assigning this essay as of the '08-'09 school year.)  

I remember vaguely some of the highlights.  Let's see... I was rich, famous; an actress I believe. I think my mom may actually have the essay somewhere, I'll have to ask her.  But I digress. Without going into too much detail, let's just say that my life took a sharp turn from those grandiose plans. I've done a little bit of everything, interspersed with parenting and writing of course.  I've worked at a clothing store, a daycare, an elementary school, a newspaper, a garbage company, a masonry company (our bid at self-employment) and finally, high school volleyball coach.

Are any of those odd jobs 'what I want to be when I grow up'? Not really. Except maybe volleyball coach, I do really love that.  I'll be thirty five in a couple of months and it wasn't until I'd turned thirty four that I solidified in my mind that what I really wanted to be was a writer. Really and truly; not just a 'weekend warrior'.  I'm committed, for the long haul.  But it baffles the mind that now, in my thirties, I've finally decided on a path.

A lot of the kids in my daughter's graduating class have already changed their majors in this, their freshman year.  And when it comes up in conversation, I always say "Don't worry about it! I just barely decided what I want to do with the rest of my life." 

We expect so much from those fresh, eighteen year-old minds and they're hardly adults. I did more self-discovery in my mid to late twenties than any other time in my life so far. (But I'll be sure to update you after I hit my fifties) I even have friends with multiple degrees that don't have jobs related to any one of their specialties.  My husband, a jack of all trades if there ever was one, had been a volunteer fire-fighter for ten years before deciding that he'd like to make it his career.  And now at thirty-eight, he's been the fire chief for three years and despite the stress, loves his job.

I think that it all boils down to happiness.  Do what makes you happy. Whether it's nursing, fire-fighting, retail sales, teaching, bull-fighting, coaching, dentistry, writing or being a stay-at-home mom which let's face it, is the HARDEST job there is, follow your passion! If you wake up every morning with a yearning to make the most awesome frozen yogurt on the planet, then go for it! And if you still don't know what you want to be when you grow up.... it's okay.  It'll come to you.  Just listen to your heart!

Friday, March 20, 2009

From Finished Product to Revisions - Wait, shouldn't that be the other way around?

After penning my first novel, I stared at the 137,000 word monstrosity and thought, Cool. Then, after I found out that most agents like first novels to be in the range of 90,000 words, I thought, Crap.

I'd done one revision, and in my opinion, there was absolutely NOTHING that I could cut from the manuscript. Making cuts would detract from the story. The reader will lose so much. This is my baby, I can't possibly make any cuts.

After querying for a few months, and after receiving no after no after no, I revisited the manuscript. Yikes. I rambled on for pages! Time to do a little weeding. I slashed and cut and slashed some more (Insert evil laughter here). A week or so later, I'd cut 13,000 words. Viola! Now it's ready! WRONG!

Shortly after the second revision, I joined a website that would allow me to share my work and allow readers to offer comments or criticism. My first two critiques were literally six+ paragraphs. Disappointed, sure. But I was also really pleased. Why? Well for starters, I didn't melt into a puddle of goo, crying in a corner. Unfortunately, I don't have any credentials, no fancy initials to proudly display next to my name. When most of my peers were heading off to college, I had a two-year old (But I'll save that story for another day). I didn't know anything about mechanics, I only knew that I love to write. I used the suggestions and went back to work, determined to hone my craft.

I'm thankful for critiques and the people brave enough to be honest with me. I've taken every suggestion, no matter how small, to heart. I pick and choose, using what I think will improve my writing and give my heartfelt thanks. Over a month's time and somewhere around 45 critiques later, I've cut the monstrosity down to a more respectable 94,000 words. Was I able to retain my story? You bet. The reader won't lose a thing. I've trimmed the fat, leaving only juicy meat.

Is there still room for improvement in my baby? Of course. At this point, its a living, breathing thing that grows and changes at a pace that resembles the metamorphosis of my 12 year-old from cute little boy to snarky tween.

When will the revision process end? Who knows. I'm hoping that an agent will make that decision for me when I hear the words, "I'd love to represent you." Then, I start over.